To say Kia has come a long way is an understatement. It wasn’t long ago that they were the automotive equivalent of a takeaway meal. They were cheap to buy and filled your tummy, but the food was generally uninspiring and lacked creativity.
Not the Kia of the 21st century. They are prepared by chefs who know what they are doing and expertly dished out with beautiful ingredients. They are still comparatively affordable, but are now designed with flair. What’s more compelling is the way they drive and handle.
An excellent example is the latest Kia Sportage medium SUV tested here. The three model range starts off with a 2.0-litre petrol Si and culminates with the 2.4-litre petrol Platinum. We tested the mid-range 2.0-litre diesel SLi.
Design & comfort
The Kia’s Sportage styling is a standout. I would even put myself out there and say it is the best looking medium SUV currently on sale in Australia.
Kia’s bold ‘tiger nose’ works perfectly on the Sportage, providing it with a low wide stance. At the back, the sloping roof line cascades into a small rear window, giving the car a dog like haunch.
In profile, the Sportage’s high and rising shoulder line and distinctive c-pillar add a touch of masculinity to the otherwise soft curves all round.
There design is so successful there are really no bad angles on the Kia.
The only disadvantage of all those tiny windows is visibility, especially rear visibility. Thankfully the SLi comes with a rear view camera that displays onto the rear view mirror.
From the driver’s seat, it is obvious the soft touch plastics from the newer Kia Rio were either not yet available when the Sportage was introduced, or it was a victim of budget constraints. Nevertheless, the cabin is thoroughly modern and a pleasant place to be.
All controls fall easily to hand and most drivers would have no trouble finding the perfect driving position, courtesy of the 6-way adjustable driver’s seat (electric 8-way adjustable on the Platinum) and tilt and telescoping steering wheel. There is also electric lumber adjustment (not available on the Si) on the driver’s seat to minimise those trips to the chiropractor.
At the back, rear seat passengers get ample head and leg room, although they lack their own air vents.
Overall, the cabin ambience has a surprisingly upmarket feel to it.
Handling and performance
I am in love with the punchy 2.0-litre four-cylinder electronic variable geometry turbocharged diesel engine. With 132kW of power, its output is better than most in its class, and yes, we meant the VW Tiguan/Skoda Yeti twins with just 103kW. However, the engine could do with a little more refinement at idle, but once on the move, you will be hard pressed to tell it from a petrol unit. With 392Nm of muscular torque, it’s brilliant for everyday hauling duty.
Available from 1,800 – 2,500rpm, they are put to good use via the 6-speed automatic gearbox. The gear shift is quick and deliciously smooth when left in fully automatic mode. While there is an option to engage semi-automatic by pulling the gear lever towards you, the transmission works best on its own device.
Although the Kia Sportage shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai ix35 (Tucson in certain markets), the former’s engineers did a remarkable job in chassis tuning. It handles with aplomb on everything other than the most demanding bitumen. It is still soft, but manages to balance body control, ride comfort and handling response beautifully.
Like most SUVs, the Sportage is a part time all-wheel-drive – under normal driving conditions, power is sent to the front wheels. When slip is detected, the system automatically transfers drive to the rear wheels.
However, it does come with a differential lock which will engage all-wheel-drive when required, and it works too. Another useful feature standard on the SLi is the Down Hill Brake Control. As the name suggests, the computer will automatically regulate the brake pressure during a hill decent. All the driver has to do is steer.
Apart from the aforementioned low grade plastics, the Kia Sportage is solidly put together. The instrument cluster, HVAC and infotainment units are typical Kia – stylish and easy to use.
The seat fabrics are made of easy to clean material which will please families with small children, who would likely be the Sportage target market.
Kia claims the Sportage will return 7.5l/100km combined. We managed 8l/100km combined with around 56% freeway driving. Not the best for a diesel engine but certainly isn’t the worse either.
The Kia Sportage SLi is loaded with kit. First up from a safety perspective, it is equipped with front, side and curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes, Electronic Stability Control, Downhill Brake Control and Hill-start Assist Control (prevents the car from rolling back on a hill start) are also standard.
As expected by buyers these days, Bluetooth connectivity, iPod connection with steering wheel controls and a six-speakers MP3 compatible CD player are delivered with the car.
Whereas cruise control, auto dimming rear view mirror and dual-zone climate control aircon rounds up the feature list.
At the back, there is a big suitably shaped boot with 564-litres of carrying capacity. Fold the rear bench flat and the load area increases to a generous 1,353-litre. Underneath the boot floor cover, a full size alloy spare is included, a rarity in most modern cars.
Although not quite a fine dining experience, the latest Kia Sportage is certainly not the cheap Korean ‘takeaway’ it used to be. It is lovingly prepared with some of the best ingredients available and is mouth wateringly presented.
It is one of the best handling vehicles to come out of the Korean brand and its value is hard to ignore. Throw in the supermodel looks and we have an excellent all round package.
|Price (Excl. On-roads):||From A$26,720 – A$39,720. As tested: A$35,720|
|Warranty:||5 years/unlimited kilometres|
|Engine:||2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol, 122kW/197Nm|
|2.4-litre, 4-cylinder petrol, 130kW/227Nm|
|2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo diesel, 135kW/392Nm (as tested)|
|6-speed automatic (as tested)|
|Dimensions:||Length: 4440mm, Width: 1855mm, Height: 1645mm, Wheelbase:2640mm|
|Kerb Weight||1482kg – 2140kg|
Car reviewed is based on Australian Specified model and may differ to that available in your country of residence