Compact SUVs are better than ever, but you can get a big discount if you shop for a used Kia Sportage or Mazda CX-5.
It’s no secret that we really like both the Kia Sportage and the Mazda CX-5. When it comes to compact SUVs, both of these are truly impressive. They’ve found a way to provide more features, better quality, and attractive styling at a price point not seen previously. Nevertheless, a fully loaded 2021 Kia Sportage will run buyers well over $35,000 and a top-of-the-line Mazda CX-5 starts at over $37,000. With that in mind, we’ve decided to see what kind of value can be had if all you’ve got to spend is less than half of that, $15,000. At that price tag are these SUVs still winners? Does one stand out as dramatically better? We found out.
Depreciation has certainly made itself known between these two vehicles. While we found many examples of used Kia Sportage models available under budget from 2018, the newest used Mazda CX-5 in reasonable condition was from 2016. That two-year gap is enough to make this race a lot more interesting, because it gives the Kia an advantage in multiple facets of the battle.
The used Kia Sportage from 2018 uses a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 181 horsepower, while the 2016 Mazda CX-5 has a slightly larger 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that produces 185 horsepower. What’s interesting here is that the Kia is using the base engine while the Mazda is using the most potent powerhouse available. Also interesting is that despite having the larger and more powerful engine, the Mazda manages a combined economy rating of 26 mpg while the Kia only achieves a combined rating of 23. Both SUVs send power to all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Ask most automotive enthusiasts and they’ll confirm that Mazda has rightly gained a reputation for building truly athletic vehicles regardless of whether we’re talking about the Miata or the CX-7. That sporting DNA shows through in the way that the used Mazda CX-5 handles. The steering wheel is precise in a way that reminds us of luxury SUVs from Germany. Braking is good too and surprisingly easy to modulate through tricky corners. 20 years ago, an SUV this capable would’ve felt like black magic.
The used Kia Sportage though is one of the very few that can go toe to toe with the CX-5. Perhaps one of the only vehicles with a name that seems to accurately describe its attributes, this Kia is flat-out fun to drive. What’s wild is that if we had more cash it could get even better with the 260 horsepower turbocharged SX version. Nevertheless, this is still a capable vehicle that rewards its owner with an engaging driving experience. The CX-5 does feel sharper, but not enough that we’d automatically give it the win. Some drivers might appreciate the ever so slightly more relaxed attitude of the Sportage. One major advantage of the Sportage to note, the all-wheel-drive system can lock into a true 50/50 split of power, unlike the automatic front-wheel-drive biased Mazda CX-5.
Both Kia and Mazda have taken leaps and bounds forward in terms of interior quality and comfort over the last decade. Taking one of these at a time, the Mazda stands out as a brand that in 2021 is straight-up luxurious. Things look a bit different though when you turn back the clock to 2016 for the used Mazda CX-5. It’s still a nice place to be and small touches like the excellently appointed steering wheel and the high-quality switches in the center console make it all the more enjoyable. Ride quality is quite good too. Despite being the sharper driving experience (again, not by much), it feels better equipped to handle poor road conditions.
Where the used Kia Sportage isn’t as capable is simply under the heading of body roll. The Sportage is a capable car and predictable, but if you drive these cars back to back, the body roll will stand out in the Kia. Beyond that, it seems to take a slight lead over its Mazda rival when it comes to the interior. The two-year difference really helps it out in that regard. The design language is more advanced with some interesting asymmetrical features as well as a more vibrant center screen. That screen is touch-sensitive, unlike the Mazda, and also happens to be very intuitive and easy to use. We’re really impressed by how comfortable and quiet the used Kia Sportage is no matter what’s happening outside. Rain, wind, and even construction activity are pretty well snuffed out by a well-designed cabin.
The Mazda CX-5 was available in three different trim levels for 2016, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Touring and Grand Touring are the ones to aim at, as they are most likely to come with features like fog lights, keyless entry, a rearview camera, and a sunroof. In addition, it’s more likely to have advanced safety systems like rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot monitoring, and the Smart City Brake Support System which will automatically brake for drivers if a crash is imminent below 19 mph. The Grand Touring is the most luxurious of the trims and will likely be fitted with 19-inch wheels, adaptive cruise control, and a navigation system.
Opt for the used Kia Sportage from 2018 and you’ll get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay regardless of the trim model. The Sportage comes in three trim levels as well, the LX, EX, and SX Turbo. While the forced induction model is well beyond the $15,000 budget, it will be a winner in the future when it finally dips below the mark. Base LX models get 17-inch wheels, a 5-inch touchscreen, and automatic headlights. We suggest finding one with the LX technology package that adds blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams, forward collision warning with automatic braking, and lane departure warning. The EX tech package tops that with a Harmon & Kardon sound system, an 8-inch touchscreen, and a navigation system. Both the CX-5 and the Sportage have excellent passenger space, but the Kia Sportage spends more of its interior room on people rather than things, so it falls behind when it comes to cargo space.
Driving enthusiasts will enjoy the used Mazda CX-5 more, but those that need a bit more in the way of technology or space won’t bemoan the slightly less athletic used Kia Sportage. It’s also important to note that any Kia that’s less than 5 years old with fewer than 60,000 miles continues to be covered under factory warranty for the second owner. That added value along with the more modern technology makes that our pick between these two, even if it’s just barely better.