Should I buy a petrol or a diesel mid-size SUV? We compare the 2022 Mazda CX-5 Akera Turbo and the Kia Sportage GT-Line Petrol to see which is the better choice for mid-size SUV buyers
One-in-five new vehicles bought by Australians is a Medium SUV. These spacious, capable, high-riding five-seat wagons have the practicality and performance that Aussies love. They’re also very well equipped, built to five-star safety standards and priced affordably between $35,000 and $55,000 plus on-road costs.
But with more than 20 different models on offer in more than 100 specifications, finding the right one for you is akin to the proverbial needle in the haystack.
One of the first choices that needs to be made is around the drivetrain. Do you want a petrol, diesel or hybrid engine?
Hybrids are growing in popularity, but only Toyota offers this fuel-saving powertrain across all variants within the RAV4 range. Other competitors, like Subaru Forester, MG HS and Haval H6, offer a hybrid variant or two, but not in every spec level.
So, if we look past hybrids, the more common choice confronting buyers is between petrol and diesel. Two exemplars of the breeds are the Mazda CX-5 and the Kia Sportage.
The Mazda CX-5 Akera Turbo has one of the most powerful turbocharged petrol engines in the medium SUV class. And with a fuel economy rated at just 8.2L/100km, it’s also surprisingly economical.
Likewise, the Kia Sportage has one of the most potent and economical turbocharged diesel engines in the class.
So, which one is the better choice for those with around $55K to spend? Let’s find out.
How much does the Mazda CX-5 cost?
There are six variants in the 2022 Mazda CX-5 line-up, starting with the Maxx from $32,390 and stretching to the Akera Turbo diesel at $53,880. The turbo petrol Akera we’re testing here is just $500 less at $53,380 (all before on-road costs).
Mazda’s on-road price for the Akera Turbo is $59,205, including CTP, 12 months registration, stamp duty and dealer delivery fees.
Picking the 2022 update from the outside takes a bit of insider knowledge. Unless you’re a CX-5 anorak, you won’t notice the slightly different 3D-look front grille and the bolder front wing. The LED headlights are shaped differently too.
Along the side, Mazda has replaced the black plastic cladding of other CX-5 variants with body-coloured sills on the Akera for a more luxurious look. The Akera also gets silver alloy wheels and body-colour wing mirrors. At the back, the tail-lights have been reshaped, and… That’s about it.
How much does the Kia Sportage cost?
Though there are four model grades to the Sportage range priced from $39,845, we’ve gone straight to the with the $57,582 drive-away 2022 Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel.
Excellent news for buyers is it comes fully loaded from the factory with no other options to add on top, aside from metallic paint options. The test car depicted in this review is painted in Vesta Blue.
The GT-Line is fitted with a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine that comes with an all-wheel drivetrain, and is only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Other hallmark equipment items exclusive to the GT-Line include 19-inch alloy wheels, leather/suede upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, bi-LED headlights, wireless smartphone charging, and a panoramic sunroof.
|Key details||2022 Mazda CX-5 Akera Turbo AWD||2022 Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel|
|Price (MSRP)||$53,180 plus on-road costs||$52,370 plus on-road costs|
|Colour of test car||Snowflake White Pearl Mica||Vesta Blue|
|Options||None||Metallic paint – $520|
|Price as tested||$53,180 plus on-road costs||$52,890 plus on-road costs|
|Drive-away price||$58,481 drive-away (Melbourne)||$58,125 drive-away (Melbourne)|
Is the Mazda CX-5 roomy inside?
Moving inside and this CX-5 Akera has everything Mazda can throw at it. But you’d expect that for a price tag north of $50,000.
That means full nappa leather trim, front seats with heating and ventilation, rear seats with heating, a heated steering wheel, real wood in the doors and dashboard, and ambient lighting.
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That’s on top of the electric front seat adjustment, power sunroof and tailgate, climate control, head-up display, 10.25-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and premium Bose sound system, wireless phone charging, and smartphone mirroring.
As for the driving position, it’s good. Mazda has long had a knack of providing a Goldilocks driving position for me, and with enough flexibility for body shapes that aren’t like mine. Mazda says it updated the seats for 2022, making them more comfortable for longer trips.
Storage options up front are the usual array of cupholders and storage bins. There’s also a wireless charging mat in front of the transmission lever. It’s tilted rather than flat, which makes it easier to get your phone in and out, but larger smartphones slide off the charging spot.
The CX-5 is quite spacious in the second row, with plenty of legroom and under-seat foot room. Headroom is ample for my 175cm frame, with eight to ten inches to spare above. The two outer seats are heated, which is nice, and the backrest across all three positions reclines up to 28 degrees to provide more comfort on longer trips or to accommodate taller passengers.
The second row has a fold-down armrest with a pair of cupholders and a USB port. There are two ISOFIX mounting positions, one in each outer seat.
Now, the boot, which on this Akera opens electrically. Boot space is good without being great – 438L is the claim, and that looks about right. But that’s a lot smaller than the RAV4 and Sportage, which are both around 540L, and a country mile behind the big-butt king of the medium SUV brigade, the 600L Haval H6.
The Mazda’s rear seat split-folds 40/20/40 to liberate more luggage space at the expense of back seat passengers, and there are remote seat releases accessible from the boot.
Is the Kia Sportage roomy inside?
Hop inside the large cabin and – even on initial impression – it’s an impressively presented space with a large screen array and purposeful design elements. The seats are part leather, part suede and the overall look is modern.
Materials use in the front row is good, though between the piano black centre console and wide touchscreen, the interface gets covered in fingerprints quick-smart. This is especially evident in full sun as sunlight shines through the windscreen and makes everything look grimy.
However, comfort is high in both front and second rows, with excellent adjustability between the steering wheel and seats to get a high-perch driving position that affords good visibility through the cabin. Space in the second row is commodious – there was never cause for concern for this 6ft 4in tester in terms of headroom, legroom or room to stow your feet.
Ambience in the back seat is marginally worse than in the front – the windows aren’t auto down, and some of the materials feels a bit sub-par for the top-spec variant. There are handy USB outlets nestled in the side of the front seats to charge devices and a nifty coat hook on the back of the headrests. Storage in the second row is good – there are map pockets and door card slots to store large bottles.
Back in the first row, the seat is a great shape and features both heating and ventilating – though I noticed an odd phenomenon at night time where the driver’s-side seat controls wouldn’t light up like the passenger’s. As well, I’m sure there’s a way to push the headrest back, though I couldn’t find it. It was slightly too far forward for me and annoyed at times.
Storage is a highlight up front, with a large centre console bin between driver and passenger, a configurable cubby beside the shifter that can switch between cupholders and a large tray, and long door pockets that’ll eat up bigger items. There’s also a tray underneath the dash that contains a Qi-certified wireless phone charger, though it doubles as a handy nook to store keys and spare change.
It’s a quiet and refined interior to spend time in, no matter whether you’re headed around the corner to the shops or further afield on the freeway on a road trip.
For the latter, the boot contains a minimum of 543L of space with the rear seats up. Fold them down and that capacity swells to 1829L. An electric boot release paves the way to use the space and can be triggered from the driver’s seat too.
|2022 Mazda CX-5 Akera Turbo AWD||2022 Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel|
|Boot volume||438L seats up
1340L seats folded
|539L seats up
1860L seats folded
Does the Mazda CX-5 have digital radio?
The Mazda CX-5 has a touchscreen that is not always a touchscreen. For some reason, Mazda’s engineers decided it should only operate as a touchscreen when the vehicle is stationary. When the car is moving, drivers are forced to use a less intuitive and slower dial mounted just ion front of the armrest.
The Mazda CX-5 Akera comes with a 10.25-inch infotainment screen that has all the usual systems – audio, sat-nav, smartphone connectivity, etc – plumbed in.
The CX-5’s sound system is by Bose and has 10 speakers. It also has AM/FM and DAB+ digital radio, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard fitment, via a wired connection.
Does the Kia Sportage have digital radio?
Kia has made great strides in its infotainment systems over the last 18 months and – of all its product – I think the current software is best viewed on the Sportage. Fingerprints aside, the wide touchscreen displays content beautifully and menu systems are in a nicely laid out manner.
Though it serves no real functional purpose, the curved 12.3-inch display looks very cool and is a neat design highlight to brag about to Toyota RAV4 owners. It does envelop the driver without excluding the passenger.
The map designs look fantastic and the navigation between various functions is a breeze. Those not interested in Kia’s native system can use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto through a cable.
A thin touch panel below the main infotainment unit switches between air-conditioning controls and media playback controls. It’s a straightforward process to switch between the two, though I wish they were kept separate anyhow for at-a-glance simplicity.
Sportage SX+ specification cars and above get an eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium stereo, though I wasn’t a fan of the system and it didn’t enthuse me to play tunes like you’d expect from a Harman Kardon unit. To try and enjoy songs you must have the volume all the way up, and back seat passengers complained of quiet outputs.
Is the Mazda CX-5 a safe car?
The Mazda CX-5 is a five-star car according to independent crash testing done by ANCAP, which gives you peace of mind. The rating was bestowed in 2017, a time at which ANCAP’s testing standards were not as rigorous as today. However, since the CX-5 has not changed structurally since then, ANCAP has not retested it.
The CX-5 Akera also has a plethora of active safety systems to help the driver avoid an accident, including autonomous emergency braking (forward and reverse), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keeping smarts.
The only safety additions the Akera gets that the GT SP variant below it doesn’t get are adaptive LED headlights and a 360-degree camera. The CX-5 Akera doesn’t match the best in class for active safety, so if that’s a concern for you, have a closer look at our 2022 Drive Car of the Year Kia Sportage and the Hyundai Tucson. The Toyota RAV4 is well-specced in this area, too, as is the Mitsubishi Outlander.
Is the Kia Sportage a safe car?
The Kia Sportage comes with a five-star ANCAP rating with a newer (and more stringent) 2022 time stamp.
A full suite of active safety technology is available on every variant of the Kia Sportage, including the flagship GT-Line diesel. This includes autonomous emergency braking with junction support, lane-follow assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, electric parking brake, and a 360-degree camera.
A centre airbag is also fitted to the Sportage and should see the vehicle score a full five-star rating when it gets tested by ANCAP, though the new-generation Sportage remains unrated when this review published.
A neat technology feature I came to love on the Sportage was having the blind-spot camera feed show up inside the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster when you activate the indicator. It gives a quick confirmatory view of what’s beside you for merging into traffic.
Is the Mazda CX-5 cheap to own, and reliable?
The Mazda CX-5 comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years of roadside assist. Servicing intervals are 12 months or 10,000km, which is a touch shorter than some rivals. Each service costs either $363 (first, third and fifth) or $393 (second and fourth), making for a total outlay of $1875 for the first five visits.
Brake fluid and cabin air filters must be replaced every 40,000km and cost an additional $155, which takes the real five-year servicing cost to $2030.
Comprehensive insurance for the CX-5 Akera Turbo costs around $1170 for a 35yo Sydney male with a clean record. That compares to $1252 for a similarly priced Toyota RAV4 Edge ($50,200 plus ORCs).
This turbocharged petrol Akera is not light – it weighs 1730kg, which puts it among the heavier mid-sizers, but the engine disguises the weight well. You will notice it in the fuel consumption, though. Mazda says this car will consume around 10.3L/100km around town, and 6.9L in the country for an average of 8.2L/100km.
That’s not what you’d call economical by today’s standards, but it is in keeping with this turbocharged engine’s performance… So if you use it, be prepared to pay.
Is the Kia Sportage cheap to own, and reliable?
The reason many opt for a Kia is its outstanding seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Each time you service a Kia at an official dealership, an additional year is added onto the car’s roadside assistance balance. Roadside assistance ceases after eight years.
Servicing intervals occur every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes standard. A capped-price servicing plan sees the cost to maintain this vehicle at $3672 over the course of Kia’s seven-year warranty. Averaged out over seven intervals, this costs $524 each visit, which is getting up there for a medium-size SUV.
Against Kia’s fuel consumption claim of 6.3L/100km (combined), our time on test with the car netted a 6.6L/100km result. The fuel tank takes 54L of diesel.
Our comprehensive insurance quote for the Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel came in at $1277 per year, which is average for a medium SUV.
|At a glance||2022 Mazda CX-5 Akera Turbo AWD||2022 Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel|
|Warranty||Five years / unlimited km||Seven years / unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months or 10,000km||12 months or 15,000km|
|Servicing costs||$1119 (3 years), $2030 (5 years)||$1325 (3 years), $2512 (5 years)|
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||8.3L/100km||6.3L/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||11.2L/100km||6.6L/100km|
|Fuel type||91-octane unleaded||Diesel|
|Fuel tank size||58L||54L|
What is the Mazda CX-5 like to drive?
The Mazda CX-5 is more of a driver’s car compared to rivals like the Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4, although the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson come close in that regard.
The 2.5-litre turbocharged engine is strong off the mark and has plenty of roll-on acceleration for picking up speed in traffic or overtaking – as you’d expect of an engine producing 170kW and 420Nm. Those outputs put this variant up near the top of the medium SUV category on performance, and it feels like it too.
It’s all-wheel drive, so there’s no fear that the car won’t be able to get the power down even in trickier conditions. That said, this is not an all-wheel-drive off-road wagon that’ll take you through the Simpson Desert and back, but it’s good enough to give me confidence on moderate dirt roads and gravel tracks.
The throttle is quite sensitive and the powertrain very responsive, which makes it hard to be smooth initially. It takes concentration to iron out the jerks, but that’s because this powertrain is so willing to get going. And we much prefer that to a sluggish engine you have to be aggressive with all the time.
The CX-5 has a six-speed automatic transmission that does a pretty good job picking the right gear for the occasion. During our test drive it proved itself a smooth and seamless companion.
The updated CX-5 has Mazda’s Intelligent Drive Select, which lets you customise throttle response and gearchange mapping, either to suit a more sporty drive or for off-roading. When you change the setting, the colouring in the instrument dials changes to match.
As for ride quality, well, it’s a Mazda, which means it’s firm and sporty rather than soft. If you’re looking for a plush, wafting, luxurious ride, this is not it. This is a more athletic SUV that feels taut and agile. It’s not uncomfortable, but it does follow the undulations in the road rather than glide across the top of them.
The steering is heavier than its rivals, which in turn means the driver gets more feedback about road conditions and grip and the front end. At lower speeds the assistance increases, making it lighter, but it still requires more effort than its rivals at parking speeds.
The steering itself is very direct, and the turning circle is relatively tight at 11.0m. That’s not the best in class, but neither is it the worst.
What is the Kia Sportage like to drive?
Powering the top-spec Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine. Outputs are rated at 137kW/416Nm, which are deployed to an all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The pairing is a perfect partnership in all situations. Shifts from the transmission are well-judged between changing throttle inputs and the gear changes themselves are comfortably smooth too.
The diesel powertrain is arguably the best of the three engines on offer in the model line-up, for me anyway. There’s a reassuring surge of torque that propels you along, whether you’re pushing for an overtake or getting up to speed in traffic around town. It is noticeably louder than a petrol engine car, though is still perfectly agreeable to live with day to day.
Touring inside the Sportage is great – the suspension tune travels beautifully over undulating surfaces and remains composed over potholes and road cracks. It’s also quiet and refined in terms of road and wind noise, aside from the aforementioned engine noises permeating the cabin.
What did annoy on tour was the car’s safety systems that beeped and pulled the car back into its lane. The overly sensitive system can be turned off in the car’s menu, though it won’t remember the settings the next time you get back in the car – it must be turned off every time.
The adaptive cruise control is well behaved for the most part, though does jerkily grab at the brakes when trying to slow down the car. It keeps good distances and speeds up to overtake if needed.
When things get more twisty, the Sportage rounds bends with confidence and the body is well controlled. The steering is of nice firm weight, though remains easily turned for quick manoeuvres around town. That said, the Sportage does have an annoyingly large 12.2m turning circle that makes swift three-point turns a bit cumbersome.
|Key details||2022 Mazda CX-5 Akera Turbo AWD||2022 Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel|
|Engine||2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||170kW @ 5000rpm||137kW @ 4000rpm|
|Torque||420Nm @ 2000rpm||416Nm @ 2000-2750rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque converter automatic||Eight-speed torque converter automatic|
|Power to weight ratio||98kW/t||78kW/t|
|Tow rating||2000kg braked, 750kg unbraked||1900kg braked, 750kg unbraked|
Doors & Seats
Power & Torque
Should I buy a petrol or diesel Medium SUV?
As you can see from our answers above, both vehicles have their strengths and weaknesses.
The three most divisive areas are drive characteristics and ownership costs. We will tackle the objective one first.
Fuel economy is an undeniable strength of diesel powertrains. The Kia Sportage returned a fuel consumption figure of 6.6L/100km from a week of primarily urban driving with a smattering of country miles thrown in.
By comparison, the Mazda consumed 11.2L/100km, a difference of 4.6L. Extrapolate that out over the national average 14,500km per year and the petrol car consumes 667 litres more.
With petrol prices at $2/L right now, that’s a $1334 saving each year if you choose diesel over petrol.
That assumes that diesel prices are the same as petrol, which is not always true and can vary by location. A second scenario which assumes diesel is 20 per cent more expensive (so, $2.40 versus $2) still comes out in favour of diesel by close to $1000.
Servicing costs somewhat eat into the diesel’s advantage, because, generally speaking, diesels are more expensive to service than petrols. But the difference here is around $70 a year, so not enough to sway the argument.
Insurance costs also fall in favour of the petrol-powered car in this instance. The Mazda is $100 a year cheaper to insure comprehensively. But again, that only takes a nibble out of the diesel’s running cost advantage.
Drive characteristics is a very subjective topic because some drivers prefer a turbo petrol car’s immediacy and some like the effortless surge of a strong diesel. There is no right or wrong here. Both drivetrains are brilliant examples of their respective breeds, and each suits a different driving style.
And, these days, diesels can be just as quiet as petrol engines, so there is no longer enough noise difference to make that a decisive issue.
Diesel engines can be heavier than petrol engines, sometimes impacting vehicle dynamics. But these two cars weigh within a lightly-packed suitcase of each other, so this doesn’t help us split them either.
Truly, the only way to decide between the two dynamically is to drive both.
But if the head rules your decision, then the Kia Sportage turbo diesel has proven to be cheaper to buy and cheaper to own. Therefore it wins this comparison of powertrains.
If you’re interested in these two cars beyond their roles as powertrain team captains, then the Kia Sportage rams home that victory with a more modern and refined interior, a longer list of features and safety equipment, and the peace of mind of a seven-year warranty.