Kia has kicked a big goal with this auto, the third-generation Sportage: the first incarnation was bloody ugly and the second-generation was found wanting when compared with rivals, especially the Japanese car makers. Toyota, Suzuki and Honda had more competent offerings with the Rav 4, Grand Vitara and CR-V. Then there was a rush of fashionable crossovers – the Hyundai’s iX35 as well as the more premium offerings from Audi and BMW. All are reliable, stylish and practical. However, Kia’s rivals now have something to truly worry about: the latest Sportage, looks the part and with generous kit levels, acres of space and a decent choice of engines it is raising the bar even higher in the crossover sector. Can it whisk away the top prize in the affordable 4×4 category?
Let’s find out:
Behind the wheel
You get that high riding position which should deliver decent visibility, but that’s blunted by the hefty A-pillars that can be intrusive when you are pulling into a roundabout. There’s not a great view out of the back either because the rear window is relatively small.
The controls are nicely laid out and you can master their functions within minutes, but the quality of the plastics on the dashboard leave a lot to be desired. The fit and finish is good not great, with the odd sharp edge exposed. Overall if you are spending $31k RRP (SLi) you would happy enough with the fit and finish, but not overwhelmed.
The new line-up is available with three engines (two petrol and one diesel, covering a 122kW to 135kW power spread), and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions with two-wheel or all-wheel drive. 2.0-litre/2.4-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre diesel. You can have them in all manner of guises with a six-speed manual or auto.
The 2.4-litre petrol auto version we have in our garage this week has an official 0-100kph time of 10.00 seconds, which is fairly impressive but the 1,588kg kerb weight and high riding position makes the whole experience feel somewhat slow. Maximum torque of 227 @ 4000rpm and the peak power of 130kw @ 6,000. It’s not very flexible in terms of power delivery, which means the Sportage labours after reaching its peak torque. A flat-to-the-floor approach is required when overtaking on single carriageways and a swift passing manoeuvre really needs a drop of two gears.
Handling-wise the Australian version of the Sportage gets a better wrap than say the UK version, which I’m told doesn’t impress. The suspension and handling has been Optimised locally for a unique Australian Market. The reason is that when comparing Kia markets around the world and in particular speed limits and road conditions, Australia is unique. The development of a compact SUV with ride quality, responsive steering and dynamics that satisfied the type of quality demanded by Australian vehicle buyers was a challenge the Kia Australia dynamic (ride and handling) team, including Product Development Specialist Graeme Gambold, spent five months resolving.
Steering is a bit vague and if you enter a corner with too much speed and the Sportage struggles to stay on line but all in all the Australian speck suspension works very well. The brakes are excellent The Sportage’s all-wheel drive system has an electronically controlled single high-ratio transmission that delivers 100% of engine torque to the front wheels when driving normally in good conditions but the torque can be redistributed up to a maximum of 60:40 front-to-rears to help cornering stability if it gets slippery. For off-road driving, owners can manually select lock mode, which gives a 50:50 torque, enhancing traction.
There’s also a hill descent system that’s useful in muddy, rough terrain. This ensures the car maintains a steady speed when descending steep slopes so that the driver does not need to touch the brakes, which might result in a loss of traction. There’s also hill start assist that prevents you from rolling when setting off uphill, eliminating the possibility of wheel spin.
This is where the new Sportage makes sense. The seats are comfortable albeit short on side support, but the driving position is good. Like any other 4×4 it’s set quite high and thankfully, with rake-and-reach adjustable steering it’s easy to find the right set-up, regardless of your size and shape. As far as the ride is concerned the Sportage delivers a game of two halves. On the motorway, it feels relaxed and planted and around town there are few complaints, but on undulating back roads the suspension eliminates most of the bounce, but at times feels a bit wallowy.
It’s also a tad unsettled on notchy roads and things can feel firm and jittery. It’s not unbearable, but it can irritate after a while and your kids might start looking a bit green after an hour or so. Around corners the body lean can be excessive so you do have to rein in your speed on turn-in. There’s an absence of road and wind noise, which is very welcome.
It’s hugely practical because there’s plenty of space. There’s loads of head- and legroom and the boot is wonderfully cavernous. You can fold the seats down with a satisfying click of a button and if Kia had managed to get the rears to fold down to create a completely flat load bay; we would say this car is top of the tree for practicality. Total loading area is 1,547 litres, which is smaller than that offered in the Hyundai ix35, but larger than that in the Suzuki Grand Vitara and the Honda CR-V.
There are some nice touches that suggest Kia has been thinking about its target market: special bottle holders in the door panels are big enough to hold a bottle of wine, which is fantastic when you don’t want them rolling about after a trip from the supermarket. There are also plenty of cubbies and a decent sized storage unit in the central console. The Sportage will tow a healthy 1600Kg braked with a tow ball weight of 200kg which makes it ideal for towing mid-range campers and caravans etc. In fact the diesel makes a perfect mid-sized tow vehicle. Many people would be better off with one of these than a bigger 4WD.
There’s loads of it and if you are disappointed you are expecting way too much. At present Kia is offering the car in three specs and if you need fruit in your auto you can go nutso with the Sportage. In a full-specked car (platinum) features full leather upholstery with heated front and rear seats, dual-zone climate control18inch alloys and an audio system that incorporates a radio, a CD player and MP3, USB and iPod connectivity. Bluetooth isn’t standard which is totally bewildering in this car. A rear-view safety camera which transmits an image to an LCD colour display integrated into the auto-dimming rear-view mirror is also fitted, and there are also reversing sensors to complete the package. Front fog lights and cornering lights ensure good visibility in all conditions, day or night, and the windscreen wipers come on automatically in bad weather.
The new Sportage is also fitted with LED daytime running lights in the higher spec models. Steering wheel-mounted controls, electric folding door mirrors and a trip computer add to driver convenience. The Platinum also offers rear privacy glass and 18-inch alloys. Roof rails are standard and there’s body-coloured door mirrors with LED indicator strips. Entry level Si gets plenty of kit including 17-inch alloys, aircon, all-round electric windows, electric door mirrors, cruise control, and iPod cables. SLi models, adds roof rails, 17-inch alloy wheels a luggage net, vanity mirror illumination, adjustable driver’s seat lumbar support and a trip computer.
Kia has thrown everything it’s got at the Sportage to give potential customers peace of mind. There’s Electronic Stability Control (ESC) that automatically brakes one or more wheels, reduces engine torque – or does both – to stabilise the car if the car has gone out control. There’s also a roll-over sensor that detects when the car might be in danger of rolling over and deploys the side and curtain airbags and seat-belt pre-tensioners so that occupants are fully protected should the worst happen.
There are also whiplash-countering headrests, front, side and curtain airbags and ISOFIX child-seat mounting in the rear seats. Security-wise, it’s a similar story: the Sportage offers an immobiliser and alarm, door deadlocks, child safety rear door locks, speed-sensing auto-door locking and impact-sensing auto-door unlocking. The 18-inch alloys also come with locking wheel nuts. All this safety kit has clearly helped as the Sportage was given the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP tests.
When Kia’s design teams under Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer began work on the new Sportage a little over three years ago, they identified that the then largely unheard-of crossover type vehicle – combining much of the stance and attitude of a compact SUV, but with sleeker looks and a greener conscience – would play an increasingly important role in buying patterns of the future. The car they have created is a five-door, five-seat crossover with the style to attract people who might otherwise have looked at a Peugeot or Volkswagen.
It has been designed to meet the requirements of young families – or the young at heart – who lead busy, primarily urban-centric, lifestyles. The high shoulder and low roof lines meet in striking reverse-angle C-pillars that improve the view out for rear passengers. The ribbed roof, chunky door handles, LED day-time running lights and large wing mirrors are as much signs of new Sportage’s street-wise urban toughness as its capability in difficult conditions. The spacious five-seat cabin is as dynamic as the exterior and is dominated by a multi-tier dashboard that narrows as it sweeps in from the sides towards the middle, leading into an eye-catching centre console.
The design deliberately emphasises the width of new Sportage and also gives occupants a feeling of protection and safety. It’s all change for the Kia Sportage. The rugged small 4×4 styling is out and in comes a sharp, modern look that’s far more in keeping with the competition, Volkswagen, Nissan and Hyundai ix35. The last comparison is an important one, as, underneath, the ix35 and Sportage is essentially the same car and are built at the same factory in Slovakia. There’s a lot going for the new Sportage. Firstly, the engines are a massive improvement over what was previously available and are now among the cleanest you can buy in this type of vehicle. The Sportage does a good enough job out on the road, too with decent steering and a well-controlled body
Inside, it looks smart and is functional to use. The materials that have been chosen for the dash and console are good quality and not far from what you’d expect to find in a Volkswagen. As you’d expect from Kia, the Sportage delivers when it comes to value for money. It’s comprehensively equipped, appears well screwed together and has one of the best warranties on the market (5 years/Unlimited Kilometres). It’s an attractive option for any family looking for a roomy, economical and well equipped car.
Would I buy one? You betcha!!
What is good and not so good?
· Stylish and upmarket looks,
· High quality feel to the interior,
· 6 Speed Auto
· Australian Tuned suspension
What’s not so good?
· No Bluetooth
· Visibility through ‘C’ pillar atrocious
· No reach adjustment for Steering