The Sportage is a top seller, while Citroen's C5 Aircross is a rare sighting on the road. Which should you be buying, though?
The Kia Sportage stands apart from the competition with its car-like design. While not the newest contender in the market, it remains a popular one on account of its design and Kia’s aggressive pricing and market-leading warranty.
In this twin test, we thought to compare it to an outside-the-box competitor: Citroen’s C5 Aircross. The French company has long battled to find buyers in Australia due to a lack of brand recognition, and the C5 Aircross is no exception. But is that fair?
It’s certainly no carbon-copy looker, with a bright and shamelessly fun look that will ensure the small cluster of buyers who go for it will stand apart.
Pricing and specs
The Citroen C5 Aircross is being tested in its flagship Shine specification, with a price of $43,990 before on-road costs, or between $48,000 to $49,000 on the road depending on which state or territory you live in. The Kia Sportage GT-Line range-topper wears a list price of $44,790 plus ORCs, but at the time of writing is priced from $46,490 drive-away.
Common standard features for both include 19-inch wheels, a powered electric-opening tailgate, rain-sensing wipers, auto-folding side mirrors, filtered dual-zone climate control, leather or part-leather seat trim, and a proximity key fob.
The Kia adds a panoramic glass sunroof, a full-sized spare wheel, LED headlights, and heated/ventilated front seats. Its front passenger seat also gets power adjustment.
|Citroen C5 Aircross||Kia Sportage|
|Air-conditioning||Dual-zone climate control||Dual-zone climate control|
|Seat trim||Leather & cloth||Leather|
|Driver's seat functions||Powered||Powered, heated, ventilated|
Tech and infotainment
Both display satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio, USB, digital radio, and wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring on an 8.0-inch centre touchscreen. Each also has a Qi wireless phone-charging pad.
The most intuitive way to use the Citroen’s infotainment system is by pressing the haptic sections just below the screen, which shortcut you to music maps, phone, or settings. Unlike the Kia, most ventilation adjustments must be made via the touchscreen, which isn’t super intuitive compared to physical controls that allow one-press adjustment.
The Kia’s system can also be interfaced with by various buttons and knobs mounted lower in the fascia, and steering wheel buttons. The sat-nav has good resolution and live updates, though I prefer my phone’s Waze. There’s also a decent-grade reversing camera with guidelines, and the eight-speaker JBL sound system is a good set-up.
While both cars have digital speedos, the Kia’s small TFT screen bookended by analogue gauges looks less swish than the C5 Aircross’s configurable digital display with cool start-up sequence. The only downer is that the processing power to Citroen's screens could be better, since we noticed lag.
|Citroen C5 Aircross||Kia Sportage|
|Wireless phone charger||Yes||Yes|
|Bluetooth phone and audio||Yes||Yes|
On the other side of the coin in the tech department are the active safety features.
Both cars have autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning. The Kia adds lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic parking, high-beam assist, and radar-guided active cruise control, and so is inarguably better specified despite being the older car on test.
Interestingly, crash safety tester ANCAP gave the Sportage five stars in 2016 and the Citroen four stars in 2019, though neither underperformed in protecting occupants from front or side impacts. Indeed, the Citroen scored 87 per cent for adult occupant protection and 88 per cent for child occupant protection.
The issue was that, as part of its uprated and tougher 2019 tests, ANCAP took a stricter line on AEB systems, punishing Citroen’s set-up for lacking cyclist detection and for underperforming at night.
The Citroen’s interior sure looks the part, thanks to a mixture of fabric and plastic trims with contrast stitching that livens up the ambience a little, plenty of silver plastic bits, door card dimples, and a clear and uncluttered layout. It’s also screwed together well, on first impression.
Unlike the 3008 from sister brand Peugeot, with its confronting little steering wheel and high instrument panel ‘iCockpit’ interior layout, Citroen sticks with a much more familiar interior orientation here. In fact, the leather-wrapped wheel looks great and has ample reach and rake adjustment.
Those ergonomics are hindered a smidgen given other interior elements maintain their original left-hand-drive orientation, like the engine start button (which needs to be held down, not just pressed, to work) and gear selector that are mounted on the far side of the transmission tunnel. A small but obvious thing.
Everyone who climbed aboard was impressed with the broad front seats and their squishy memory foam padding, which is very on brand for a company that claims comfort as its M.O.
Storage-wise, the glovebox is small, but the centre console makes up for it by extending forward under the lid. There are also decent door bins, easily accessed cupholders, and a small open section next to the gear shifter.
The rear seats have the same padding, but space isn’t as generous as it might seem given the car’s dimensions. Behind tall front passengers, rear-seat leg room and shoulder room (thanks to the 33:33:33 seats) is average at best – fine for kids and small adults, but less so for those north of 180cm.
At least with raised seating, outward visibility is good from the rear. Individual slide and tilt adjustment makes tailoring comfort simple, and air vents in the back of the centre console, plus a pair of USB charge points, should keep back-seaters happy on longer runs.
The boot capacity is a generous 580L with the floor set at its lowest (under which lives a temporary spare wheel). This figure can be expanded if you slide those clever back seats all the way forward to 720L, and out to 1630L with them folded flat. It’s a very practical family bus or surfing companion.
Our Kia’s interior was enlivened by the cream-coloured leather seats, console and door padding, and matching dash and door plastic, but you can order yours in all-black if you prefer something that won’t show so many stains.
There are plenty of hard and hard-wearing surfaces, but the soft leather-look 'premium' gear shifter and wheel feel great in the hand. While the fascia looks unusually button-heavy by today’s standards, in my opinion it’s actually a highly user-friendly interface
While the seats may not have the memory-foam-comfiness of the Citroen, they do offer both heating and ventilation, and both front occupants get electric seat adjustments unlike the Citroen's driver-only configuration.
The back seats offer more leg room and shoulder room than the Citroen, though they lack the huge breadth of movement. Rear occupants have their own air vents and USB point access here, too, and while the hard seat-backs might impact on taller people’s knees, they’re great for parents with messy kids.
Outward visibility is fine despite what appear to be slim side windows, and the C-pillar is largely behind your eyes. The giant glass roof is a great feature, which livens up the interior a great deal and doesn’t ruin the rear head room.
The boot is definitely smaller than the Citroen’s at 466L, expanding to 1455L with those back seats folded down 60:40. Indeed, it’s one of the smaller boots in the class. It partly makes up for it with an easier-to-stow cargo cover, plus comes with a luggage net thrown in. There's also a full-size spare wheel under the loading floor.
In terms of child-friendliness, both cars have curtain airbags for rear occupants, child locks, and two ISOFIX points plus three top tethers.
The Kia’s interior offers roomier back seats, ergonomics, and that sunroof, but the Citroen counters with smarter seat folding, a bigger boot, and a more avant-garde design.
|Citroen C5 Aircross||Kia Sportage|
|Width exc. mirrors||1859mmm||1855mm|
|Boot space (behind second row)||580–720L||466L|
The Citroen draws its power from a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine making 121kW and 240Nm. It’s also front-wheel drive, and uses a six-speed automatic supplied by Japan’s Aisin.
The Kia is available with a super-punchy diesel engine that is among the best in class, but for the sake of parity we drove the 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol that makes 135kW and 237Nm mated to a six-speed auto, and to the road via an on-demand (front-axle biased) all-wheel-drive system.
However, it’s worth noting that the Kia is a fair bit heavier than the Citroen: 1642kg versus a feather-like (for the class) 1402kg. As such, the Citroen has a better power-to-weight ratio. Nevertheless, the Citroen’s 9.9sec 0–100km/h time was shaded by the Kia’s 9.7sec time. Neither are speed demons…
Citroen claims fuel consumption of 7.9L/100km using 95RON, though we managed 8.4L/100km on our combined-cycle loop. Kia claims consumption of 8.5L/100km using 91RON and anything around 9L/100km is an expected return. Slightly less frugal, then, but it runs on cheaper petrol…
The maximum braked tow ratings for the Citroen and Kia respectively are 1200kg and 1500kg. If you must tow more, the diesel Sportage is rated at 1900kg.
One slightly unfortunate aspect to the Citroen’s engine is the fact that our brothers and sisters in New Zealand get the C5 Aircross Shine using a 133kW/250Nm version of the same unit mated to an eight-speed automatic. Counterintuitively, it’s claimed to be faster, have superior fuel economy, and be able to tow 1500kg.
That aside, let’s work with the cards we’re dealt. It’s quiet and sufficient for suburban and freeway driving, but you can notice the power deficit when loaded up a hill. It’s certainly not going to make those front wheels chirp.
The six-speed transmission is gentle and unobtrusive, and unlike some automatics it doesn’t immediately place itself in the highest possible gear to save fuel, so you can take advantage of the low-end torque right away. It’s quicker to hook up than a VW-style DSG, but slower to shift when rolling.
The Kia’s engine is less refined than the Citroen’s, and makes its power much higher in the rev band given it is naturally aspirated. But it’s instantly responsive around town, and as such is well suited to urban stop-start driving. There’s also a sports mode that sharpens up the throttle response.
If you’re someone who frequently tows, or likes going on long drives to a campsite or something like that, I strongly recommend considering the $2900 more expensive 136kW/400Nm diesel option, which is scarcely louder and far, far punchier, yet uses less fuel.
|Citroen C5 Aircross||Kia Sportage|
|Engine||1.6-litre turbo petrol||2.4-litre NA petrol|
|Power||121kW @ 6000rpm||135kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||240Nm @ 1400rpm||237Nm @ 4000rpm|
|kW per tonne||86.3||82.2|
|Fuel economy||7.9L/100km 95RON||8.5L/100km 91RON|
|Drive type||FWD||AWD w/ lock mode|
On the road
When Citroen launched the C5 Aircross, it invited Australians “to get comfortable”, in reference to suspension with Progressive Hydraulic Cushions. That basically translates to a second bump-stop mechanism that controls the piston inside the damper cylinder on both compression and decompression, reducing bounciness or pogo-ing in the body over big hits.
On top of this, the C5 Aircross is based on a PSA Group architecture that is both lighter and stiffer than Citroen’s previous platforms. To help reduce noise, vibrations and harshness, the company has fitted double-laminated front windows, and extra engine-bay soundproofing.
The effect is noticeable, since there’s a suppleness to the ride thanks to the long-travel suspension that works in tandem with those cushy-as-heck seats. While it aims to deliver the comfort of Citroen’s iconic hydropneumatic suspension, it can still crash through on some surfaces like sharp-edged potholes and speed humps – not helped by the fact those 19-inch wheels wear slim-sidewall tyres.
Super-light steering that requires next to no effort and a similar amount of feedback works well with the pillowy ride, but twitch the steering at speed and the two combine to make the car feel like it’s bobbing. Corner carving is not this car’s forte – there’s body roll as you’d expect, though still some semblance of composure and its lightness means directional changes feel fine.
While there’s no AWD system, the FWD set-up does come accompanied by a clever rotary dial system with Snow, Mud and Sand modes that relax the stability control to let the wheels spin longer, and send engine torque to whichever wheel has more grip, like an artificial limited-slip diff. It’s best saved for emergencies.
The Kia’s ride and handling are very well sorted, though the spec sheet devotes less time to why. The credit for this balance of comfort and agility goes to Kia’s Australian engineers, who tweaked the springs, dampers, bushes and bars for our market based on testing in NSW.
The Sportage uses its small dimensions to its advantage, feeling decidedly nimble and agile, while it actually rides over choppy surfaces really well considering the slim-sidewall tyres mounted on the 19-inch wheels at each corner. The steering tune is also well judged, with more weight/resistance from centre than the Citroen.
In fact, the Kia is both more agile in corners and controlled over sharp hits than the C5 Aircross, which is itself quieter and generally at least as smooth and pliant in average higher-speed driving.
The other ace in the Kia’s sleeve is an on-demand AWD system with a part-time lock mode that splits torque 50:50. It’s something you’ll rarely use, but which may someday prove helpful.
Citroen’s local importer gives you a five-year warranty and roadside assist. Service intervals are annual or 20,000km (whichever comes first), and the first five are presently advertised at: $458, $812, $458, $812, and $470. The grand total at present rates is $3010.
Kia’s warranty is a benchmark seven years with roadside assist (the latter part is contingent on using a Kia dealer to service your car, the former is not). Servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km, and the first five visits are advertised at: $272, $472, $324, $657, and $306. The grand total at present rates is $2031.
Another thing to consider is the respective size of each brand’s Australian dealer network. Citroen’s website shows 25 new car dealers and 42 service centres nationwide, compared to 143 dealer sites for fast-growing Kia.
So, there’s a look at two of the more interesting family SUVs out there, one of which is enduringly popular and the other battles to get noticed at all.
The Citroen C5 Aircross deserves more love, especially since its Peugeot 3008 twin-under-the-skin is enjoying some success. It’s highly practical, and its interior look and feel have an edge. Plus, it has a bright and airy exterior look and some brand equity.
But the Kia offers more equipment for the money, has extra safety features, roomier back seats, about matches the French offering for engine performance and comfort, is a little more fun to drive, and is both cheaper and easier to own and run.
The contest is closer than the respective sales gulf would suggest, but for most buyers the Kia is a better bet.