2014 Kia Sportage Review: Si Premium

Kia finds a nice middle ground between performance and value with a new mid-spec Sportage Si Premium grade

With the addition of an Si Premium grade to the Kia Sportage range, buyers essentially score a middle-tier equipment level for the price of rival base models.

As the name suggests, the $29,990 Kia Sportage Si Premium uses the entry-level Si as its base (ahem) then adds extra equipment. Additions include 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s), reverse-view camera, auto dimming rear-view mirror, LED daytime running lights, auto on/off headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and seat side bolstsers, electric folding door mirrors, roof rails, luggage net and even a front wiper de-icer – it does get cold in Slovakia where all Oz-bound Sportages are now built.

We recently tested the Sportage SLi that costs another $4800 but only really adds dual-zone climate control and a colour touchscreen facility with satellite navigation.

Underneath, the SLi also includes all-wheel-drive that lifts kerb weight by 42kg compared with this front-drive 1489kg Si Premium. As both utilise the same 2.0-litre direct injected four-cylinder engine, it’s actually the cheaper model that’s faster and more economical – in the latter case claiming to drink 8.4 litres of unleaded per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, versus 8.6L/100km.

The 4.4-metre-long Sportage is among the smaller SUV models compared with the popular Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 that sell (as base models) for around the same money. On the flipside, however, the Kia is roomier than small Holden Trax and Peugeot 2008 that are equally well-equipped for under $30K.

With a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, however, the Kia outdoes the Mazda, Toyota, Holden and Peugeot cover, while also providing an affordable capped-price servicing program. Only the Citroen C4 Aircross (a Mitsubishi ASX by another name) bests the Sportage with six-year, unlimited kilometre cover.

Although facelifted earlier this year, it takes a trained eye to spot the differences between the Korean-built Sportage and this Slovak-made new model. The most obvious change is a cool, piano-black grille treatment and new tail-light bezels that if you squint appear a bit like those on a VF Commodore sedan. Arguably, though, this SUV didn’t need to change much as it remains one of the best looking SUVs in the class.

Bigger changes appear inside, however. A switch from hard dash plastics to soft-touch rubber-style moulding lifts the perception of quality, while even the lower plastics around the transmission tunnel are no longer scratchy and cheap. The steering wheel is a great little unit, with a thin rim and leather wrapping that couldn’t be more of a contrast from rivals that remind you they’re a base model with their plastic tillers.

You do miss the colour touchscreen, however, which is replaced by a red dotmatrix-style display that looks downmarket and means the reverse-view camera shifts into the centre reversing mirror rather than the larger display. The Bluetooth connectivity system is very easy to pair, though, and the switchgear is laid out logically.

The Sportage feels roomy and comfortable up front, and while rear riders won’t enjoy the sort of stretch-out space found in the RAV4, Subaru Forester or Volkswagen Tiguan, for example, the bench is perched high for excellent visibility. As with those rivals with the exception of the Tiguan, a lack of rear air vents disappoints.

The boot is about average for the class, but its nice and square loading area means that many awkward items such as prams should slide in without a trouble, while two decent-sized suitcases can fit side-by-side. A 60:40 split-fold rear seat also means you can double the claimed 564-litre capacity to a fuller 1353L to the front seat backs.

Whichever seat you’re placed in, you’ll appreciate how dramatically more comfortable over bumps the Sportage is compared with the non-facelifted series. Maybe it has seen detail improvements over its lifecycle, but this Kia SUV now approached sophistication the way it skims over small irregularities in the road and rounds off larger intrusions.

Occasionally, it can feel a little busy trying to deal with really patchy surfaces, and over speed humps the Sportage can whack into its bump stops instead of deftly reigning in body movement, but on the whole it is an impressive effort.

The steering of the Sportage has also smoothened out. It is nicely direct and mid-weighted now, though it can get a bit nervous out on the freeway, requiring several little corrections just to keep it heading straight.

There’s also been more of an effort to put the ‘sport’ into Sportage, as this facelifted model handles with a nice cohesion that’s not unlike being in a large hatchback.

The engine makes good outputs for its size – 122kW of power at 6200rpm and 205Nm of torque at 4000rpm are good for a 2.0-litre – and it is a sweet sounding and keen unit.

As evidenced in the SLi all-wheel drive, however, its kerb weight takes the shine off its driveability and hurts economy. This Si Premium front-wheel drive feels a lot less stressed, to the point where you’d think the kilograms saved runs into triple digits. However, in the wet the front tyres will scramble for traction, with the electronic stability control cutting in at inopportune times on some occasions.

It’s still not an engine that would happily deal with five adults on board for a weekend fishing trip, though. Actually, even if you had larger kids regularly on board you’d have to strongly consider the Sportage SLi diesel, but that kicks off at $37,740.

For the most part, the 2.0-litre in this front-wheel-drive application is an adequate mover, and the six-speed automatic is fluent and intuitive. Its trip computer also consistently showed less than 10.0L/100km compared with the 11.7L/100km we notched up in the heavier SLi.

For its price tag especially, the Kia Sportage Si Premium is an extremely well-rounded SUV that does many things right and very little wrong. Unless you really need traction to all four wheels, the front-drive model will save you weight, fuel and it is a more relaxed drive, while saving you $5K. It is a nice sweet spot that also feels more special than rival base models.