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Mid-2018 marked another milestone moment in Australian new-car sales. The mid-sized SUV displaced the small car as Australia’s favourite vehicle type in June. It happened again in August, September and October.

It was perhaps only inevitable after SUVs started outselling passenger cars in 2017. Interestingly, though, no mid-sized SUV is threatening to displace the Toyota HiLux ute as the country’s most popular vehicle.

It’s more of a group effort, then, even if the Mazda CX-5 is the clear leader: ever since its first full year on sale – 2013 – it has been Australia’s best-selling SUV.

Although the second-generation CX-5 launched last year was given a little update earlier in 2018, the catalyst for this mega-test of mega-selling mid-sized SUVs is the new, fifth-generation Subaru Forester.

It’s been a mainstay of the family-SUV segment since its local debut in 1997, and last year was the Japanese brand’s No.1 model in the Forester’s 20th anniversary year.

Three other notable nameplates feature in this test: the Honda CR-V that shares its launch year with the Forester and is also now in fifth-generation guise (launched in 2017); and the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson twins from South Korea that were all-new generations in 2016 and given significant updates in mid 2018.

For those wondering why another big seller, the Toyota RAV4, isn’t present, a new-generation model isn’t far off (in fact, we’ve got a review of it live right now.)

We’ve also aimed for the popular mid-$30K price zone, which takes us at least one step up from entry-level models.


PRICING AND EQUIPMENT

We could bore you senseless explaining the logistical challenges of bringing multiple test vehicles together in exactly the spec we wanted, but we’ll just simply say it’s always a challenge.

The Kia Sportage SLi (petrol as with all models here) is spot on at $36,790, as is the $36,990 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport AWD, with the $37,850 Hyundai Tucson Elite starting to creep up higher than ideal but the range’s best fit here.

Neither of the South Koreans are all-wheel drive like their rivals, though. If you want petrol power and all-paw control rather than front-wheel drive, you either need to pay $44,790 for a Sportage GT-Line or $40,160 for a Tucson Elite AWD.

Both AWD models bring a more powerful petrol engine, at least, and cheaper AWD models are available if you’re happy to go diesel.

Our $33,290 CR-V VTi-S test car is also a front-driver, though for the comparison we’re pretending it’s the $35,490 AWD version that otherwise doesn’t change any spec.

The Subaru Forester is purely all-wheel drive, of course, though our $38,490 Premium test car means we have to turn a blind eye to many components as we want to compare the $35,490 L.

Starting with the exterior, ignore the 18-inch wheels you see as the L sits on smaller, 17-inch alloys, while the L misses out on an automatic tailgate and auto-dipping passenger-side mirror for reversing.

Then inside we have to ignore the electric front seats, sports pedals, ‘premium’ cloth seats (as opposed to regular cloth seats), 8.0-inch touchscreen (6.5 inches in the L), integrated navigation, and the SI-Drive mode that provides the option of sportier drivetrain mapping.

The L also loses an extension of the Forester’s new Facial Recognition system that uses an interior infrared camera to identify a returning driver – and automatically adjust the driving seat and side mirror to their personal positions (for up to five people).

Before you get an impression that the Forester is short on kit, no other SUV here can match its suite of active safety features.

Subaru exclusives include adaptive high beam (slightly more advanced than the basic auto on-off high-beam systems of the Kia and Hyundai), lane-departure warning, cameras to help parking (one to watch the front-left wheel for parking; one looking straight ahead), LED headlights that peer around corners, and Distraction Warning that alerts the driver if it thinks their eyes have spent too long away from the road (it works!).

It’s matched only by the Tucson Elite for forward collision alert, and joined only by the CX-5 with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that works rearwards as well as forwards.

AEB features as standard on the Sportage SLi and Tucson Elite. Lower-grade versions of the Hyundai miss out surprisingly, though that’s still an improvement over the Honda CR-V that inexplicably limits the crash avoidance/mitigation technology to the most expensive model in the range (the VTi-LX).

You’ll also have to shell out extra for the $44,290 VTi-LX if you want other active safety features, though standard LaneWatch helps you avoid cars in your blind spot by using a camera to display an image on the centre display.

Honda Australia says it will start spreading its Sensing active-safety suite to other CR-V models within the next six months, though can’t confirm when every model in the range will be thus equipped. (Sensing will also be standard on all next-generation Hondas released from 2019 onwards.)

The Sportage is the only model to skip blind-spot monitoring; it also lacks rear cross-traffic alert with the Honda.

The CR-V is the only model with Trailer Stability Assist, and only the Honda and Kia provide front sensors in addition to rear sensors.

In the Conveniences column, the Subaru Forester L flies solo with its Personal Recognition system that automatically tailors cabin temperature and the instrument cluster display for different drivers, a total of three displays (versus two for all others), and a handy Lead Vehicle Start Alert feature that audibly advises the driver when the car ahead has moved off (yes, yes, we shouldn’t have been distracted in the first place).

Only the Tucson Elite matches the Forester’s adaptive cruise control, while the CR-V is alone in omitting rain-sensing wipers and digital radio.

The South Korean cabins both upholster their seats in a mix of real and fake leather, and their driver’s seats feature 10-way electric adjustment. They also bring branded audio systems: JBL for the Sportage; Infinity for the Tucson.

Mazda’s CX-5 Maxx Sport comes up shortest on equipment overall.

On the plus side it features LED headlights like the Forester, while it’s the only model with one-touch windows front and rear, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and fog lights using LED rather than halogen bulbs. Mazda also includes metallic paint (with the exception of special colours) in the price, along with Honda and Subaru. (Kia charges $520 for metallic; Hyundai asks an extra $595.)

But the CX-5 sits on the joint-smallest wheels (17s) and is the only SUV failing to offer keyless entry, tyre pressure monitoring, fatigue warning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a digital speedo, LED daytime running lights, and a full-size spare wheel (it gets a temporary spare).

(CarPlay and Android Auto are set to be offered as an extra-cost retro-fit accessory by the end of the year, with a view to becoming standard down the track.)

What value – in terms of both price and traction benefits – do you place on all-wheel drive as a feature, though?

The CX-5 still looks expensive compared with its Japanese compatriots, but arguably counters some of its equipment shortfalls against the front-drive Koreans.

(Somehow, a medium SUV comparison can be turned into an album cover… – Ed)


WARRANTIES AND SERVICING COSTS

Subaru remains one of the few brands persisting with a three-year factory warranty – below what has now become the industry norm of five years (and offered by Honda, Hyundai and Mazda). Kia, of course, stands clear with its benchmark seven years.

The Forester is one of the most expensive to service.

For owners who typically clock up less than the average annual mileage of 15,000km, Subaru’s service charges average $425 per year. In comparison, the average annual cost for its rivals are: $376 for the Sportage; $334 for the CX-5; $295 for the CR-V; $275 for the Hyundai.

Subaru has at least revised its scheduling from 10,000 to 12,500km intervals, which places it between Honda and Mazda (10,000km intervals) and the South Koreans (15,000km intervals).

Looking at longer ownership runs, Subaru’s three-year plan covers up to 37,500km for a $1277.23 cost.

The CX-5 costs slightly more – $1288 – to cover a similar distance because of its shorter-than-average intervals, the CR-V is a bit less at $1180 (plus some extras), while the Sportage and Tucson are notably cheaper. The Sportage will cost $992 and the Tucson even less at $825 (with both covering up to 45,000km).


INTERIOR SPACE AND PRACTICALITY

How big does an SUV need to be before it’s classified a Medium SUV? The answer as an average would probably be about 4.5 metres, and each member of our quintet sits in proximity.

On the shorter side, there’s the 4450mm Tucson and its fractionally longer twin, the 4485mm Sportage. In the middle you have the 4550mm CX-5 and 4596mm CR-V, while the Forester grows yet again to a lanky 4625mm.

Wheelbases also significantly influence interior space, however, as passengers in five-seater vehicles like these are accommodated between the front and rear axles. And in this respect, the 2670mm distance between the Subaru’s front and rear axles is identical to the Kia and Hyundai.

Yet while a longer wheelbase would typically suggest the most interior space, that theoretical wisdom doesn’t apply here: the CX-5 has the longest wheelbase (2700mm) yet has the most restricted, if still adequate, rear-seat room along with the Tucson; the CR-V has the shortest wheelbase yet a rear cabin that feels as palatial as a limousine.

Above: the CR-V, “as palatial as a limousine”

For anyone who’s owned or sat in a Honda such as the Jazz or current HR-V, the marvel of this Honda packaging is unlikely to come as a surprise. There’s also stacks of head room and the CR-V has a flat rear floor, whereas the others feature transmission humps of varying sizes.

The Forester provides the second-most spacious rear with still-generous leg room and foot space, and huge airspace above your head.

The Sportage also impresses up back, and surprisingly roomier than its Tucson twin. The Kia’s rear bench shared a ‘firm but comfortable’ verdict with the CX-5’s back seat, with the Tucson felt to offer a slightly softer degree of cushioning.

Such was the firmness of the Forester’s bench, fellow tester Rob, who volunteered for the back seat during our three-up drives, was prompted to compare the group’s least comfortable rear seating to a church pew.

Honda matches its superior space with the most comfortable bench, and the cloth upholstery judged to be of a higher quality to the CX-5’s, if not as pleasant as the leather-appointed Koreans.

Each model provides a rear centre armrest with cupholders, and rear vents. The Sportage has the smallest rear door pockets, if not much smaller than those in the Tucson and Forester; Honda again is on the case with the most practical door pockets.

Above: the Forester’s signature boxy shape offers excellent vision for drivers, making for a safety advantage

The Forester’s seatback pockets are the best – divided usefully into three sections.

The Subaru’s excellent vision was also noted – the Forester continuing a signature feature with its tall side glass that also benefits rear passengers.

A high beltline impedes visibility for smaller children in the Tucson, though its caramel/dark beige interior lightens the mood compared with the dour and dark ambience of the Sportage.

The CR-V, CX-5 and Forester provide two USB ports up back, with one port in the Sportage and Tucson. The Sportage is the only model to include a 12-volt socket in the rear cabin.

Some potential buyers may be interested to know the CR-V is the only SUV in this set that offers the option of third-row seating. It just requires a step up to the $38,990 VTi-L variant.


CARGO SPACE

For evidence that quoted cargo capacities depend on how they’re measured by respective manufacturers, take a look at the boots of the Sportage and Tucson. On paper, the Hyundai holds an extra 22 litres (488L v 466L) over its cousin, yet by the tape measure the load compartments are virtually identical in width and length.

They also share a lack of thoughtfulness as the boots are basic in presentation and features. The Sportage even skips a 12-volt socket, though both share a cargo blind that can be repositioned close to the boot floor so it can act as a load barrier.

Mazda’s average rear-seat leg room isn’t balanced by a large boot – in fact, the CX-5 has the smallest load area in this group, at 442L. Its size is still sufficiently practical for most families, and there are some helpful features such as a 40-20-40 seatback arrangement that differs to the 60-40 set-ups of the other SUVs here. That central ‘20’ section can also be lowered individually – essentially to create a large ski port – by an inset lever, with the outer seats lowered by larger levers.

The CX-5 is the only vehicle here to omit a boot light and opt for a temporary spare rather than a full-sizer.

Battle of the Best Boot is between the CR-V and Forester, which contrast with the lowest and highest loading lips, respectively, but look equally the most cavernous in the group with rear seatbacks folded down.

The Forester’s boot gets the highest marks for presentation with its quality-looking mixture of plastic and carpet. However, for this comparison we have to ignore the automatic tailgate and electric release levers of our Premium test car as neither are standard on the L.

So, the Honda gets the nod. It presents the only standard electrically operated tailgate in this group, matches the CX-5’s seatback release levers, and with its width and depth it provides the biggest boot visually not just on paper (522L versus next-best Forester’s 498L).


ERGONOMICS AND INFOTAINMENT

‘The more the merrier’ seems to be Subaru’s approach to interior displays: there are three of them in the Forester. In addition to the usual infotainment screen and instrument cluster, the Forester features a higher, central 4.2-inch LCD display.

The extra screen displays the Forester’s Eyesight safety features, provides extra details such as hill gradients (in degrees, plus or minus) and throttle percentage, and temperature, time/date and fuel. It also helps to split info with the main touchscreen. You could, for example, have radio stations showing up top and map guidance on the main screen – if navigation were standard, which it’s not in the L.

The Forester’s touchscreen certainly can’t be accused of looking bland with its multicoloured function symbols, though the 8.0-inch screen you can see in our images is for Premium and S models only. The L gets a 6.5-inch touchscreen that’s the smallest here.

Mazda and Honda are only slightly more generous with 7.0-inch touchscreens, though the CX-5’s looks more undersized owing to the CR-V display’s broader, black surround. Honda is the only maker here to go fully touch control, with even shortcut buttons of the capacitive variety.

Above: Mazda and Honda get the largest centre displays in this group

Mazda is also alone with its centre console dial/joystick, which is clearly inspired by BMW’s iDrive and just as intuitive. Surrounded by physical shortcut buttons, it’s also the only way to operate the infotainment system when the CX-5 is on the move as the touchscreen locks.

Kia and parent company Hyundai understandably share their fundamental graphics, logical menu layouts and bright, 8.0-inch displays, though how they’re each presented stylistically differs greatly.

The Sportage’s display is integrated naturally into the main, driver-oriented dash; the Tucson’s is a ‘floating’ design. Which looks better is purely subjective.

All interfaces bar the CX-5’s can be switched to mirror smartphones with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (since this test was completed, Mazda announced compatibility for these platforms. Details here).

Audiophiles should appreciate the bassy-sounding JBL and Infinity audio systems in the Sportage and Tucson, respectively. The CR-V’s audio matches their eight speakers, but without the sound grunt of the Koreans that both benefit from external amplifiers.

Just six speakers for the CX-5 Maxx Sport and Forester L. If you want either SUV with a fancier audio, you need to step up to the more expensive CX-5 GT (Bose) and Forester S (Harman Kardon).

The VTi-S is the only variant here to miss out on digital radio.

All models provide four-way steering wheel adjustment to help establish comfortable driving positions, with seating adjustments easiest in the Kia and Hyundai with their 10-way electric operation.

The Sportage’s driving position is slightly compromised by an unusually high left footrest, which isn’t ideal for average-height drivers and not appreciated by a couple of our six-foot-plus CarAdvice team members we popped into the seat.

The CR-V’s relatively low driving position felt the most car-like – whether that’s a positive or not will depend on the SUV buyer in question.


DRIVING

We focused our testing for this comparison primarily on urban and suburban roads – i.e. where these SUVs will spend the clear majority of their time.

Our three-up, urban loop revealed that each SUV here is accomplished at settling quickly after speed humps, while sharper bumps were felt the most in the Mazda, reflecting our experiences in other CX-5s, and least detectable in the CR-V.

After more extensive testing at varying speeds and on bitumen of varying quality, the Honda’s supple suspension continued to lead the way with its ability to absorb lumps and bumps with ease.

Not that far behind in the relaxing stakes is the Tucson Elite, which edged the Sportage that, like its cousin, has also undergone further local suspension tuning for its 2018 update. The Kia’s ride is generally pleasant – only coming undone when it starts to get a touch busy across consistently broken bitumen.

As per CX-5 tradition, the Mazda’s firm low-speed ride starts to ease up as speeds rise and the Mazda’s damping is quite effective at providing sufficient comfort – aided to some extent by the chubbiest rubber on test.

The surprise of testing was the Forester, which has habitually been one of the best-riding SUVs in this segment. This new-generation model, however, rode more stiffly than its competitors, and proved to have the least compliance on bumpier suburban surfaces – and quite abrupt over large bumps.

Notable body roll through a relatively low-speed corner didn’t point to a sportier bent for the new model.

The Forester’s steering was also the least accurate, with inconsistent weighting around the straight-ahead creating a vagueness that makes it difficult to place the Subaru’s front end precisely when cruising along.

That’s an objective assessment; it’s arguably more subjective splitting the others.

The CR-V’s steering would welcome some extra crispness and isn’t as direct as its 2.4 turns lock to lock suggest, but its weighting and linearity can be appreciated.

Both the Tucson and Sportage steer with satisfying smoothness, with the Hyundai providing a touch more heft that’s neither for better nor worse.

Steering continues to be one of the CX-5’s assets, and if you’re looking for the SUV with the keenest approach to cornering, then look no further in this group.

Some early-morning rain provided an interesting scenario for our mix of front-drive and all-wheel-drive models. And the Sportage was eager to wheelspin out of junctions and when accelerating firmly up hills, with torque steer thrown into the equation.

Roads were drying out quickly by the time we switched into the Tucson, so the Hyundai’s better tractive performance wasn’t necessarily a fair comparison. So, to be fair, we took the Sportage for another run in drier conditions, where the torque steer disappeared, if some front-wheel chirping remained.

No dramas for the all-wheel-drive CX-5 and Forester, or even the CR-V we had in FWD form – though its sluggish CVT auto no doubt acted in its favour in this instance (more of which you can read about in our Performance section).

For any buyers considering the occasional gravel or mud track, it’s worth noting the Forester has the highest ground clearance here: 220mm. The Sportage and Tucson have the lowest ride heights, at 172mm, with the CX-5 (193mm) and CR-V (208mm) in between.

The Forester’s all-wheel-drive system is a permanent set-up, whereas the CX-5 and CR-V AWD employ an on-demand system.

Subaru also includes an X-mode function again – this time a rotary push-dial instead of a button – which adjusts drivetrain mapping to help manage wheelspin on slippery surfaces, or (with a twist of the dial) to turn off stability control to assist momentum through mud or sand.


PERFORMANCE

The drivetrains of our contenders are different beyond which wheels are powered. Engines are all four-cylinders, though they range between 1.5 and 2.5 litres in size, and are mated to automatic gearboxes that are either conventional torque converters or cog-less continuously variable transmissions.

Subaru engines continue to be laid flat in a horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ configuration, as opposed to conventional engines with vertically pumping pistons.

The 2.5-litre motor in the S is the same as in every new Forester, as the company – at least for now – has abandoned the previous-generation’s 2.0-litre turbo-petrol and turbo-diesel engines.

That’s a pity as the turbo-petrol was especially likeable, though there have been extensive changes to the 2.5-litre, which, says Subaru, features 90 per cent new components.

If outputs increase only slightly, to 136kW and 239Nm (up 10kW and 4Nm), there’s a decent improvement in fuel economy – with official consumption dropping from 8.1 to 7.4 litres per 100km.

With a fuel tank increasing from 60 to a biggest-in-group 63 litres, that extends the Forester’s theoretical range by a useful 110km (now 851km).

None of its rivals here pass the 800km mark, though the CR-V and CX-5 match the Forester’s official fuel consumption – though only the Mazda also has stop-start – whereas the Sportage and Tucson are thirstier at 7.9L/100km.

How those figures translate into the real world will depend on how you drive, or where you drive.

The more hills there are, for example, the more you’ll have to work the engines of the Kia and Hyundai.

Despite needing to shift only the second-lowest mass in this group (1532kg), the Sportage SLi’s 114kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder feels undernourished. On a light throttle it’s a smooth operator in conjunction with the six-speed auto and it gets the Sportage smartly off the line, but its lack of torque – just 192Nm – is exposed by hills and purposeful overtaking attempts.

The auto could also be quicker to detect changing gradients and downshift a gear or two.

(The Kia’s gear lever movement – if only for those times switching between park, drive and reverse – is the smoothest, though, whereas the CR-V’s is the clunkiest in the group.)

A 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is the Sportage’s best engine, though buyers either need to drop down to the Si Premium and lose some features or spend nearly $4500 on the SLi diesel (though you get AWD in both cases).

Hyundai’s Tucson Elite is available with three engines – the biggest choice of any Tucson variant. That includes the abovementioned turbo-diesel, a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol, and the motor tested here.

It’s essentially the same ‘Nu’ engine as used by the Sportage, though crucially modernised with direct fuel injection (rather than multi-port injection as with the Kia) and also aided by a higher compression ratio to give the Tucson some extra power and torque: 122kW and 205Nm.

The engine feels slightly more responsive than the Kia’s, though mid-range pulling power still trails the Japanese SUVs. If there’s an extra $3K in your budget, the 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo also available for the Elite is a stronger performer and adds all-wheel drive; you just need to be mindful its seven-speed dual-clutch auto isn’t as smooth at low speed as the 2.0-litre’s six-speed auto.

Mazda’s CX-5 also utilises a six-speed auto, and it has the most torque to work with in this group: 252Nm. That isn’t realised until 4000rpm, though, and it’s asked to motivate the heaviest SUV here (1641kg), so the 2.5-litre doesn’t quite achieve ‘effortless’ categorisation, while it can get a touch vocal when pushed.

It’s still an effective drivetrain, and anecdotally a buyer known to CarAdvice recently upgraded from a V6-powered Tribute to this CX-5 variant and didn’t feel disappointed by the performance.

The 2.5-litre is preferable to the modest-performing 2.0-litre found in the front-drive Maxx Sport, and for 2018 it received cylinder-deactivation technology that essentially turns the CX-5 into a two-cylinder on a light-throttle cruise for fractionally better economy.

Honda takes the same gearbox route as Subaru with a cog-less continuously variable transmission. Both feature artificial gear ratios in an attempt to replicate the feeling of using a conventional stepped torque converter auto, though neither operate as well as the six-speed autos elsewhere here.

The CR-V’s CVT manages to minimise the drone associated with these autos as revs hover rather than climb in conjunction with speed, but at lower speeds it makes the drivetrain feel sluggish.

Matters are much better on the (faster) move, when there’s a clearer sense of the Honda 1.5-litre engine’s flexibility – enabled by a turbocharger and 240Nm being delivered between 2000 and 5000rpm (a torque curve that is far flatter than any other seen here).

A manual gearbox would almost certainly get more out of this engine, though of course buyers in Australia are partial to autos.

Subaru’s CVT, conversely, feels more responsive but is considerably noisier.

For buyers looking for an SUV that can do some towing on a smaller scale, the CX-5 has the biggest braked towing capacity (1800kg) and the joint-highest towball download limit (150kg).

The Forester shares that towball maximum, though its towing capacity is 1500kg – the same as the CR-V (with a 100kg towball limit). The Sportage and Tucson predictably share their 1600kg towing capacity, though the Hyundai’s downball limit is slightly higher (120 v 100kg).

The CR-V is the only SUV to be equipped with Trailer Stability Assist.


VERDICT

Buyers aren’t just spoilt for brand choice in the medium-SUV segment, but also within the ranges of the respective makes/models.

There’s a total of 40 variants just across these five SUVs. And the specific variants chosen for our mid-$30K target zone aren’t necessarily the sweet spots in their line-ups.

The $35,490 Forester L, for example, doesn’t feel like much of a jump over the $33,490 base model, whereas the Premium (which we had on test) does – but costs $38,490.

If stretching an extra $1600 is feasible, we would also recommend the $38,490 CX-5 Touring over the Maxx Sport for some worthy extra kit, including speed-sign recognition, head-up display, front sensors and upgraded cloth seats.

The Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson both go up a notch with a turbo-diesel alternative to their 2.0-litre petrols, though that comes at an extra cost unless you’re willing to sacrifice some equipment for a lower trim grade than we have here.

But let’s keep this comparison focused on buyers with a rigid budget and no flexibility to spend more than $37,850 – the highest price of our contenders here (the Tucson Elite).

Surprising us, and no doubt many readers, the Subaru Forester stirs the wooden spoon.

The 2.5i L has plenty of bells and whistles, and even if some features – such as Personal Recognition – are borderline gimmicks, it comfortably leads the way in this group on active safety.

The Forester continues with its signature tall glasshouse that contributes to the best all-round vision here, and its high ground clearance provides extra confidence for any buyers considering (light) off-road travels.

The Subaru’s interior, however, failed to convince most judges in terms of its design and seat comfort, while the driving experience has taken a step backwards with the vague steering and fussy, occasionally abrupt ride. Subaru is now also below-average on factory warranty – still on three years, whereas almost all carmakers are now on to five, and servicing remains expensive.

If the way an SUV negotiates a scenic country road is important to you, Mazda’s CX-5 is an accomplished handler. For a high-riding wagon, it lives up commendably well to the Japanese brand’s Jinba ittai – car and driver as one – philosophy.

Approaching the CX-5 as everyday practical family transport, though, reveals some shortfalls. Packaging that’s not as well executed as its rivals means rear-seat leg room and boot space are merely average.

Studying the equipment lists, the Maxx Sport AWD also looks underdone, with the ownership factor also hit by the highest servicing costs up to 40,000km here (if only slightly costlier than the Subaru).

The second-lowest servicing costs and the longest warranty aid the Kia Sportage’s cause. It also drives very nicely indeed, validating some excellent work by the brand’s Australian engineering team, even if the Sportage’s ride is at its best on smaller, 17-inch wheels rather than the SLi’s 18s.

It’s third place for the Kia, though, by virtue of an interior that, while neatly designed, looks dour, with a lower perception of quality than the Tucson’s cabin. The 2.0-litre engine is also far from contemporary and its lack of torque can frustrate.

Hyundai’s twin, the Tucson, can’t be that much different you imagine. Yet aside from offering slightly less rear leg room, the Tucson manages to deliver incremental advantages.

Its version of the 2.0-litre petrol offers some extra response, and its suspension is even better sorted – providing greater compliance than the Kia over bumpier bitumen.

The biggest upgrade of the Tucson’s 2018 update, though, is its interior. Previously bland and uninspiring, Hyundai’s mid-sized SUV now looks more upmarket inside.

It faces a tough battle against the Honda CR-V VTi-S for victory, though. The CR-V is best-in-group in several areas: ride quality, boot size and practicality, storage options, rear cabin space, and seat comfort.

However, the Honda’s AEB omission can’t be ignored – especially as it’s not even available as part of an option pack.

It’s good news that Honda Australia is trying to rectify the situation, though right now the Hyundai Tucson Elite comes standard with both AEB and forward collision alert.

And, while the Tucson Elite is even better with the $3K-extra 1.6-litre turbo engine, it gives the Hyundai the crucial edge in this comparison.

(Editor’s note: In hindsight and in efforts to more accurately reflect the rating of the Premium variant as supplied to CarAdvice by Subaru, we have raised the Forester’s overall rating in post-publication from a previously published 7/10 score to a revised and more deserving 7.5 overall.)

***

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HYUNDAI TUCSON BREAKDOWN

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HONDA CR-V BREAKDOWN

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SUBARU FORESTER BREAKDOWN

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KIA SPORTAGE BREAKDOWN

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MAZDA CX-5 BREAKDOWN

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