Update: 2011 Kia Sportage Review.
The new model can't come soon enough
Decent room, nifty rear seat folding action
Wheezy, underpowered engine, four-speed auto, fuel economy, dated styling, driving dynamics
In December of 2008, 91 Kia Sportages were sold. From the start of 2009, the little Kia SUVs were running at an average of around 150 a month. But in December of 2009, that jumped to 238 cars. So, why so much interest in this car? When grabbed one for a week to find out.
Our test car was finished in gleaming white, which may not give an air of expense like darker metallic colours, but it certainly kept the car cool during our ridiculously hot summer. As a styling exercise, the Kia Sportage does tend to blend into the background with a shape that's definitely dated. It's neither a stunning looker, or an abomination, but there are a few highlights to keep your interest.
The twin exhaust gives some creedence to the word 'sport' in its name, and the way the bumpers intersect with the wheelarches certainly gets your attention. Neat 16-inch alloys suit the car quite well, and the teardrop-style headlamps prevent the front from looking too dreary. Standard roof-racks and a tailgate which can open both the glass only and the entire back adds to the Sportage's practicality.
The test car was the 2.0-litre EX model, a front-wheel-drive version which comes with an automatic transmission as standard. Unfortunately for the Sportage, it's only a four speed auto, and this creates a few issues.
Firstly, because of the gaps between the ratios, if you need to accelerate quickly, the engine revs and revs to get the car moving. The peak torque is at a lofty 4500rpm, which means nothing is happening up until that point. So the revs keep climbing, and as they do, the 2.0-litre engine gets more and more wheezy. If you're overtaking, because there are no extra ratios to go to, often the gearbox doesn't do anything and so you have to wait on the engine to do all the work.
Put simply, it's not a very quick car. If that suits you, then you won't have to worry, because the car is much more composed on part throttle, when it's not having to respond immediately. The engine stays quiet, the gearbox seems smooth and you won't be using as much fuel, as it doesn't have to rev.
But because it's only a four-speed auto and not a five- or six-speed fuel economy can be an issue. At 9.2 litres/100km, it's not that great on fuel, and considering it's only front-wheel-drive, it's not going to get very far off road. Which means you don't really need an SUV. If you wanted similar space for a similar price, and yet get excellent fuel economy (4.7L/100km in manual form), Hyundai's i30cw wagon would fit the bill perfectly.
Speaking of space, the Kia Sportage is actually very good. Despite its compact exterior dimensions, a commendable 667 litres of boot space is available with the rear seats up. Drop the seatbacks and the squabs do neat little trick. They sink into the footwells of the rear seats, meaning the seatbacks then line up with the boot floor and you get a completely flat loading area, with a massive 1887 litres of available space.
All seats have enough room, with three adults being able to squeeze into the rear seats for short trips with no problems. The front seats initally seem quite firm, but with the spongy, honeycomb-patterned fabric , there's enough give to keep you comfortable. Storage spaces are adequate, with enough cupholders and nooks and crannys about the place.
The trim used around the cabin does vary a bit - four different plastics used on the doortrims alone - but it's screwed together tightly, which makes up for the hard, cheap-feeling plastics. The silver used to surround the radio is quite nice, however. The grab-handle on the passenger side of the dashboard is redundant - this car is never going off road. But if you want to know how to do a 2WD SUV interior on a budget, go and have a look at the Nissan Dualis.
On the road the Sportage's dynamics are merely average. It turns in with mediocrity, and never settles into anything other than a slightly understeery attitude. It communicates enough through the otherwise lacklustre steering to let you know not to push it too far, but don't expect car-like balance here. It also rides a little firm, thankfully without any crashiness though.
The biggest problem for the Sportage is it's way past its useby date. Its styling is old, it needs a new drivetrain (it's only Euro III compliant), and an entire refresh of the interior. In other words, we need a new Sportage - and that's exactly what's coming later this year. It's understandable why December brought so many extra sales of this model - it was the only one available. With its twin-brother Tuscon's replacement, the ix35, arriving late next month, there will be little reason to give the current Sportage a second glance. We can only hope that Kia brings its replacement here as quickly as possible.
If its anything like the ix35 is, that'll be something to look forward to.
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