First impressions factor large, particularly for an all-new vehicle you’ve never laid eyes on prior. So it's a pity the just-launched 2016 Kia Sportage Platinum Diesel that caught me at the worst possible moment.
See, in the game of Musical Driver’s Seats that is CarAdvice, I’d been having a Lexus GS F/Holden Captiva 7/Ford Mustang Convertible/Isuzu MU-X kind of start to the week, which took a dramatic hike in pulse rate with my first introduction to the Porsche-o-phile’s fantasy machine: the 911 GT3 RS.
So it was from clambering out of (or down from) motoring nirvana that I found myself climbing straight into Kia’s fresh-faced if infinitely-less-intoxicating mid-sized SUV.
Despite a challenging situation, the new top-spec Sportage instantly won me over. And continued to impress throughout my week of jumping between it and myriad other weird, woeful and wondrous machinery. It’s not without shortcomings but, within the medium-sized family-moving segment, it feels a decent step forward for what has been, for the Korean marque, a significantly successful and important nameplate.
Trent covered off the model’s significance in depth during the Sportage range’s Australian launch review in January, where it scored an impressive eight from ten overall rating. James then put the petrol-powered Platinum variant through its paces in video review, describing the high-spec 135kW/237Nm version as a “good-looking, good-sized, well-packaged and well-equipped little SUV”.
For a full rundown of the impressive list of equipment and features, read here.
This time, we’ve got the diesel-powered version of the Sportage’s Platinum summit, the absolute bells-and-whistles price-topper which, at $45,990 plus on-roads, comes with not only the most frugal (6.8L/100km combined) powertrain but also the highest power (136kW at 4000rpm) and significantly largest torque shove (400Nm between 1750-2750rpm). Our test car comes with just one cost option: $520 for its Fiery Red paintwork.
Sat opposite the Platinum tailgate badge is, for the first time in Sportage, ‘GT Line’ designation, Kia-speak for a larger injection of sportiness in the styling and visual cues – front and rear bumper styling, satin silver trim pieces – over the entry Si and mid-spec SLi versions. But it’s really in the core design, inside and out, where Kia has knocked its new five-seater for a proverbial six, be it shrinking the appearance of the exterior for visual pep or lifting the quality of the finer details throughout the cabin.
In a world where a near 4.5-metre long, almost 1.9-metre tall, 1700kg-plus vehicle is still called ‘mid-sized’, the Sportage doesn’t look as large as measurements suggest. Its styling is as clever as it is interesting and contemporary, a deft blend of the dramatic (the front end) and the conventional (the rear end), though a look not to everyone’s tastes.
James described the exterior styling as “almost Porsche-y…kinda” but I’ll pull fewer punches: the shapes of the high-set headlights and slim, horizontal taillights, those ‘ice cube’ driving lights, the taper of the tailgate, the depth and shape of the dashboard, the cabin air vents and that ‘last-gen 911’ steering wheel are all clearly influenced by – though not necessarilly copied from – various models from the Stuttgart car-maker’s stable. And all the better for it.
The cabin space is impressively rich in look and feel, our test car perhaps a little too dark in its black-out scheme for some buyers (a no-cost grey two-tone option is available in four of the seven available body colours). While Porsche has been pillaged for aesthetics, Audi has undoubtedly influenced areas of surface texture and tactility, particularly in the paddle-shifting, flat-bottom steering wheel. The suppleness of leather trim on the seats – heated/cooled up front, with reclining adjustment in row two – and touch-points is also very Euro-approved. Some of the plastics are more aligned with Korean convention, much of it in inconspicuous areas, but the general quality and solidity abounding is absolutely first rate.
The impressive overall ambience in reinforced in the details: the classy, Jaguar-esque wraparound accent line linking the front door trims and dash top; the vast glass roof with electrically retractable scrim; the quality feel of the column-mounted switchgear; the car-like front seat positioning with excellent driver ergonomics and vast height and reach steering wheel adjustment; and the brightly illuminated overhead lights. From the high-resolution driver’s screen to the logical placement of the centre stack buttons, the interior is as well thought out as it is classy.
It’s not all gushing plaudits. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is promised though as yet undelivered (it will be available as a software flash on pre-updated models once the technology gets the range rollout). The neat conductive-charging-for-smartphone feature in the console oddment tray is currently Samsung only, so it’s superfluous to Apple users. Once the light dwindles, the Sportage’s sea of buttons all glow red against the cabin’s blackout colour scheme and are very difficult to read for those of us without perfect vision. And it’s not the only foible negotiating the user interfaces.
The infotainment controller and its modestly sized 7.0-inch screen, as used on the base Si model, is touchscreen-type only. Also, the Suna-based sat-nav, annoyingly, requires toggling between maps for zooming functionality. And if you’re a big fan of colour-coded real-time traffic flow overlays, as I am, you’ll be disappointed to discover that – as tested in the guts of inner Sydney, at least – the applied feature simply doesn’t work, failing to display slow routes even on major arteries. Being pedantic, there’s no clock display anywhere when the sat-nav is in play.
Roominess, academically, is a little larger in every direction over its forebear, though not by much: no cabin measurement is more than 20mm larger than the old third-gen Sportage. But when combined with the larger rear glass area, the sense is that it’s notably more commodious.
The large rear doors and door apertures, cleverly, are aligned perfectly with the rear seating for excellence second row access, and roominess in the back certainly benefits from the extra 30mm of wheelbase the new-gen Sportage has introduced. Boxes for rear ventilation, USB and 12V/180W ports, bottle bins in doors and fold-down armrest dual cupholders are all ticked, as are outboard Isofix and a trio of conventional child seat anchor points. The 40:60 rear split-fold may limit luggage space flexibility if a bulky baby capsule is a permanent fixture on the narrower ‘40’ curb-side location where it might foul the ‘60’ side from being stowed – a small detail, but an important one for some buyers with young families.
The powered tailgate is hands-free, too (check), but there’s no remove switch in the cargo area to drop the seats, though the rear blind assembly can be stowed easily in the rear of the floor which is set to a modest, workable height and hides a full-size spare wheel. All up, there’s a useable if not overly generous 466 litres of luggage space with the second row in play and 1455 litres with rear stowed into a practical flat-floor arrangement. It’s only slightly down against arch rival Hyundai Tucson (at 488L and 1478L respectively) but had it competed in our recent four-way test the Sportage would’ve come last in the luggage space credentials.
On road, what you instantly notice is the Sportage’s sense of solidity and impressive noise isolation. Kia points to extra dashboard, inner-wheel arch and inner-door sound deadening, together with a thicker windshield, as key upgrades. Bar some obvious rattles from the diesel up through the firewall, it’s a very quiet operator, and the engine is only really conspicuous under strong load. That is, unless you’ve left it parked under an Aussie summer sun – the noise of the air-con system at full flight is deafening, and it takes a long while fully cranked to bring the cabin down to a comfortably cool temperature.
For driving, the diesel Sportage package is at its happiest and most impressive doing what it was meant to do: around town urban driving or highway cruising with the family aboard. Those 400Nm are rarely called upon, and light to moderate throttle maintains a politeness and smoothness to the six-speed auto that gets a little fidgety in Sport drive mode, which also unnecessarily heightens throttle response and does nothing but hamper general drivability.
Nor does Sport light favourable fire under an engine with a fairly flat delivery, in any drive mode, once peak torque falls off beyond 2750rpm. All of which makes those paddleshifters a little redundant. Even during leisurely driving it's not quite as frugal as the 6.8L combined claimed – it's high sevens on the motorway, a remained closer to double figures during around-town testing.
The Aussie-developed ride and handling package really shines. The Sportage is very pliant over small road imperfections and is nearly impervious to noise penetration when doing so, particularly impressive given the top-rung models' large 19-inch wheels and low-profile 245mm rubber. Big suspension strokes over large speed humps demonstrate disciplined compression and quick-setting rebound without a hint of the floatiness you might otherwise expect from an SUV this size.
Special mention, too, goes to the steering and braking. The electrically assisted system offers genuine driving engagement through accuracy, clarity and satisfying weight, while the brakes – which have grown in size since the old range – offer reassuring power and satisfying modulation. It’s eminently easy and friendly to drive, compounded positively by excellent forward and rear vision (apart from the obscurity of those thick C pillars). It’s certainly not performance tuned, but in a segment where claims of ‘car-like’ driving characteristics can be found unreasonably stretched, the top-spec Sportage is easily among the best.
The Sportage currently has no ANCAP rating, though has scored a maximum five stars for Euro NCAP crash testing. The Platinum builds on the holistic range’s six-airbag surety with host of added active safety features including autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, auto high-beam dipping, blind spot monitoring and lane change assist systems. Of these, it’s the last two, intrinsically tied systems than seem conservatively calibrated, such as the blind spot audio alert’s incessant chiming for no suitable reason, to a point where some buyers will opt to leave it switched off.
Also standard are front and rear parking sensors and a nice, clear reverse-view camera with dynamic guides together with Kia’s Smart Park Assist, which both finds suitable parallel parking spaces and automatically steers during the manoeuvre. While a largely irrelevant feature for owners deftly skilled enough to park, it is quite handy at sizing up car spaces that appear too narrow to attempt parking in.
Yes, the Platinum wants for very little, but at around $50K on the road it’s asking for good, if fairly priced, money, too. Many buyers may find that the healthy spec list offered in the mid-grade SLi diesel, with its identical powertrain, may be the sweeter, seven-grand more affordable deal, so it’s worth shopping the pair against one another. And each offers Kia’s excellent seven-year warranty together with capped priced servicing throughout that averages out to around $528 per year.
Impressed? You bet. Does it move the game along for non-premium mid-sized SUVs? And does it, perhaps, narrow the gap somewhat to taller-poppy Europeans? We suspect it does. Has it got what it takes to better perennial segment favourites such as Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson?
Stay tuned to CarAdvice to find out…
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