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Kia Sportage v Mazda CX-5 v Subaru Forester: Which mid-size SUV should I buy?

By Byron Mathioudakis, 01 Aug 2016 Car Advice

Kia Sportage v Mazda CX-5 v Subaru Forester: Which mid-size SUV should I buy?

Byron helps navigate the mid-size SUV market.

MEDIUM-SIZED SUVs are big business, coming second only to small cars as the most popular form of new vehicle Australians buy nowadays.

They’ve essentially replaced the old Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore as the quintessential family car in this country.

Here we look at Australia’s three leading medium AWD SUVs, in most popular (Mazda CX-5), our favourite all-rounder (Subaru Forester) and newest challenger (Kia Sportage) guises.

Kia Sportage


Korea’s other mainstream brand (with Hyundai) is going from strength to strength, and it’s easy to see why with the fourth-generation Sportage.

Released early in 2016, it hits the ground running with very pleasing design, an up-to-date interior of exceptional functionality and ease, a comfy ride, and plenty of standard features – including rear-seat vents! There’s also a decent amount of space to revel in, with heaps of cargo room to boot.

Much work has gone into ensuring the Kia handles our tough road environment, with confident steering and great roadholding being the result. However, the ride might be a bit on the stiff side for some.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is the pick over the rather lacklustre petrol-powered alternative, because of its effortless low-down torque, high economy, and overall refinement. Note, though, as with all the vehicles here, this AWD is for on-road only use.

Finally, can anybody ignore an industry-leading seven-year warranty? Great to own, engaging to drive, and cheap to run, the good-looking Sportage is the very essence of the thoroughly modern medium SUV.

Mazda CX-5


Australia’s bestselling medium SUV is there for a reason, and not just because it’s still such a handsome beast after nearly five years.

Why? Smart packaging is a start – the size is perfect, with a family-friendly cabin offering space and practicality. A beautifully laid out dash, classy instruments, supportive seats, and nice quality finishes suggest an affordable SUV that borders on the premium.

The Series II update released early in 2015 ushered in a quieter interior, upgraded multimedia, and improved functionality, but while the latest CX-5 is better than ever to travel in, it still does not offer


rear-seat face-level air-vents, while the ambience back there is a bit sombre.

Luckily the driving experience will lift driver’s spirits, thanks to a muscular (if quite vocal) 2.5-litre engine that accelerates strongly and yet is remarkably frugal. Brilliantly responsive steering and very car-like dynamics are further enticements, though the ride is a little on the firm side.

Not perfect then, but easy to understand why Aussies love the CX-5 so much. And excellent residual values are the cherry on top.

Subaru Forester


Though getting on a bit, the Forester is far from long in the tooth, thanks to a combination of talents that makes it a fine compact all-rounder.

Perched up high, the Subaru’s occupants enjoy clear views out, in an interior that is high on build quality and sensible layout. Comfy seats, easy controls, and heaps of storage underline how user-friendly this SUV is.

However, the dash is starting to date, the plastics look a bit low-rent, the rear cushions don’t slide, the back seat has no face-level vents, and the cargo floor isn’t completely flat owing to a full-sized spare.


Still, keen drivers should appreciate the 2.5-litre flat-for boxer engine/CVT auto’s tractable yet frugal smoothness, the steering’s poise for car-like handling (aided by a clever all-wheel drive system), and the cushy ride. Plus, equipment levels are generous, with active safety tech available in mid-spec models under $40,000.

Throw great resale in the mix, and it is easy to see why the Forester is a consistently strong seller, as well as one of our favourites.