In the face of new competition, the 2016 Kia Sportage needs to continue the South Korean brand’s steep upward trajectory if it is to continue its sales success in Australia.
Most notably, that competition will come from the brand’s own stablemate, the Hyundai Tucson - a vehicle that has impressed in every CarAdvice test in recent months.
The Sportage is a bona fide symbol of everything that has been going right for Kia in recent years. The compact SUV game has become increasingly competitive and, for sometime now, the Sportage has been imbued with the sense of style, practical value and high standard equipment specification needed to become a favourite with new car buyers.
Anticipation is high, then, that this new model can continue those themes and maintain its popularity.
The 2016 Sportage has been given subtle dimensional changes, most notably a 30mm longer wheelbase for a more accommodating interior (read more about its proportions at the link above).
Those changes are matched to clever styling upgrades that ensure the Sportage looks modern, classy and edgy enough to attract attention in a segment that’s becoming more stylish each time a new model is released.
The front end especially builds on recent Kia attention to detail, while the rear is sharp and sleek, ensuring you’ll know exactly what you’re following in traffic. There’s nothing intrinsically unattractive about the entry- and mid-grade models, but the high-end Platinum looks decidedly stylish.
Does the Kia Sportage look sharper than the Hyundai Tucson? We’ll let you be the judge - in fact let us know what you think in the comments section below.
You wonder how the designers and engineers at Hyundai feel about Kia - traditionally the little brother - posing the biggest threat to the brand’s styling perception. The Sportage is another attractive SUV from Kia, perhaps even more complete in execution than the prototype teasers we’ve seen at various global motor shows and in photos. The Sportage has a genuinely distinctive on-road presence that should ensure it gets noticed.
Speak to Kia owners (of any current or recent model) and it’s clear the styling of their vehicles is the main touchpoint for comments and feedback from other drivers. It’s one real reason buyers are steadfast in their intention to stay loyal to the brand after their first Kia purchase.
While wireless phone charging might be the highlight for the Platinum grade inside the cabin, there’s a general improvement in cabin refinement, quality and comfort across the new Sportage range. There was nothing wrong with the outgoing model, in fact, but this new model - especially in terms of refinement - is a step forward.
Road and wind noise entry has been reduced, while the trim levels, fit and finish feel just a notch above the old model. We only noticed the slightest wind noise above 100km/h emanating from around the external rear view mirrors. It was slight, too, so unless you’re sitting in the Sportage in silence, you probably won’t notice it.
The seats are comfortable and tastefully trimmed, the contrasting stitching on the grades with leather seats a classy design touch. Platinum models get heated and cooled seats, and the option of two-tone leather trim. Importantly, the cloth trim should be hard wearing like that of previous Kia models, capable of taking the beating dished out by family buyers with active, younger children.
Family buyers - especially parents who spend plenty of time loading and unloading school bags, groceries and sports gear - will love the lower boot opening of the new Sportage, and wide aperture. It makes genuine daily use a lot easier.
The second row is roomy enough for two adults - over a longer drive loop - and three adults for shorter drive loops. With the front seat set for my driving position, I still had a good 75mm or so of knee clearance when I sat behind the driver’s seat. There’s no doubt the Sportage is spacious for the segment and a real option for family buyers with two teenage children.
Kia’s infotainment system and driver interfaces are, once again, simple to use and simple to understand. The Bluetooth phone connection is quick to set up and lock on, and those with wireless charging-capable smartphones will appreciate the inclusion of that feature on the Platinum grade. We made a phone call and the person on the other end reported back that the audio was clear and fade free. The 7.0-inch touchscreen (standard on all grades) is fast to respond to inputs, legible in differing lighting conditions and displays its various information clearly.
The 'dual zone' dash design that Kia refers to, ensures that it's easy to work out which section of controls you need to access, especially when you want to change the temperature or adjust the volume on the move for example. The new Sportage doesn't currently feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality, but the brand is going through the licensing process for both systems at the time of launch and - much like its Tucson stablemate - all new Sportage models will be able to have the software flashed to run both systems in the not too distant future. Refreshingly, it's a 15 minute job when the time comes.
Three engines comprise the Sportage range, and there’s something for everyone really, whether you're on a budget, looking for a bit more petrol power or desiring an efficient turbo diesel. The 2.0-litre petrol is the entry to the range and generates 114kW and 192Nm. Step up to the 2.4-litre petrol engine and you get 135kW and 237Nm, while the 2.0-litre turbo diesel makes a stout 136kW and 400Nm. It's the first time that buyers have been able to opt for the diesel engine across all three model grades in the Sportage family.
The surprise of the trio after a short run is the 2.0-litre entry level engine paired to the FWD system. While you expect the more powerful petrol engine and the diesel’s chunky torque (both AWD) to get the Sportage up to speed effortlessly, it’s the 2.0-litre that impresses around town at city speeds because we simply didn’t expect a lot from it.
It’s got just enough power and torque to propel the Sportage through traffic at city speeds without ever feeling like it needs to be worked too hard. It can sound a little harsh up close to its rev limit when you’re working it that far up in the rev range, but it’s otherwise refined enough and quiet once up to speed.
Both petrol engines will accept regular unleaded, a reassuring acknowledgement that buyers don’t need to fork out for the more expensive fuel if they are trying to keep running costs low.
The diesel engine will remain the pick of the three if you cover long distances and do plenty of driving, but the two petrol engines both impress. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the 2.0-litre petrol engine if you’re on a budget, while the 2.4-litre blends power and torque with genuine efficiency to offer an alternative if the diesel doesn’t suit, but you desire AWD.
Like most modern turbodiesel engines we test at CarAdvice, the Sportage’s oiler shows its strength in two disciplines crucial to the current SUV buyer - acceleration up to speed off the mark, and roll-on acceleration through the mid range. The diesel’s chunky torque figure is delivered in a solid wave just off idle, right through the meat of the rev range and up to an rpm point that will account for most daily driving situations. It means you can get up to speed quickly and efficiently, and overtake on the freeway, in safety at all times.
All three engines are paired to an excellent and smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, which works well with all three engines and their respective power characteristics. Only matched to the 2.0-litre petrol engine does the auto ever feel like it even has to do any work. Regardless, it's never caught out or sluggish to shift even with the least powerful engine working away to propel the Sportage.
Based on the ADR claim for the combined cycle, the Sportage’s new 62-litre fuel tank provides the following touring ranges for the three models with a 50km safety limit taken into account: 734km for the 2.0-litre petrol engine, 679km for the 2.4-litre petrol engine and 861km for the turbodiesel. We’ll report back on the real-world numbers after some more extensive testing once we have the Sportage in the CarAdvice garage.
We’d love to drive an ‘untuned’ version of Kia’s standard suspension on Australian roads, just to experience the differences, but it’s fair to say the local engineers have once again nailed the SUV brief with their local suspension tune. It’s one reason Kia has kicked so many goals in a pure driving sense over the past few years, and the Sportage can once again soak up poor surfaces with ease, while also staying tied to the road beautifully in a handling sense. The compact SUV segment doesn’t need to include race cars, but the Sportage gets the balance for this segment just right.
Around town, the Sportage settles into a relaxed cruise and can easily deal with sharp bumps and road joints. Perhaps most impressive is the way it rebounds quickly from any really harsh bumps you might encounter, settling quickly back to a relaxed cruise. Sportage is hard to unsettle regardless of the road surface. Sharp traffic monitors and pedestrian crossings are also easily dispatched. We didn’t notice any huge differences between models rolling on higher or lower profile tyres either, the Sportage is able to carry occupants around town in comfort.
Head out of the city and point the Sportage toward some country B roads and the compact SUV continues to put a smile on our faces. You can really hook the Sportage into corners at speed and it handles with balance and confidence. Again, mid corner bumps don’t unsettle the Sportage even with the wick turned up a little speed wise. The typical country jaunt that most people will engage in is something the Kia can easily take care of while maintaining the comfortable composure we felt around town.
There’s exceptional grip on offer from the tyres fitted to both AWD models and we got to punt them on the open road at launch. Neither AWD model is even willing to emit a screech of pretest when pushed hard, and the tyres ensure the front end has as much surety as you’ll ever need into and out of corners. Si models get 225/60/R17 tyres, SLi steps up to 225/55/R18 rubber, while the Platinum is shod with 245/45/R18 tyres. The 19-inch tyres standard at launch were Hankook branded, while the smaller tyres were Kumho. Kia uses multiple tyre suppliers though, so the brands fitted to customer cars could change as supply picks up.
The CarAdvice pick of the range is a tough one to nail here after four brief launch drives across three engine variants. We might need more time over the coming months to really pinpoint the model and grade we’d recommend.
As always, you don’t necessarily need the specification of the highest model grades, even though the Platinum still represents solid value. We’d be inclined to recommend the diesel engine for buyers who cover a lot of ground each week (more than the average 20,000km Australian buyers tend to run each year), but the larger petrol engine is also worth considering, even if you do drive out of the city regularly. Around town, even the entry-level 2.0-litre engine made a good account of itself at launch.
So, the real question here is whether the Sportage advances the game forward for the brand, moving ahead from what was an already impressive SUV. The answer is that, in the real world, it does just that.
The pricing range is right, standard inclusions are typically impressive as we expect from Kia, and the local suspension tune has ensured the Sportage, regardless of model grade, is a joy to drive.
The only trick if you decide on a compact SUV with Kia badging will be choosing which engine variant best suits your needs. The Sportage is another well sorted offering from Kia.