The 2016 Kia Sportage is a big step change for the South Korean brand, and not just from a stylistic perspective.
The new SUV from Kia is better than the car it replaces in every measurable manner, but at $43,490 (plus on-roads) the top-spec petrol Platinum GT Line we are testing here is by no means cheap. Is it worth it?
There was no argument the previous-generation Kia Sportage was a stylish SUV, with its flowing lines and well-proportioned profile. The evidence is still there today, as it looks good six years on. But while it was a sales success in some regards, its far uglier cousin – the Hyundai ix35 – sold in much higher numbers, proving that looks don’t necessarily make a car.
The new Kia Sportage is a little different, with the designers having separated the headlights from the ‘tiger nose’ grille and the fog lights, creating a multilayered frontal design.
Having first seen it in photos, the design of the new Sportage didn’t hold as much appeal as we had expected it to (Kia’s problem with setting the design bar so high with its recent models is that even it has to live up to it). It was only when we saw the car in person that the Sportage’s looks made sense.
It’s a peculiar design, no doubt, but it does genuinely look good close up and we particularly admire the rear with its Battlestar Galactica Cylon-like styled tail lights, which are very futuristic without being over the top like the latest from Lexus.
Looks aside, sit inside and you’ll be so pleasantly surprised by the cabin ambience that it almost feels as though the Sportage shouldn’t be wearing a Kia badge, because it doesn’t feel cheap. Anywhere. Which probably also explains the price tag. We’ve been in European SUVs twice the price that felt more austere than the new Sportage.
The interior is now up to – and in most cases better than – its Japanese rivals. The fit and finish is first rate, the cabin is solid without any rattles and the switchgear is rather satisfying to operate. In particular the controls for the air-con, seat heating and cooling and multimedia system have a nice feel when pressed.
The 7.0-inch infotainment system is a little small in this day and age, but at least it's fast and gets the job done without much mucking around. It could do with Apple CarPlay to better connectivity (this update will take place later in the year) and though it can charge certain smartphones that support conductive charging, you'll need a special case to make that work if you have an iPhone.
We plugged an Apple lightning USB cord into the Sportage and found its trickle charging to our iPhone 6S+ to be a pain. Would be better if it had proper USB charging capabilities rather than having to use the cigarette lighter for effective charging.
The front seats are hugely supportive and the addition of cooling as well as heating makes them ideal for Australian conditions. You also have better visibility now than in the previous model, which was – in our opinion – almost un-drivable without a reversing camera.
The second row has reasonable amount of space for buyers with two small kids that need a child or booster seat of their own. It’s not a large SUV, like its bigger Sorento brother, so don’t expect heaps of room in the back, but families of four would not find it wanting for space. You also get rear vents and a rear USB point.
The 466-litre boot is reasonable in size, but it’s the wide entry that makes putting a pram or other large items in the back an easy process. Fold the rear seats down and that goes up to 1455L in size, which is more than enough for almost anything Ikea can muster.
Behind the wheel, our top-spec petrol Platinum GT-line manages 135kW of power and 237Nm of torque from its 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.
The figures don’t do the 1716kg (kerb) Sportage justice, for it doesn’t feel as slow as it should. Off the line it has reasonable amounts of grunt and even on the highway it can perform an overtake without much complaint. It’s not quick, but it's more than good enough.
The standard six-speed automatic transmission is very smooth and almost seamless. It could probably do with an additional gear to give it better fuel economy, but it’s still a far better choice than the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission system now available in its direct competitor, the Hyundai Tucson (1.6 turbo).
If you’re stuck picking between the petrol and the diesel model, which has an extra 163Nm of torque (and 1kW less power), remember that while the extra torque makes a hell of a lot of difference on a hill or when carrying a heavy load, the extra $2500 asking price isn’t really worth it if all you intend to do is drive around suburbia.
Also, considering the currently unexplainable higher cost of diesel, the 1.7L/100km of fuel efficiency in favour of the diesel (8.5L/100km petrol; 6.8L/100km diesel) really doesn’t make an appealing pitch.
The best thing about the new Kia Sportage is how it drives. While the previous-generation was good, in its own way, the new Sportage is simply excellent.
Even in our GT Line platinum spec, which gets revised suspension to make it a little sharper, firmer and a little sportier than the standard models, the Sportage drove over our test track of speed bumps and pot holes almost as well as anything else we’ve put through there.
In some ways, it actually settled and rode better than its more expensive European rivals that don’t do the same level of localised tuning as Kia Australia.
Perhaps even more surprising was its dynamic ability, which we initially thought would be comprised, given its soft ride. The Sportage is actually a good-handling SUV, thanks to its sticky 245/45 19-inch wheels and tyre package as well as the work Kia Australia has done making sure our models are designed to work on our roads. The flat-bottom steering wheel is a nice touch, but the steering system itself is still somewhat lifeless in how it gives feedback. But as a city-focused SUV, it’s a non-issue.
The top-spec Platinum models also gains a whole host of active safety systems that up until just a few years ago where the key selling points of brands such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Technologies such as blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, smart parking, and high beam assist are all standard equipment and a sure sign of why Kia is a brand that simply demands to be taken seriously by any smart buyer.
The blind-spot monitoring system is a little too sensitive at times and can get a tad annoying, but you'll get used to it.
While the asking price may seem high to some, this top-spec new Kia Sportage holds its own not just against its Asian rivals, but also when pitted against the Europeans. With a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, it’s a no brainer for families with young kids looking for a reliable, well-equipped and safe SUV.
My wife, who is exposed to as many cars as me and spends the majority of the time driving our new and much pricier Land Rover Discovery Sport, found the Kia Sportage so impressive that I asked her to share her thoughts on the car below:
"What can I say? I'm impressed! I've been enjoying driving the Kia Sportage around this week. I'm a bells-and-whistles kind of girl and I've got to say Kia has certainly covered all bases.
"I like that the side mirrors will open as you approach the vehicle in a kind of motoring howdy. I appreciate that extra millisecond of knowing that yes I have in fact got the car keys in my bottomless pit of a handbag. Keyless entry is a must for all mothers and this takes it yet another step. With a baby on the hip and a shopping bag in the other hand it's the little things like this that make a difference.
"Other bells and whistles that have added to my comfort this week include climate control seats and push button automatic boot. Again these are things that once experienced become a must have for all busy women.
"The car looks good! A sporty, zippy, soccer mum-esque mid-sized SUV. Love the lights and panoramic sunroof. The overall shape of the car has aesthetic appeal. The interior has been well put together. Whilst lacking the soft touch interior of a more luxurious car the Kia Sportage still looks classy and has again ticked all the boxes for functionality which seems to be the Kia calling card.
"The drive impressed me. I honesty felt more like I was zipping around town in a Kia Rio than driving a middle-sized SUV. Its manoeuvrability made for a confident driving experience. The car had a great turning circle and is very responsive.
"The latest model Sportage seems to me to have improved visibility from the older model. The suspension was maybe a little high and bumpy but truly, I'm looking for things to complain about.
"So who do I think this car is suited to? Young active individuals or couples looking for something more mature and gutsy than a coupe. Also suited to smaller families and even grandparents that are lumped with the children occasionally. Enough boot space for a couple of large suitcases and a stroller. Enough room in the back seat for two car seat but you'd be hard-pressed getting an adult comfortably seated between the two, though you could squeeze in a harassed looking tween.
"For the price of this top spec vehicle I don't think you can go wrong with the new Kia Sportage. Two thumbs up from me."