Marriages, hygiene and sanity – all things that can be derailed by a lengthy road trip.
Add to that list a love for one’s automobile. Because no matter how much enthusiasm you might possess for your car, spending several uninterrupted hours lost on imperfect country roads can turn that love into hate really quickly.
With a wedding in Sydney to attend and only two days in which to get there and back, my husband and I had our work cut out for us.
Our chariot of choice? My 2021 Kia Sportage GT-Line petrol long-termer, which had been performing well around town, but was yet to really hit the wide-open roads.
Packing up the car was made easy with the Sportage’s solid 466L boot, which provided ample space for two overnight bags, two laptop bags, a few extra pairs of shoes, groceries and some towels – with room to spare.
Up the front, we used every bit of space available – both cupholders were full, my husband popped his phone in the wireless charger, I popped mine in the centre console, and we packed the dish behind the cupholders with keys and the door bins with drink bottles.
A hands-free tailgate – activated by standing near the boot of the car – also made solo packing of the car much more manageable.
And so, with a full boot, full tank and full hearts, we hit the road at 4.30am in order to beat the morning traffic and hopefully knock over the bulk of the drive by lunch.
One minute out from the house, the Google Maps screen we were accessing via the Sportage’s wired Apple CarPlay froze and then dropped out and turned to black. Never mind – easily fixed. Annoying, but no time lost.
Otherwise, we enjoyed the accoutrements of Kia’s top-spec offering, including the seat heaters that were handy on a chilly Melbourne morning, and the seat coolers, which we quickly switched on upon crossing the NSW border.
Out on the freeway, I was struck by the road noise that seeped its way into the Sportage’s cabin at higher speeds. It’s not unbearable, but it certainly means you’ll have to crank the lacklustre JBL sound system up to top volume.
In real-world terms of reference, suburban driving is not at all noisy, but once you get up to higher speeds, the sound of intruding wind and road noise can entirely cancel out some of the softer notes in some of Taylor Swift’s guitar ballads.
I also found that on 110km/h freeways, among towering trucks, the Sportage’s engine was lacking in grunt.
While the six-speed automatic delivers steady and smooth acceleration, the 135kW/237Nm engine is lacking in the kind of punch you need to get ahead of semi-trailers briskly and, even if you really put your foot down, you’re going to be disappointed.
|2021 Kia Sportage GT-Line petrol AWD|
|Engine configuration||2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||135kW at 6000rpm, 237Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.5L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||6.7L/100km|
|Boot volume||466L rear seats up, 1455L when folded|
|Servicing costs||7 years, 105,000km for $2941|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars, tested 2016|
|Warranty||7 years/unlimited km|
|Towing capacity||1500kg braked, 750kg unbraked|
Still, in GT-Line spec grade, the Sportage is perfectly equipped for the kind of drives that make your eyeballs feel like they’re going to fall out of your head with exhaustion.
I'd even go so far as to suggest it's the little things that really make the extra spend for the top-spec variants (it's $45,590 before on-roads) worth your while. I'm not sure I'd be quite as enthusiastic about a road trip if I didn't have all the fancy tech and cabin accoutrements.
The dual-zone climate control combats any marital discord, the electric lumbar support on the driver’s seat fights back issues, and the front passenger seat reclines to such an ideal position that a mid-drive nap is not only possible, it’s encouraged.
While your passenger naps, however, the driver will be on high alert thanks to the suite of safety tech that quite simply refuses to let you lose focus.
The constant speed camera and speed alert reminders are something I grew to rely on across freeways with varied speed limits. But I’d be lying if I said they didn’t drive me insane when they interrupted my podcast at a pivotal moment.
The problem is they can’t be completely relied upon – occasionally failing to remind you of an oncoming speed or red-light camera because, of course, a car is not an encyclopedia on wheels.
What can be relied upon is the active cruise control, which maintains a safe distance from the car in front and slows accordingly when approaching oncoming obstacles, with lane-keeping assist to keep you in your lane. It’s consistent, effective and precise – and easily managed through the car’s handy steering wheel controls.
The merge alert is also fantastic on freeways in case there’s a tiny Picanto in your blind spot.
If I’m nitpicking, I will admit I missed the option of a speed limiter, plus live speed limit information isn’t available.
In the warmer weather, we loved opening up the huge sunroof, which gave us a nice Thelma & Louise, wind-in-our-hair vibe.
We didn’t have passengers, but if we did – firstly, they would have had to put up with some of my husband’s suit bags on their laps, but secondly, they would have been well-served with leg, head and toe room and a reclining bench seat.
Another surprise win came courtesy of the fuel economy. On prior urban testing, I was recording consumption numbers over 10.0L/100km, but after the first leg of the journey, we arrived in Sydney with an average fuel economy of 7.9L/100km.
When we arrived back in Melbourne, that overall figure had dropped to 6.7L/100km – which is precisely what Kia quotes for extra-urban driving.
In practical terms, that meant we burned through half a tank by the time we reached the New South Wales border and had to fill up roughly twice on each leg – mostly out of precaution.
We likely could have gotten down to only one refill per leg if we were the kind of people who were comfortable with the needle hovering around the empty mark.
The ultimate test of a car? How it handles a crisis. With about five hours left on our Sydney to Melbourne return journey, I got out to stretch my legs, stepped on some uneven ground and fell and broke my foot.
I pushed my seat back and rested my mangled foot on an ice pack, which was mercifully one of the many things loaded in the boot.
With the Sportage’s suspension soaking up any particularly nasty bumps, my seat comfortably reclined and the dual-zone climate control on full blast, the rest of the five-hour drive wasn’t nearly as intolerable as it could have been.
Sportage, I salute you. My foot might not have survived the Melbourne to Sydney trip, but my sanity did. And that’s something worth celebrating.