At $40,000, does the European-made Kia Sportage make sense?
The European-made Kia Sportage Series II SUV carries the same value for money equation as before, but with a range of enhancements over its predecessor.
Firstly, it’s now sourced from Slovakia as opposed to South Korea. It’s hard to know if this is a good or bad thing, mainly as all modern car plants are heavily robotised so any chance of a “Friday car” is basically non-existent.
It feels and looks properly made too. A week behind the wheel revealed Kia’s great build quality with everything fitting in properly and no panel gaps or plastic mouldings looking out of shape.
It helps that the Sportage is and always has been a rather striking vehicle to look at. The vehicle was designed by Massimo Frascella, an Italian car designer that has worked for Jaguar and Aston Martin (he is now the creative studio chief at Land Rover).
His designs were modified and signed off by Kia’s lead designer Peter Schreyer, the man responsible for the original Audi TT and one of the best known and most awarded car designers in the world.
Everything about the look screams European. Until recently it was merely styled in Europe, but now it truly is a properly European car, given it’s even built there.
Our test car was a Kia Sportage Platinum Series II diesel with a price tag of $39,990, plus $520 for metallic paint. The Platinum is the top-spec, which starts at $36,490 for the petrol but the diesel commands a rather hefty $3,500 premium. Is it worth it?
In short, yes.
It’s not because it’s fuel efficient (on paper, at least), but the drivability and general feel of the car when combined with Kia and Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbocharged R-Diesel engine is like night and day compared with the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol model.
The power figure comes in at 135kW but the important figure is the 392Nm of torque, which is impressive for a 1700-kilogram SUV. The downside is the fuel economy, which Kia claims is 7.2 litres per 100kilometres, but we couldn’t manage any better than 10L/100km and that included a reasonable amount of highway driving, which should’ve only helped the Sportage’s cause.
Let’s compare that to the best selling SUV in its segment, the Mazda CX-5. The Japanese 2.2-litre diesel produces less power but slightly more torque (129kW and 420Nm), but where it trumps its South Korean rival is its fuel economy, which is claimed at 5.7L/100km.
Nonetheless, the top-spec CX-5 costs almost $10,000 more (you can get a mid-spec CX-5 Maxx Sport diesel from $39,470) and doesn’t come with the fixed priced servicing and Kia’s five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. So there are certainly some pros and cons to play out here if you’re shopping between the two.
As a family SUV, the Sportage Platinum offers a lot. The front seats are supportive and spacious with plenty of storage space in arm’s reach. The rear seats too can easily accommodate three average sized adults.
It’s a little dark inside, which is very much a Volkswagen-inspired interior design theme. Unlike its German rival, though, the Kia’s plastics are not on the soft side.
On the plus side, Kia has done some wonders to keep the cabin ambience at a high quality (thanks in part to the giant twin-sunroof) and road noise intrusion to a minimum. There’s hardly any diesel clatter inside the cabin and on the highway it’s a peaceful place to be. If peace isn’t your thing, the six-speaker stereo system is also pretty darn good.
The front and rear seats are both heated, which is perfect for Slovakia but perhaps not as useful in Australia in summer. Since the factory switch from South Korea to the Slovak Republic, the Platinum grade has lost its much loved cooled-seats, as the Europeans don’t often cop the heat we do down under.
The 7.0-inch high resolution infotainment screen is one of the best in the business as far as clarity and image quality goes, but is hindered by slow and cumbersome software and its satellite navigation system can also be a bit tricky to follow, particularly as it doesn’t read out street names.
Something worth mentioning is the ISOFIX child-safety points, which we found an absolute pain to operate. In most new cars the anchor joints readily stick out for easy coupling and in others they are hidden inside the seat itself. The Sportage is in the latter, but the points were so deep that it took us a good 15 minutes to install our two-year old son’s child seat, where it usually takes about 15 seconds.
His pram and the week’s groceries fit nicely in the in the boot, which measures 564 litres with the rear seats up, but extends to an Ikea-loving 1,353L when the back seats are folded down.
Behind the wheel the sweeping shape of the Kia Sportage has resulted in relatively ordinary outward visibility (mostly for the rear and sides), but that’s largely a non-issue in the Platinum variant given the standard fitment reversing camera and rear parking sensors. Still, it’s actually rather difficult to drive in tight spaces without parking aides, but you get used to it.
Around town the diesel powerplant coupled to the six-speed automatic is a very competent drivetrain, making overtaking moves and quick bursts of acceleration both manageable and enjoyable. The steering is direct and does the job for an SUV its size.
Where the Kia Sportage begins to suffers is the ride quality, which is a little on the harsh side. It’s not so much that it’s uncomfortable in general, but happen across a poorly surfaced road and the Sportage seems a little jittery, stumbling over bumps and passing a lot of the road surface impact into the cabin. It feels rather similar to its fraternal twin, the Hyundai ix35, and is in this case outclassed by the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V.
The Sportage range starts at $25,490 for a base model 2.0-litre petrol five-speed manual ($2,000 more for six-speed automatic), so the extra $12,000 for the platinum diesel may not be necessary if you’re just after a practical SUV.
Frankly, for around $40,000, you can actually upgrade to the Si base model of the much larger Kia Sorento which offers seven seats and more competent drive dynamics, but you miss out on the Platinum’s great features such as push button start system, HID automatic headlamps, sunroof, sat nav, seat heaters, bigger wheels and much more. If that’s your price range then it comes down to size over features.
The Sportage offers Kia’s industry leading five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped priced servicing. It carries the maximum five-star safety rating and is equipped with plenty of active and passive safety features, including driver and front passenger airbags as well as front side and curtain airbags.
We put the Kia Sportage Platinum diesel as one of our picks in the ultra-competitive SUV category, and it’s a comparable rival to the likes of the Hyundai ix35, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V.