If you need a gold-plated example of why Kia is making such a good fist of things in Australia, look no further than the 2017 Kia Sportage Si Premium. To be fair, you could look at any model within the Sportage range – the medium SUV juggernaut just continues to roll on and the Sportage is front and centre in the value and quality stakes.
Outside of the luxury European brands, there’s more options in the medium SUV segment than you can poke a proverbial at. Stablemate Hyundai offers the Tucson, there’s the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4, to name the main combatants.
None offer the seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty Kia does though, along with the associated roadside assist and capped-price servicing. So, if value is on your mind, the Kia Sportage mounts a compelling case for starters, not to mention the level of included kit and all-round driveability.
Our Si Premium on test comes standard with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic gearbox. The starting price is $30,990 before on road costs, with only premium paint ($520) added to the equation. That takes the price to $31,510 before on-road costs. Keep in mind the Si Premium is FWD and petrol-powered only though so if you want diesel or AWD, you’re going to need to fork out more coin.
Along with the aforementioned seven-year warranty, there’s also capped price services covering that same period – due every 12 months or 15,000km. Those services cost $306, $371, $361, $550, $345, $457 and $366 respectively, for a total of $2756 over the first seven years or 105,000km.
Despite the highly competitive pricing, the Si doesn’t want for included kit, with standard equipment highlights including: 18-inch alloy wheels (225/55/18 tyres), 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with proprietary satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, automatic climate control (with clean air module) and LED daytime running lights. There are also front parking sensors, rain sensing front wipers, automatic window defogging, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, and illuminated vanity mirrors.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder under the bonnet generates 114kW at 6200rpm and 192Nm at 4000rpm and has an ADR fuel usage claim of 7.9L/100km on the combined cycle. Against that, we used an indicated 12.0L/100km with only an 80km freeway run breaking up a week of city driving. You’ll easily see that figure drop down into single digits on longer freeway runs as well.
While there’s only one model grade beneath the Si Premium in the form of the basic Si (starting from $28,990), there’s little to indicate this is a more affordable Sportage than most. There’s the signature Kia cabin ambience on offer, and the cloth trim looks tough enough to handle family duties without feeling like sandpaper.
The driving position is excellent, in line with modern small SUV positioning, with the high-riding, expansive visibility buyers covet in this segment. Importantly, the A-pillars aren't too thick, which makes the most of the forward visibility on offer, and you can clearly see where the bonnet swoops away to the edges of the Sportage up front.
It’s de rigeur now to get proper steering wheel controls and the Sportage’s are exceptional – easy to decipher and perhaps most importantly, they never get in the way when you’re whirling the wheel around executing a three-point turn, for example. The touchscreen itself is very quick to respond to commands and inputs, which is most useful (and safe) with the phone controls.
All recent Kia executions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been excellent and this system is no different. It’s fast and clear and never once had any glitches or connection issues. The Bluetooth connection is solid too, although it becomes somewhat redundant once you have the option of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and a modern smartphone in your possession. Owners of older devices though can rest assured the Bluetooth system is a good one.
I love the way Kia divides its control centres into ‘zones’ so that you have the screen on one level, then the media controls on the next, followed by the AC controls under them. It’s a simple solution to other, often cluttered, button-heavy designs and works really well. It makes the system easy to master too, so that you can basically toss anyone the keys to your Sportage and they won’t need a seminar to work it all out.
Two 12-volt outlets, a USB input and an auxiliary input in the centre console head up the connectivity options up front, but we’d like a door to cover them up so you can hide a phone, media device or the like once it’s connected. Granted, it’s not a major issue, but in a cabin with so many clever solutions and useful storage spaces, it’s something we’d like to have.
As always, Kia’s proprietary satellite navigation is excellent – as good as any system from any manufacturer – such that you won’t need to access your phone’s maps unless you specifically want to.
In the second row, there’s an expanse of space that belies the segment’s rather compact nature. Possibly only the Honda CR-V betters the Sportage in usable space at a budget, and there’s room for two adults or three teenage children across the second row.
Passengers get air vents, a 12V outlet and USB input, but only the driver’s window is auto down/up. We liked the almost-flat floor across the second row, eliminating much of the wasted space you get with a driveshaft hump in some vehicles. The back rests recline, and the door opening is broad enough to make getting in and out easy.
The luggage space is likewise excellent, with a flat floor and sturdy cover to keep valuables out of sight. There’s a light back there and a plastic bag hook to keep takeaway food from flying all over the place on your banzai run back from the local takeaway joint.
There’s nothing nasty or intrusive about the way the engine works, but it does need to be coaxed along pretty enthusiastically if you want to crank the Sportage up rapidly. It is however, decent around town at city speeds, but anything above 80km/h or hard accelerating off the mark, you can sense the benefit of the larger, 2.4-litre unit.
The gearbox is excellent, shifts smoothly at all times no matter how close to redline the engine is turning and there’s no nasty lurching, hesitation or noises at any speed either. It’s a beautiful example of a traditional torque-converter automatic gearbox.
As always, the steering and suspension systems have been tuned for local conditions by Kia’s engineering gurus and the results are par for the course – that is, excellent. The steering is light at first, especially at low speeds, but starts to weight up a little as speed increases and has a reassuring, solid feel through the wheel. It means the Sportage feels rock solid rolling down the freeway at 110km/h but is also really easy to manoeuvre around town.
The ride and handling balance is once again, as close to perfect as you’ll get in relation to local roads. I think the Sportage Si handles more than well enough for the segment, is certainly more composed than any other medium SUV at this price point, and is able to soak up nasty surfaces with ease. Kia’s local ride and handling team has once again struck a near perfect balance between ability and comfort. The rest of the world should be so lucky with their suspension tune.
While I don’t love the idea of FWD SUVs – maybe buy a hatch if you don’t need AWD – this Sportage Si is certainly up at the pointy end of the field when compared on price. The fact you get Kia’s extensive warranty, and value for money servicing scheme is merely the icing on an already enticing cake.
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