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Under $15,000: Kia Sportage vs Chevrolet Equinox

With a $15,000 budget, should you buy a used Kia Sportage or Chevrolet Equinox? Check out our article to see which compact SUV offers a better value.

A Compact Crossover for Under $15,000

kiamedia.com | media.chevrolet.com
kiamedia.com | media.chevrolet.com

With a budget of $15,000, car buyers interested in compact crossovers will have something to smile about when comparing a used Kia Sportage and Chevrolet Equinox. The Kia kicked off its all-new fourth generation for the Sportage in 2017, and Chevrolet did the same for the Equinox in 2018. For $15,000, there are plenty of options available for both models with the benefit of the generational updates. Used Kia Sportage models from 2017 and 2018 with around 70,000 miles can be found in this price range, whereas the Chevrolet Equinox leans closer to its 2019 models with similar mileage. When shopping the Chevrolet, it’s important to be aware that 2017 and earlier models were closer to midsize SUV sizing, but starting in 2018, the Equinox decreased in size to directly compete in the compact segment.

Used Kia Sportage vs Chevrolet Equinox Specs

2018 Kia Sportage 2.0L I4 - kiamedia.com
2018 Kia Sportage 2.0L I4 - kiamedia.com

For a used Kia Sportage, shoppers will see a standard naturally aspirated 2.4L inline-four making 181 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque or the SX-only turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder cranked up to 240 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque. In both cases, a six-speed automatic drives the front wheels with AWD being optional. The base motor is rated for 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway in FWD guise, enough for 475 miles of driving range on the open road. Though the turbocharged mill is sure to add some grins, it is also thirstier with fuel economy figures of 21/26 mpg for city/highway driving. The Sportage seats five occupants and received a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS in 2017.

Chevrolet fitted their third-generation Equinox with a trio of engine options, including a diesel. The base setup is a turbocharged 1.5L four-cylinder that produces 170 hp and 203 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. Higher trims come with the option for a 2.0L version that nearly matches the Kia with output figures of 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque paired with a nine-speed auto. There is also a turbodiesel four-cylinder displacing 1.6 liters that makes 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of twist. This last option works with a six-speed, but all three run power to the front wheels unless the optional AWD is selected.

2019 Chevrolet Equinox 1.5L I4 - carsforsale.com
2019 Chevrolet Equinox 1.5L I4 - carsforsale.com

In FWD setup, a used Equinox with the base motor is estimated to hit 26 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, while the more powerful 2.0L setup drops to 22 mpg and 29 mpg, respectively. Opting for the diesel powertrain offers owners a tremendous highway driving range of 577 miles thanks to its 39 mpg combined rating. The used Chevrolet Equinox is also a five-seater, but is nearly 7” longer than the Kia, even after being shrunk from its former midsize dimensions.

Driving & Performance

2018 Kia Sportage - kiamedia.com
2018 Kia Sportage - kiamedia.com

With a fully independent suspension featuring double wishbones in the back and 3,305-pound weight, a used Kia Sportage allows for planted driving in base setup. Moving up to the turbocharged SX model comes with a sport-tuned suspension including firmer shocks, not to mention quite a bit more power. Sure to spin the front wheels under hard acceleration, this model is perhaps best suited to an AWD drivetrain, the better to counter inevitable torque steer along with more sure footed handling in slick conditions. A Magna Dynamax AWD system that can “sense” incoming wheel spin and move torque around, via the 50/50 center-locking differential, as needed.

2019 Chevrolet Equinox - media.chevrolet.com
2019 Chevrolet Equinox - media.chevrolet.com

Chevrolet also fits the Equinox with four-corner independent suspension featuring MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear configuration. The base 1.5L motor is not likely to set anyone’s hair on fire performance wise, but that beefier 2.0L should get up and go quite nicely. Like the Kia, AWD is a good idea with this engine to lend a hand with keeping the steering wheel firmly in your hands when you hit the gas. The Chevrolet Equinox’s AWD system operates a bit differently than Kia’s setup, as the driver can engage or disengage it as needed. An upside to this approach is the rear wheels can be fully uncoupled when not in use to improve fuel efficiency. Another nod to squeezing those gallons of gas for every mile is the stop-start technology in use on the Chevrolet. Additionally, if you anticipate pulling a trailer with your used compact crossover, the Equinox can handle up to 3,500 pounds when properly equipped versus just 1,650 pounds for the Kia Sportage.

Comfort & Interior

A noticeable interior improvement that came with the fourth-gen Sportage was an increase in soft touch surfaces across the board with higher level models featuring piano black trim and contrast stitching on the dashboard. Cloth upholstery is used on entry-level models with leather found higher up the trim ladder. Base models can be optioned with dual-zone climate controls and heated front seats, but you’ll need an EX or SX model to find niceties like ventilated seating, a hands-free liftgate, and heated steering wheel. Cargo volume tops out at 60 cubic feet with the back seats folded and the rear floor can be adjusted with two different heights allowing for a variety of storage configurations.

Thanks to its overall longer body, the Chevrolet Equinox bests the Sportage in max cargo with 63 cubes available and 40” of second row legroom to the Kia’s 38”. It also features a concealed underfloor cargo area, reclining second row, and flat load floor by tilting bottom cushions forward when folding the rear seatbacks down. A Brandy and Jet-Black two-tone leather scheme look sharp, but requires top-spec Premier trim that can be configured with ventilated front and heated rear seating. While mid-tier LT models offer a power-adjustable driver’s seat, a panoramic sunroof, and dual-zone HVAC controls, base models have relatively basic interior amenities like cloth seating with no available upgrade packages.

Trims & Features

2018 Kia Sportage EX - carsforsale.com
2018 Kia Sportage EX - carsforsale.com

Three trim levels are offered on our used Kia Sportage example – LX, EX and SX. At the entry LX model, 17” alloys and color-keyed trim are on hand along with keyless entry. Inside, a 5” infotainment touchscreen manages the 6-speaker stereo though you’ll want to look for models equipped with the Popular package for the bigger 7” display with Apple and Android smartphone integration.

Mid-level EX Sportage models feature 18” wheels and the larger touchscreen, plus Kia’s full array of UVO telematics. An available Technology package adds automatic high beams, adaptive headlamps, and an 8-speaker Harman-Kardon audio system. If you want the turbocharged motor, SX trim is your only option. It also sports 19” rims, a heated steering wheel, and the biggest 8” touchscreen display. Options include navigation, lane departure warning, and heated side mirrors.

2019 Chevrolet Equinox Premier - carsforsale.com
2019 Chevrolet Equinox Premier - carsforsale.com

Chevrolet split our used Chevrolet Equinox option into four trims, with base L models featuring 17” wheels, a 7” touchscreen infotainment interface, Wi-Fi capability, and smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android devices. Stepping up to LS trim doesn’t move the feature needle much, but at the LT level, buyers can access the 2.0L gas or 1.6L diesel powertrains.

The LT Equinox also unlocks the Confidence and Convenience package with a host of driver-assistance aids like rear-cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, and rear parking sonar. With the Sun and Infotainment package fitted, a used LT model will also have a panoramic sunroof and 9” display screen. Premier is the top of the trim ladder and it also offers all three motors. The big 8” screen is included along with dual USB ports, and look for the Confidence and Convenience II package with its Safety Alert Seat, Surround Vision monitor, and following distance indicator.

Which Used SUV for $15,000?

2019 Chevrolet Equinox - media.chevrolet.com
2019 Chevrolet Equinox - media.chevrolet.com

For $15,000 or less, buyers contemplating a used Kia Sportage or Chevrolet Equinox are likely to find more value with the Chevrolet. Its larger size allows for more cargo and passenger space. There is a turbodiesel power plant option that sips fuel and offers incredible highway range. Amenity options are deeper like a panoramic sunroof along with standard tech like Wi-Fi and a 7” touchscreen. Driver aids like the Safety Alert Seat and Surround Vision camera view are not available on the used Kia Sportage. Plus, the Equinox can handle more than twice the towing load too. All things considered, a used Chevrolet Equinox punches above its Sportage challenger when it comes to shopping for a solid used compact SUV option.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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