Model tested: Kia Sportage MY10 2.0 diesel SLi AWD, six-speed automatic transmission: $35,490 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
Warning: Kia or anyone associated with Kia does not pay me, but by the time you finish reading this review, it may seem that way.
The Compact SUV segment is the hottest game in town, and the standout player is the Kia Sportage CRDi.
The second-generation Sportage was a big improvement over the first-generation model, but the third-and latest-generation Sportage might just as well have come from another planet, such is the gap between these two cars.
Whatever Kia is paying Peter Schreyer to design its cars these days must seem like a bargain when you end up with the best looking vehicle in the most hotly contested automotive segment going.
While Hyundai’s hugely popular ix35 moved the compact SUV benchmark on by more than a few pegs, the latest Sportage changes the game completely. It’s not just the standout styling that draws you to this car – although that’s a huge attraction (if I could only recall just how many punters have come over for a closer look) – it’s the way this thing drives that’s even more compelling.
No wonder there’s a nine-month wait for one of these. Turns out that the folks in the US and Europe think the same as us, and the Sportage has exceeded sales forecasts by up to twenty-fold. I confirmed this with two large Kia dealerships in Sydney, and they tell me it’s a similar story with the ix35 diesel variants.
After designing the iconic Audi TT, Schreyer has clearly brought the same passion and enthusiasm to Kia’s design department with such clear winners as Sportage, and more recently, the Kia Optima.
As concepts go, there’s no mistaking the overall design as a product of the 2007 Kia Kue concept car shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Although different in so many ways, not the least of which has been the move from a coupe body to a more practical five-door design, all the major styling cues have been incorporated into the latest Sportage. It’s quite an achievement to produce a car that so successfully incorporates all the key design cues of the concept without compromising the ‘must-have’ practicality of an SUV and their inherent load carrying capacity.
It doesn’t seem to matter what point of view you look at the Sportage from, there are no bad angles. Every panel and every accent is pleasing to the eye. The high belt line and low profile glass around the car give way to an overall sporty look SUV, and that’s exactly what Schreyer had in mind when he said:
“We’ve created a car with a sports car-like ratio between sheet metal and glass. The side windows are very narrow which gives you an almost rally car feeling. Follow the shoulder and roof lines and they meet at the striking reverse angled C-pillar”.
While Sportage might be easy on the eye as far as compact SUVs go, features like the large door handles, plastic cladding along the bottom of the door panels and wheel arches, along with the roof rails and ride height suggest a certain ruggedness and off-the-beaten-track capability.
Photographing the Sportage from the rear gives the appearance of a smaller vehicle than Hyundai’s ix35 yet they’re built on the same platform, and without looking at the individual measurements of both cars, there seems to be little in it when it comes down to cabin space. It’s just that the low roofline of the Sportage makes it seem smaller than it really is. That said there’s a stack of room inside the cabin and excellent leg and headroom for a car in this class. There’s no problem with three adults in the rear seat row, especially with a completely flat floor for extra comfort.
Sportage is a milestone model for Kia, as it’s the first production vehicle that Peter Schreyer has put his name to (as in he oversees the design team), and it signifies the launch of the new global design DNA for the brand.
You won’t be disappointed with the interior in the Sportage either, as the same breakthrough design language has also been applied throughout the cabin. The dashboard is split into three distinct layers using three different plastics, which all have a semi-premium look and feel to them, but disappointingly, none of these are the soft touch kind. It’s probably the only criticism I can level at this car, and in the scheme of things, it’s just a blemish.
The switchgear layout and functionality is both uncluttered and dead easy to operate, so you won’t need to refer to the owner’s manual. The tone and base from the standard-fit six-speaker sound system is surprisingly good, although both the Si and SLi trim levels miss out on Bluetooth music streaming, which is a bit of a pain, but there is a direct connector lead for an iPhone or other MP3 players.
The mid-spec SLi Sportage also misses out on a start/stop button and the very cool LED Daytime Running Lights (they look sensational), but thankfully gets the reversing camera, which ingeniously appears in the left hand side of the rear vision mirror whenever you engage reverse gear.
Kia looks to have benchmarked Land Rover’s Freelander 2, when it comes to the driving position in the Sportage. It even refers to it as “the command drive position” in the original press kit, and it’s not far off it either. Although you don’t really need to climb up into the Sportage as is the requirement for many four-wheel drive vehicles, from behind the wheel it feels like you’re sitting high above the traffic in front, but at the same time, the impression is that you’re sitting deeper into the car rather than on top. It’s a unique driving position that inspires confidence and security for the driver, and was once the private domain of Land Rover but has since been replicated by other manufacturers in varying degrees.
Only the Platinum model gets the leather seats but there’s nothing wrong with the cloth-covered pews; they are incredibly comfortable and supportive with a clever design that provides side bolster from top to bottom.
In keeping with the skew towards sports styling, you’ll especially like the thick-rimmed small-diameter steering wheel, which is a treat when you marry it up to such adept handling as the Sportage possesses.
Despite the fact that Kia offers two perfectly good petrol engines (2.0L and 2.4L) with dual CVVT from $26,490, the nine-month wait is for the pricier 2.0-litre diesel, and for a few very good reasons. With 135kW and just under 400Nm, this Sportage is the pick of the model line up. There is oodles of grunt down low as you would expect, as well as plenty of mid-range torque for safe overtaking and hill climbing duties. That said, if you jump on the throttle quick enough, there’s still some turbo lag despite the addition of a Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT). 0-100km/h in 9.6 seconds is a good effort for a 2.0-litre diesel, but where I’m not quite sold is the level of diesel clatter inside the cabin when accelerating. I’ve checked this with my colleagues and they have a different opinion, but from my perspective Kia can improve on that front by further suppressing engine noise in the diesel.
I suggest there is little if any improvement necessary in the handling department, Kia engineers have well and truly got that sorted. In fact, I’d be more than comfortable in saying that Sportage offers class-leading handling and ride. Put that down to five months of testing and evaluation by a product development team whose sole concern was to calibrate the ride and handling for Australian roads and drivers.
The hydraulic power steering provides superb feedback in all conditions, and there is plenty of weight from dead centre, making the Sportage a joy to drive around town or on the highway. Turn in is crisp and there is negligible body roll. This is a car you can enjoy driving with a little more spirit than your average compact SUV.
Ride comfort and suspension compliance are every bit as good as an equivalent product from the Volkswagen Group. That is to say there is a near perfect balance between suspension compliance and handling, so that Sportage offers a comfortable ride over all road surfaces, but with sedan-like (I’m tempted to say sports sedan) cornering ability.
For journeys off the beaten track, Sportage AWD variants are equipped with the new Dynamax on demand system. It’s a full-time and fully active system that apportions torque where it is needed during slippage, via an all-wheel drive coupling. In ‘lock’ mode, activated by a button on the right hand side of the steering wheel, torque is apportioned in a 50/50 ratio to the front and rear axles. Of course, in normal driving mode around town or on the freeway, the system reverts to front wheel drive for better fuel efficiency. It’s also worth noting that the Dynamax unit has a high thermal capacity, which reduces the risk of overheating when driving on sand or towing.
Safety on board the Sportage has been well catered for too with six airbags and armed with a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP. Prospective buyers can take comfort in knowing that it also achieved the highest safety rating in its class in Europe.
Other safety features include rollover sensors in the Electronic Stability Control, which are linked to the side curtain airbags, active head restraints and the highly useful Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Brake Control.
I can’t say that I was too concerned with my fuel economy during the week we had the test car (far too much fun to drive for that), but even so, my worst fuel consumption reading was 10.1L/100km and my best was 7.6L/100km, which is what the ADR figure states as a combined reading with 15-inch rims. I should add that my figures included just 50 highway kilometres.
Compact SUVs are generally not that exciting, and certainly not aspirational, but the Sportage CRDi breaks the mould wide open in great looks, performance and economy.
Grade Engine Transmission Drive Price (RRP)
Si 2.0L Petrol 5-Speed Man 2WD $26490
2.0LPetrol 6-Speed Auto 2WD $28490
SLi 2.4L Petrol 6-Speed Auto AWD $32490
2.0L Diesel 6-Speed Auto AWD $35990
Platinum 2.4L Petrol 6-Speed Auto AWD $36490
2.0L Diesel 6-Speed Auto AWD $39490
New Kia Sportage
Body & Chassis
Five-door, five-seater compact SUV, with all-steel unitary construction bodyshell.
Choice of three transversely-mounted diesel and petrol engines driving the front (2WD) or front and rear wheels (AWD) via a five-speed or six-speed automatic transmission or 5-speed manual transmission depending on model.
2.0-litre / 122 kW Petrol
Name / Type ‘Theta II’ / DOHC, four-cylinder in line, with dual CVVT
Capacity 2.0-litres, 1998cc
Max power 122Kw @ 6200rpm
Max torque 197Nm @ 4600rpm
Fuel system Multi-point injection
2.4-litre / 130kW Petrol
Name / Type ‘Theta II’ / DOHC, four-cylinder in line, with dual CVVT
Capacity 2.4-litres, 2359cc
Max power 130Kw @ 6000rpm
Max torque 227Nm @ 4000rpm
Fuel system Multi-point injection
2.0-litre / 135 Kw Diesel
Name / Type ‘R2.0’ / DOHC, four-cylinder in line, with single VGT
Capacity 2.0-litres, 1995cc
Max power 135kW @ 4000rpm
Max torque 393Nm @ 1800-2500rpm
Fuel system CRDi, common-rail, high pressure, direct injection
Turbo system Variable geometry turbocharger (VGT)
2.0 G 2.4 G 2.0 D
Manual 5-sp —– —-
Automatic 6-sp 6-sp 6-sp
2.0 G MT/AT 2.4 G AT 2.0 D AT
2WD S / S —- —-
AWD —- S S
S = available as standard
2WD Delivers 100% of torque to the front wheels. Safety aided by ABS anti-lock braking and electronic Traction Control, plus ESC with Downhill Brake Control and Hill-start Assist Control.
AWD The first of several vehicles destined to feature Magna Powertrain’s innovative, continuous and fully active AWD coupling system called Dynamax which continuously monitors driving conditions and rapidly reacts to a change in driving conditions.
Suspension & Damping
Front Fully independent by subframe-mounted MacPherson Struts, with coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers. Anti-roll stabiliser bar.
Rear Fully independent by subframe-mounted multi-links, coil springs and gas-filled shock absorbers.
Type Hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion
Overall ratio 16.1:1
Gearing 2.99 turns lock-to-lock
Turning circle 10.58 metres
Power Tandem 8+9 inch booster
Front 300 x 28mm ventilated discs
Rear 284 x 10mm solid discs
Parking brake Hand operated lever
ABS 4-channel anti-lock system with EBD
BAS Boosts braking power during emergency stops
DBC Downhill brake control maintains 8kph during descents
Braking 100-to-0 kph 43.5 metres
Wheels & Tyres
Si / SLi Alloy 17 in x 6.5J 225/60 R17 tyres
Platinum Alloy 18 in x 6.5J 235/55 R18 tyres
Spare Full size alloy wheel and tyre