The current-generation Kia Sportage has been a standout car for the South Korean manufacturer since it launched in 2010. It has established itself as one of the company’s most popular models in Australia, and with Kia's latest updates to the Platinum variant it now has a fresh story to tell.
The Kia Sportage was designed by a now former Kia designer, Massimo Frascella (in the brand’s Californian design centre), and is about as Korean-looking as an Audi. Frascella, who has been involved in designing cars for Ford, Land Rover, Jaguar and even Aston Martin, worked under Kia's head of design, Peter Schreyer (himself a former Audi designer), continuing the current Kia family look that made its first big splash on the striking Kia Optima.
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One of Kia's greatest strengths has been its ability to marry high-end European design and engineering with Korean manufacturing processes. This results in a car that is European at heart but with the affordability and value-packed features of a Korean car.
This is what differs between the Japanese and Korean approach to car manufacturing as the Japanese are more likely to stick with their own engineering and design ideals.
You can pick between five different Kia Sportage models, with the range consisting of three grades, three engine choices and the option for a manual on the base model.
Prices start from $26,740 for the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol Sportage Si with a five-speed manual transmission and go all the way to $40,990 for the Sportage Platinum diesel, which is the model we are reviewing here.
Powered by a smaller version of the Kia Sorento's 2.2-litre turbo diesel, the Sportage's 2.0-litre turbocharged engine delivers 135kW of power and 392Nm of torque, which is actually better than similar engines from the likes of Volkswagen and Audi.
For example, if you compare it to the 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine found in the comparably sized Audi Q3 SUV, the Kia engine (which was developed at the company's European R&D centre in Rüsselsheim, Germany) beats its luxury German rival with an extra 5kW and 12Nm.
It also compares more favourably to the two petrol engines – 122kW 2.0-litre and 130kW 2.4-litre four-cylinders - that both feel relatively underpowered in comparison.
While providing usefully more torque (195Nm and 165Nm advantages respectively over the 2.0 and 2.4), the 2.0-litre diesel also sips less fuel: 7.5 litres of diesel per 100km versus 8.8L/100km (2.0L auto) and 9.2L/100km (2.4L auto).
The diesel carries a $3000 premium over the mid-range 2.4L that will deter some buyers even if this variant delivers the better all-round performance.
On the road the Kia Sportage is similar to many of its Japanese rivals: smooth, easy to live with day-to-day, and with reasonable ride quality over poorly surfaced roads. Perhaps the only major criticism is the road noise generated by the 235/55 R18 tyres that can also make the ride a little harder than it ought to be for a car of its purpose. At least the bigger chrome wheels add some interest to the external aesthetics.
Inside, the high-spec Platinum variant now addresses a previous criticism of lacking a proper infotainment system with satellite navigation. Kia has now introduced a 7-inch high resolution LG screen with mapping provided by Navteq, and live traffic service from SUNA, as standard equipment (and as a $1500 option for the SLi).
This means the navigation system is able to help you avoid traffic jams, road works and even accidents by receiving live updates from SUNA at all times. This is the same traffic avoidance system that Mercedes-Benz uses in its cars.
Bettering that, though, Kia Australia will offer free map updates to the satellite navigation system for the first two years (a nice addition, given some manufacturers charge in excess of $500 for the yearly update). You don't have to update the maps once the two-year free service is finished but it guarantees updates up until that point.
The screen itself is the nicest-looking interface to an infotainment system we've seen in any current car. That includes the luxury marques. It's positioned high up and angled in such a way that makes it easy to glance at when driving. The quality of the screen is similar (but not as good) as Apple's retina displays on the iPad and iPhone, in the sense that it's almost impossible to see individual pixels on the screen. Boasting an 800 by 480 pixel resolution, it's slick, smooth and easy to operate. It can be a tad slow to start up, but once you get it going it's simple to use and even simpler to understand.
Apart from the new party piece, the Sportage's interior is otherwise rather dark. It's trying its best to be a Volkswagen inside, in the sense that the designers have got an eye only for the colour black. Unlike the Volkswagens, though, the Sportage's interior makes do with a lot more hard plastics.
To be fair, the actual contact points for where you're likely to touch the doors are soft but the dashboard is as hard as it gets. It shouldn't bother you unless you're pedantically obsessed with attention to detail.
The Platinum variants get a ventilated driver's seat that pumps air through little holes in the seat to keep you cool (heavenly in Queensland's scorching summer) and heated driver and front passenger seats for those cold nights.
Both front and rear seats are comfortable even for long journeys and the car can accommodate five average-sized adults without much hassle.
The rear seats are compromised for headroom, though, if you're above average height.
Our biggest criticism of the Kia Sportage concerns outward visibility. The Platinum variant gets a reversing camera and sensors that make parking a breeze but they still don't sufficiently compensate for the giant A-pillars that combine with oversized side mirrors to make it hard to see oncoming traffic as you approach a roundabout. It’s a problem that reminds us of the Range Rover Evoque, another SUV that prioritises looks over vision.
Overall, though, the Kia Sportage Platinum diesel is one of the better SUVs in its category. And with the inclusion of satellite navigation now as standard kit, it becomes an even stronger recommendation. Wait times for the diesel Sportage, which were getting past six months at one stage last year, are now just a few weeks.