Kia Sportage 2020 gt-line (awd)

2021 Kia Sportage GT-Line petrol long-term review: Introduction

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The Sportage’s reputation precedes it – but can it live up to great expectations over the course of a rigorous several months of ownership?
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It’s fair to say I had high expectations for my latest long-termer, the 2021 Kia Sportage, before I even got behind the wheel.

Kia’s reputation for having an impressive seven-year warranty, an increasingly positive name recognition, affordable pricing, fresh design and comprehensive packaging precedes it.

Plus, when I was a teenager, my parents bought a 2011 Sportage after suffering through the never-ending ownership costs of a European car (name withheld), and they still rave about its economical fuel consumption, practicality, reliability and affordable maintenance costs.

To this day, they are baffled that pre-paid service coverage for the Sportage for 72 months cost the same as a single visit to the service centre in their previous car.

The thing is, though, that 'affordable' is a subjective term and many people – myself included – might baulk at the notion of paying more than $40,000 for a Kia.

I’ll admit that I still ascribe a 'budget-friendly' quality to Kia, so I was quite surprised to learn the all-wheel drive, petrol-powered GT-Line variant I’m testing here kicks off from $45,290 plus on-road costs, but is $50,900 drive-away when you factor in the $520 ‘cherry black’ paint option.

That might seem high, but consider my parents paid just over $40,000 drive-away for their top-spec Sportage back in 2011, meaning it’s risen by less than $10,000 in nine years.

That’s roughly in line with inflation (the RBA’s calculator estimates that it should cost $47,545 in 2019 based on CPI), and isn't too outrageous when you consider that safety, driver assistance and infotainment technology has improved in that time, meaning you’re now getting more car for your spend.

That’s comparing a new Kia to an old Kia, however, so how does the Sportage's value proposition fare when put up against its key competitors?

Those shopping for a Sportage have likely considered one, if not all, of the following medium-sized, mass-market SUVs: the Hyundai Tucson, the Honda CR-V, the Mazda CX-5, the Nissan X-Trail, the Mitsubishi Outlander or the Toyota RAV4.

For a comparable petrol-powered, top-spec, all-wheel-drive version of all of those, the cheapest you’re going to get is the Outlander at $43,990, the middle of the range is the Tucson at $46,850, and the most expensive option is the CX-5 at $50,830 (all of those prices are before on-road costs).

Based on that, the Sportage is actually the second most affordable option of its competitors, provided you can do without the cherry black paint (unfortunately, clear white is the only no-cost option).

It’s also moderate to small in size compared to the rest of its class, offering a 466L boot that is outdone by the Tucson, CR-V, RAV4, X-Trail and Outlander – but manages to offer more room than the CX-5.

Measuring 4485mm long, it’s also one of the few medium SUVs under the 4.5m mark. Only slightly longer than the Tucson, but shorter than the rest of its key competitors – which could prove handy for owners with urban-centric lifestyles.

The long-termer spec we have in the CarAdvice garage is the GT-Line, which is powered by a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine paired to a six-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels.

2021 Kia Sportage GT-Line petrol AWD
Engine configuration2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Power and torque 135kW @ 6000rpm, 237Nm @ 4000rpm
TransmissionSix-speed automatic
Drive type All-wheel drive
Tare weight1642kg
Fuel claim combined (ADR)8.5L/100km
Fuel use on test11.9L/100km
Boot volume 466L rear seats up, 1455L when folded
Turning circle11.0m
Servicing costs7 years, 105,000km for $2941
Main competitorsHyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4
ANCAP safety rating 5 stars, tested 2016
Warranty7-year, unlimited-kilometre
Towing capacity1500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Ground clearance172mm

Peak outputs are rated at 135kW of power and 237Nm of torque, but the more powerful 136kW/400Nm turbo diesel engine can be had on the GT-Line grade for an extra $2900 before on-road costs.

Still, most owners won’t be left wanting for power or torque in the petrol-powered GT-Line, with a towing capacity of 1500kg braked, or 750kg unbraked, and more than enough guts to haul five passengers and a full boot on the annual Christmas family road trip.

The rest of the Sportage range kicks off from $29,790 drive-away for the base S variant, which offers front-wheel drive and a manual transmission, plus a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine.

One of the highlights of the Sportage range is that buyers can choose from all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive, petrol or diesel and manual or automatic, depending on their budget and their needs.

The GT-Line comes standard with a full suite of safety and driver assistance technology, with the most notable inclusions on top of other grades being leather-appointed, electronically adjustable front seats with heating and cooling, a panoramic sunroof, active cruise control, a sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, LED headlights with auto levelling function and a wireless phone charger.

Safety equipment also extends to include blind-spot monitoring, front parking sensors, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and an intelligent parking assist system (which steers and manoeuvres into a parking spot for you).

The Sportage range scores a full-size alloy spare wheel across all variants, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and safety essentials like autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, rear-view cameras and reverse parking sensors.

In terms of what you’ll miss out on, there’s not much – mainly a head-up display (although the 4.2-inch digital instrument display compensates), a speed limiter and the option of idle-stop to save on fuel.

I’ve already had the Sportage for just under a month, but haven’t had much opportunity to drive it with Melbourne’s lockdown.

My first impressions are that it is a solid, unflappable car with a smooth driveline, plenty of power and space for my inner-city lifestyle and a somewhat thirsty engine. Fuel economy for my mostly inner-city driving has been 11.9L/100km, although, to be fair, that's almost bang-on Kia's quoted urban figure of 11.8L/100km.

For the rest of the loan, I plan to test its family compatibility – how it fares with child seats, a packed boot, a full rear row and terrible school-run traffic, plus how it holds up against the stringent safety criteria of parents.

Next, I’ll look at its around-town appropriateness. Is the size too big or just right for urban streets? How does the fuel economy, visibility, driver-assistance technology and comfort hold up in peak-hour traffic? And do I dread parking it in my tiny one-way street?

Finally, I’ll take the Sportage on a long-awaited Christmas road trip – loading it up with family and friends, giving the cruise control a workout and, of course, finding out just how effective those seat coolers are.