I can hear you saying, “Who would buy a manual Kia Sportage?”. Good question. It's no secret manuals are a bit on the nose, so it's a surprise Kia is still sticking to the stick. Perhaps the Korean brand is focusing on the more ‘mature’ age group, i.e. Grandpa and Grandma, who grew up learning to drive a manual, and now want a practical car with height to take the grandkids out.
Only two Sportage variants come with a manual gearbox: the entry-point S, and SX, with a $2100 difference. Here, we test the 2020 Kia Sportage SX FWD manual with a price tag of $30,290 before on-road costs, $2000 less than the auto. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine with a six-speed manual transmission.
Dressed in the only option on the options list – premium paint – with the $520 Mercury Blue paint. For the second-most affordable Sportage in the range, it has a surprisingly long list of standard features, including autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-keep assist, rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, inbuilt satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, DAB radio, and LED daytime running lights.
Some features that aren’t included, but appear on the top-of-the-range GT-Line, are blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control.
The cabin design is clean and smart, with a good-looking steering wheel and the infotainment screen integrated into the dash, with it also slanted in the direction of the driver. It not only has menu buttons on the 8.0-inch screen, but also physical shortcut buttons.
The climate-control buttons are large and easy to read, too. The door trim quality isn’t crash hot, with nothing but hard plastics, including the elbow rest. The seats can be manually adjusted, with no lumbar support adjustment provided, but overall the cloth seats are comfortable, even on longer journeys.
There is room to store drink bottles in the two cupholders and door pockets; however, you won’t find much space in the glovebox, as the owner's manual is very chunky. Part of the manual handbrake mechanism takes up some room in the short central armrest, but there is a wide open storage tray for your phone to sit, though large phones will struggle to fit.
A USB and two 12-volt connections can be found. Bluetooth took a lengthy 34 seconds to connect, with another 10–15 seconds for contacts to import.
Over in the second row, the seats are just as comfy as the front row, with good support for the lower back, and they can recline, too, if passengers are inclined to have a nap. Three anchors and two ISOFIX points are there to strap the kiddies in, and they’ll be pleased to see well out of the big side windows and quarter windows, which also help for shoulder checks for the driver.
Leg, knee, toe and head room are very impressive, and along with the long seat base, even adults will find it an enjoyable ride. There’s plenty of storage: in the roomy door pockets, two map pockets on the back of the front seats, and two cupholders once the fold-down armrest is folded.
With features that are sometimes only found on the top-of-the-range variants, a USB, 12-volt, and fan-speed-adjustable air vents are there to make the ride more relaxing.
Even with a full-size spare wheel under the boot floor, boot space is out to 466L and grows to 1455L when the 60:40 rear seats are folded. A parcel shelf can hide your belongings, and four tie-down hooks can keep them in place. It has a high loading height, but the entry is quite wide. For taller folk, the tailgate raises very high, but be mindful of low-roof-line garages.
Starting the Sportage is done by inserting the key into the ignition and turning it – no engine start button here. Performance figures for its 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol engine are not huge, and you’ll be squeezing every bit of its 114kW and 192Nm on tap.
It doesn’t sound as thrashy as the auto, but we found there just wasn’t enough torque in the low rev range for it to keep up with fast-moving city traffic. Plus, with the time taken to change gears, you’ll annoyingly get people filling the gap in front of you in no time.
Shifting through the gears requires little effort. The throw is notably shorter on first, third and fifth, and it had us second-guessing at times if the car was in gear. The clutch is very light, so you won’t get a sore left leg in a hurry if you’re stuck in peak-hour traffic. Conveniently, the gearstick is the same height as the central armrest, so your arm can also be relaxed when changing gears.
Kia has kept things simple, and has not included any driving modes, which is a good thing, as when do you need to engage Sport driving mode in a family SUV? The analogue dials are crisp on the driver information screen, and a digital speedo is always handy. The reversing camera quality is fine, but we did find the rear parking sensors would activate when reversing out of a not-so-steep driveway.
The turning circle is 11.0m, the same as the Mazda CX-5. Filling up the Sportage at the servo will be affordable, with it taking a minimum of 91RON fuel. We got close to the claimed combined fuel reading of 7.9L/100km with a final reading of 8.5L/100km.
The Sportage is covered by Kia’s seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with one year of roadside assist renewed for 12 months at a time with each dealer service. Servicing is every 12 months or 15,000km, with the first service being the cheapest at $261, and the fourth service being the most expensive at $614. Each service averages $401.57 over seven years.
After spending time in the manual Sportage SX in the city, we discovered it makes more sense out of the concrete jungle, as more people are opting for an automatic in this environment. With its not-so-inspiring performance and lack of blind-spot monitoring on top of that, it’ll feel right at home in the country, especially with the confidence of a full-size spare wheel when going long-distance.