Owner Review

2012 Kia Sportage SLi (AWD) review

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I purchased the Sportage in late 2011 to replace my very unreliable (after warranty expiration) 2006 Ford Focus. Living on a dirt road that often has minor flooding, I needed something with a little more ground clearance.

Of all the available SUVs at the time in my $30–35K price range, the Sportage in my eyes was the best-looking creature by far. The five-year warranty also had me, especially after the Focus’s three-year job.

The test drive, on admittedly smooth blacktop, was all good and the 2.4-litre petrol engine was peppy enough for my requirements. The diesel had a long waiting list at the time.

Inside: I liked the simplicity of the interior and the many hard plastic surfaces were easy to clean. Especially in the dusty environ I live. The seats can become a little hard on a long journey. The material quality would have to be the best of any car I have owned. I’m now 53 and have had plenty of cars over the years. The material is stain-proof and easy to wipe over with a bit of warm soapy water if you spill something on them. Inside is pretty dark and gloomy though. Everything is a shade of black/grey. Much like everything else at the time.

Reliability: this is the most reliable vehicle I have ever owned, bar none. Nothing has broken in the near seven years of ownership and 140,000km. With the exception of a very sloppy service from the local Kia dealer, where the oil plug was not tightened and left a pool of oil on my driveway. Thankfully, I noticed before driving off again as the whole lot had been drained.

The road I live on is quite rough and the car is still rattle-free. Quite the opposite to the Focus, where all sorts of plastic trim started coming loose.

Fuel economy isn't really a strong point on short trips or in city traffic. The consumption can blow out to around 12L/100km. Out on the highway on a long trip, the economy is around 7L/100km. If towing anything with more weight than a 6x4 box trailer filled with empty cardboard boxes, the economy can blow right out on the highway to 15L/100km. I helped my son move from Mackay, QLD down to SEQ and had an 8x4 trailer with his meagre possessions and the economy was 17L/100km. I had to fill up three times in 1000km. That was a real eye-opener!

Ride and handling are good on most blacktop surfaces. The steering can load up with fast direction changes to the point where it feels like there is no power assistance. Swerving to avoid a roof is a good case in point. The ride itself can rattle my dentures if the road is a little corrugated, like mine frequently is. I had the 18-inch wheel and tyre combo from the Platinum-spec Sportage fitted with the lower-profile tyres, so that could be partly to blame. The later-model update had the Aussie-tuned suspension, which was a huge improvement.

The engine and transmission combo is pretty good. It certainly isn’t going to win any red-light drags, but that isn’t its design brief. The six-speed auto transmission is smooth and adapts pretty well to your driving style. There is a lingering weirdness to the transmission that has never been replicated when in for a service. It occasionally feels like it disengages momentarily as the engine almost hits the rev limiter and then it re-engages. It is a rare occurrence and buggered if I know what causes it. Neither do the service techs.

Overall, the car has been exactly what I needed at the time. I would have upgraded to the newer Sportage when it was released, but I still can’t come to terms with the bug-eyed front end.

Since the car now has a few scratches caused by others and the new shine has worn off, I have taken it places it was never really designed for. Rutted off-road tracks, boggy red and black soil and, touch wood, I haven’t been stuck. The AWD can be locked when going less than 30km/h, but mostly it is intuitive enough to know when to kick in.

I have decided I want to do some more off-road adventuring, and rather than take the risk of getting stuck, I will be looking to replace it with a proper 4WD in the near future.

For reliable ownership, I would give it a 9/10. The only point drop is for the haunted transmission.