The entry-level 2016 Kia Sportage Si feels nicer than its price suggests, but is let down by an underwhelming drivetrain.
Often base model cars are stripped-out and don’t feel very special inside. That’s not the case with the 2016 Kia Sportage Si.
The new-generation Kia Sportage has gone up in price in base-model form – the Si now kicks off at $28,990 plus on-road costs – a jump of $800 over the previous version, and the even-cheaper manual Si has been dumped (it used to give the Sportage an attractive $25,990 starting point).
Still, at $28,990, the new Kia mid-size SUV is an attractive offering at the entry-level of the segment, with competitors such as the Hyundai Tucson ($30,490), Mazda CX-5 ($29,190) and Toyota RAV4 ($29,990) all asking more in base model, automatic form.
So, the Kia starts at something of an advantage. And it seems even better when you consider the standard equipment on offer.
A 7.0-inch touchscreen media system is a start, and it has your connectivity mostly covered with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary inputs, but unlike its Hyundai cousin, the Kia misses out on Apple CarPlay connectivity. Kia assures us that the technology will be offered later this year, and that all vehicles will gain the added connectivity by way of a flash update to the vehicle's software.
The screen does, however, double as a display for the standard rear-view camera, which also features dynamic guidelines (which move to give you a better idea of which way you’ll go as you turn the wheel). Rear parking sensors are standard, too.
Being a base model it misses out on a couple of niceties like leather seat trim and push-button start/smart key, but the fact the Kia has “premium material” (read: leather-ish stuff) on the multi-buttoned steering wheel and slick new gear shifter means it doesn’t feel cheap inside.
Indeed, the cockpit is mostly excellent. The layout is sensible, the buttons and knobs feel of a high quality, and the dials and instruments are clear – the digital driver information cluster is a plus, with its digital speedometer a handy addition.
The soft plastic finishes on the dashboard and doors further the case for the Kia, and it has excellent storage through the cockpit, including big bottle holders in the doors, cup holders between the seats and a couple of good-sized storage caddies for loose items, including a covered centre console bin (though the lid on our test vehicle squeaked under elbow pressure).
Overall, though, the front part of the cockpit feels more upmarket than most base model medium SUVs feel at this price point. However, those soft door plastics don’t flow to the rear doors – and while the premium feel is detracted somewhat as a result, it could be a blessing if you’ve got grubby kids.
The accommodation is excellent in the second row. There’s plenty of leg, toe, head and shoulder room for adults, and kids will be very comfortable with the space – though the high window line could be an issue if they like to take in their surroundings.
Unlike plenty of competitors in the segment, the Sportage has rear-seat air-vents, and with two map pockets in the seatbacks and a pair of bottle holders in the doors, not to mention a flip-down centre armrest with cup-holders there are plenty of storage options in the back. Oh, and if the kids are the type that prefer to look at their devices on the move, there’s a USB charge point and a 12-volt outlet in the rear below those vents (in addition to the two 12V points up front). Very handy.
That roomy rear seat has the requisite ISOFIX anchor points on the outboard seats and three top-tether points, but buyers should consider that the roof-lining-mounted middle seatbelt may be annoying as it cuts in to your rearward line of sight.
The boot is family-friendly, too, measuring 466 litres – which isn’t massive for the class, but the Sportage’s broad boot aperture means loading in items such as prams or a heavy suitcase is quite simple.
Propelling you, your passengers and your luggage on your journey in the Si is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 114kW of power (at 6200rpm) and 192Nm of torque (at 4000rpm). It is available solely with a six-speed automatic, and is front-wheel drive.
As you may be able to tell by the numbers, it doesn’t have a lot of low-range torque, and as a result it feels underdone at times. Around town it is mostly fine, with the lower gears definitely making better use of the engine's low torque output.
But the engine’s lack of urge means it will call on the gearbox all too often to try to maintain momentum, particularly at higher speeds. Climbing hills on country roads it isn't very enjoyable, with the gearbox struggling to choose the right ratio and stick with it.
Over a mix of different driving, including a long highway stint to the NSW central-west region, we saw higher consumption than the claimed combined average of 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres, with our best score set at 9.2L/100km.
The drivetrain, overall, is annoying at highway pace but more than adequate around town. The higher-spec SLi and Platinum Sportage models get a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with more power and torque, while those who cover lots of distance could be tempted by the diesel Si Sportage that adds a much more versatile drivetrain and all-wheel drive, at a cost of $5000 over the front-drive petrol.
It’s a shame the engine and gearbox don’t seem to do justice to the Sportage, because it’s otherwise quite a nice SUV to drive.
The steering, in particular, is great: it is nicely weighted at all speeds, responsive in corners when you're pushing a little harder, and light enough around town to mark parking a breeze.
The suspension deals well with big bumps at all speeds, but over mid-corner bumps the rear-end can feel a little skippy at higher speeds. It also feels a little firmer than many rivals over smaller inconsistencies in the road, but that lends it a level of assuredness in the way it handles.
Because it’s a Kia, the ownership promise is spot-on. The company’s industry-leading seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty covers long-term owners, and it can be transferred on to the second owner if you sell it.
There’s also a seven-year capped-price servicing program, which sees the Sportage require visits to the dealer at intervals of 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. Kia also has a seven-year complimentary roadside assistance program.
On the whole, the 2016 Kia Sportage Si impresses around town but falls short as a long-distance tourer. If you’re an urban-dweller, there’s plenty of value to be had here, and it is one of the best medium SUVs in the segment without a doubt. But out-of-towners keen on a Kia Sportage should check out the diesel or the 2.4-litre petrol.
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