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Australians are obsessed with SUVs, and it’s been that way for a decade or more. There are no signs of any slowdown, either.
So popular are these high riding, space-friendly family chariots, even die-hard sports car manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin are getting into the game. Maserati is already there with its luxury Levante that, as you might have guessed, is selling like hotcakes.
But at the other end of the spectrum is one of the most hotly contested, volume-selling categories on the planet – affordable mid-size SUVs. It’s still the fastest-growing segment in Australia with spectacular bang-for-buck offerings for all kinds of budgets.
There’s a bunch of them, 18 different models and countless variants to choose from at last count, from almost all the major carmakers. Models like the Ford Escape, Holden Captiva, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota RAV4.
There are others, too. Fledgling Chinese manufacturer Haval is pushing the H6, while Renault sells the Koleos and Volkswagen – the Tiguan. And there are plenty more, too.
However, there’s only one model that offers a full seven-year factory warranty – the Kia Sportage, priced between $28,990 and $45,990. It’s also the Korean brand’s second-biggest seller behind the Cerato, shifting around 1000 units each month, give or take.
Its close rival is the high-volume Tucson from sister brand Hyundai, but it only offers a five-year warranty, and depending on who you speak with, many believe the Sportage offers the sweeter styling of the two.
It’s a smart look all-round, but the rear end is particularly nice, and arguably more European than the Hyundai, though I’m still not completely sold on Kia’s latest corporate face. It’s that cheeky grin we’re still coming to terms with.
Like many models in this segment, you can get the Sportage in petrol or diesel, and in two- or four-wheel drive, but the sweet spot lies smack-bang in the middle with the AWD Kia Sportage SLi diesel tested here.
Its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel isn’t the most powerful or the most refined in the class, but with peak output of 400Nm on tap from just 1750rpm, it’s satisfyingly responsive and pulls hard up steep slopes. There’s a drive-mode button that offers a few different settings including Sport, which sharpens throttle response and works particularly well with the diesel.
That said, there’s no disguising the diesel clatter, though the cabin is quite well insulated from the racket making long trips a comfortable affair.
But where the Kia really starts to shine is ride compliance. It doesn’t seem to matter what size pothole or bump you hit, the Sportage’s locally tuned suspension simply deals with it for a thoroughly cushioned ride. And it’s no different over coarse chip and broken roads, even riding on larger 18-inch alloy wheels.
Again, we can’t speak too highly of Kia’s local suspension tune, because along with a comfortable ride, the Sportage also delivers solid body control through the bends. There’s very little body roll, even if you’re scurrying along in a bit of a hurry.
Tipping the scales at just 1733kg, it’s not the lightest vehicle in its class, and diesel engines are of course heavier than petrol engines (Sportage 2.0 petrol model weighs just 1599kg), but it does feels more alive than most – aided by an electric power-steering system that offers plenty of feel through the steering wheel and is nicely weighted. I know we’re talking about a family SUV, but honestly, it’s more fun to drive than most.
We also found Kia’s claim of 6.8 litres for every 100km to be relatively accurate, too. Over the course of the week, we were averaging 7.5L/100km, which still means fewer trips to the bowser than its 2.0-litre petrol stablemates.
You can get a Sportage from just $28,990 plus on-roads, but our AWD SLi is priced from $39,690. It comes standard with a stack of kit such as front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, auto-sensing wipers and headlamps, keyless entry with push-button start, 7.0-inch LCD screen with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and dual-zone climate control. And that’s not the half of it.
However, if you want all the latest active safety systems including blind spot detection, lane-change assist, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and autonomous emergency braking, you’ll need to step up to the top-spec GT-Line, but that’ll cost you nearly six-grand more.
Inside, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While there are plenty of metallic accents and soft-touch materials spread around the cabin, there’s still plenty of grey, so it’s still a bit drab for its mid-spec status. We’re also not sold on the infotainment screen, which looks a bit previous-generation to us, though it’s both functional and easy to use.
There’s room for five adults, though, and the leather-appointed seats (front and back) have enough bolster to make things comfortable in the corners. Boot space is pretty good too, with 466L behind the rear seats, which expands to 1455L when folded – almost flat.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can easily save around $6000 by going with the petrol model in the same SLi trim, but you don’t get AWD, and for me that’s a bit of a downer because I like the idea of all-wheel traction for those bad-weather days.
The negatives are few and far between with the Sportage. It really is a solid family package for those who aren’t badge conscious and looking for the peace of mind that a seven-year factory warranty brings to the table.