Economic Engine, Decent Ride Quality, Improved Handling, Price
No Auto Available, Looks Beginning to Date, Lacks Brand Appeal
– by Matt Brogan
When last I reviewed the Kia Sportage mention was made that although it was a decent offering for the price, it would have been all the better for the want of a diesel option and ESP – I must have been channeling Nostradamus.
The Sportage EX CRDi now not only comes with standard ESP but also gains a sweet common rail turbo diesel engine which, thankfully, has helped curb the mid-sized Korean SUV’s drinking problem. Along with a few minor aesthetic refinements, most noticeably colour coded bumpers, the most current Sportage has managed, if only just, to stave off old age a little while longer.
Fortunately it’s not only the looks that have improved for the cheerful Sportage, a few other refinements make this year’s model a quieter, better handling car that is also safer, more confident and more economical than the petrol variant for a very modest increase in price.
Whilst on the outside the Sportage’s looks are far from inspiring, they are passable and practical, offering good all round vision from a cabin that has a reasonably attractive decor, albeit with extensive use of dark grey plastic. The seating is generously proportioned and comfortable (driver has eight way adjustment) and all controls and switch gear, despite being rather basic, are functional and fall to hand readily.
Motivated by a capable 2.0-litre, SOHC, turbo diesel engine producing a modest 103kW at 4000rpm and a decent 304Nm of torque from 1800rpm, Sportage is hardly what I’d call brisk performer, especially in the middle reaches. But thanks to a decent spread of gears from the new six-speed manual (no auto for diesel – yet), it is certainly very capable, especially at urban speeds, and allows it’s considerable mass to be hauled with enough pep to keep par with most similarly rivals – even when loaded to the hilt.
The engine is fairly quiet once warm and cruising is even quieter than the petrol model tested last time. Fuel economy too has improved dramatically and when compared to the 2.7-litre V6, which drank like the best man at a buck’s party, offers a far more rational approach to consumption with a combined figure of just 7.1L/100km. Best of all, it’s real world achievable and even around town my figures hovered in the low eight litre range.
Body roll feels substantially more well restrained with twin tube gas shockers under the MacPherson strut front and dual link rear suspension hinting at some revision since last we met. The ride still feels compliant, though the heavier engine block noticeable impacts negatively on both understeer characteristics and steering feedback. Even during low speed manouveres, tight cornering (think car park) can induce a return action through the wheel which proves needlessly strong, even snappy in certain situations.
Off road capabilities are somewhat limited, as you’d no doubt expect from a soft roader, and the high centre of gravity is more pronounced when reaching the threshold of Sportage’s angle of attack. A switchable 4WD mode which locks the centre differential for 50:50 drive distribution up to 35km/h is enough for moderate work on rough terrain, mud or snow and combined with 195mm of ground clearance, engine and fuel tank skid plates and 60 profile tyres on 16″ alloys, the weekend jaunt away from the black stuff can be made just a little more adventurous.
Braking is adequate considering the mass of the vehicle and offers reasonable pedal feedback and decent fade resistance. The ABS is well calibrated, with a slightly delayed threshold for off road use and overall did the job with no nasty surprises, something a few other low-end SUVs could take a lesson from.
Cabin storage, as in all Kias, is a well considered offering with an abundance of cup holders, door pockets, seat back pockets, large lockable glove box, sunglasses holder, and deep console bin providing more than enough hidey holes for all your knick knacks and goodies. The centre console seems to have lost its neat twin fold adjustable lid but this doesn’t detract too much from the overall appeal.
The large load space is accessed via a top hinged tailgate which also has a neat flip up window and offers 667 litres with the seats up, a larger area than that of the majority of Sportage’s rivals. The rear seats fold 60:40 to extend this area to over 1886 litres and with luggage ties down points, a cargo net, fold flat front passenger seat, retractable and removable blind, 12V outlet and boot lip scuff plate all standard, load demands are well and truly catered for.
If by chance all of this isn’t enough, Sportage also comes with standard roof rails (100kg capacity), optional ancillary attachments to cater for a wide array of outdoor pursuits, and the added option of a 1600kg (braked) tow kit.
On the all important safety front, the Sportage is a quiet achiever with ABS, dual front airbags, EBD, ESP, side impact reinforcement, three child seat anchor points and Traction Control giving the Sportage a five star NHTSA rating when tested with side airbags fitted. Although Sportage CRDi has not yet been assessed by ANCAP, its cousin the Hyudai Tucson, managed four stars.
Standard features include remote central locking, manual air-conditioning (with dust and pollen filter), front and rear foglamps, mudflaps on all four corners, power mirrors and windows, cruise control, trip computer, reclining rear seats with centre armrest, and a six speaker single CD tuner, all of which draw no real complaints.
Whilst on the whole the Sportage is a good package, there are a few points that bring down the overall tone of the vehicle, which when you consider the price is to be expected. They’re not major quibbles, in fact they’re trivial if anything, but to me at least attention to detail is a must.
Stereo illumination doesn’t dim at all with the instrumentation lights, gauge lay out is unimaginative and tacky, the thin steering wheel not as nice as the leather one offered in the predecessor, a wafer thin urethane boot around gear stick will last about five minutes, front demister takes a while, rear centre seatbelt is a two piece unit that retracts from the roof, there’s no telescopic adjustment on the steering column (tilt only), and the reach to first gear is, for shorter people at least, quite a stretch.
As I said, in the scheme of things they’re not big issues, but they do add up in the mind of the buyer and if Kia is to move ahead in the same way cousin Hyundai has, these small issues will need to be addressed.
The functionality, practicality and usability of this vehicle are above all else its saving graces and in summary Sportage does offer a lot of car for the money, even if the aesthetics aren’t quite there yet. So if you’re a prudent and prospicient buyer looking for roomy, safe transport then this could just be what you’re looking for.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: