by Brad Leach - 06/07/12
First time we drove a Kia Sportage was over the frosty winter roads on New Zealand’s South Island, but this time we tested a mid-grade SLi model - powered by the excellent 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine – at home in Melbourne.
Priced at $35,720, the Kia Sportage SLi diesel boasts impressive kit and after a week of the normal Car Showroom test regime, the conclusion now – as it was in New Zealand – is the Sportage’s all-round credentials rank it highly in the jam-packed compact SUV segment.
Yes we know there are some hyped newcomers in the league, but the good-looking Kia Sportage still shapes-up competitively.
Kia has an excellent SUV lineup. In the medium category, Kia’s Sorento ranks among the top-10 best sellers, while the compact SUV segment sees the Kia Sportage doing battle with a flotilla of accomplished rivals (and achieving success not only on the sales front, but also with a swag of awards).
Kia Sportage is a five-seat compact SUV - prices start at $26,720 for the two-wheel-drive Si model and max-out at $39,490 for the 4WD Platinum diesel. Our mid-range SLi test vehicle was stickered at $35,720.
Over the Si, Kia Sportage SLi gains extras like some extra chrome, roof rails and rear spoiler outside, plus interior enhancements headed by a reversing camera and dual-zone air-conditioning.
Kia Sportage diesel gets the job done thanks to its excellent ‘R’ family DOHC 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. With state-of-the-art third-generation common-rail fuel injection and variable geometry turbocharger, the all-alloy R2.0 is as modern as it gets.
The stats are impressive – 135kW of power at 4000rpm and 392Nm from 1800rpm. Fuel consumption is rated at 7.5l/100kms and exhaust emissions score 198g/km.
For example that rates the Kia Sportage ahead of the Nissan X-TRAIL diesel in performance, but just a smidge behind in fuel economy.
Kia Sportage drives through as six-speed automatic transmission – Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4, the segment’s best-sellers, lag with four and five-speed autos.
The family feel which links all of the latest Kias (think Rio and Optima) is their slick, modern interiors. Items like the centre console, four-spoke steering wheel and cylindrical instruments are common looks and lend a contemporary, classy appearance.
You sit high in the Kia Sportage (unlike some wagon-based rivals) – as preferred by many female and traditional SUV buyers. The steering wheel (leather-wrapped in SLi) adjusts for both rake and reach (some rivals don’t) for a nice driving position (further enhanced in SLi with drivers’ seat lumbar support).
Rear seat space is on-par with most rivals, but not as spacious as some and the rear seat split-folds 60:40 for load-carrying versatility.
Audio is an MP3 CD system with speed-dependent volume control, iPod and USB inputs and hands-free Bluetooth with audio streaming.
Kia’s European styling gurus Peter Schreyer and Gregory Guillaume worked wonders when they created the latest Sportage – it’s contemporary, world-class looks are poles apart from the first, rather bland Sportage. Bold, athletic and muscular, the Kia Sportage design is a brilliant blend of SUV and wagon which appeals to both buyer types.
The bold nose, ‘clamshell’ bonnet and abundant curves and character lines embody all of the Schreyer hallmarks which are now obvious in other standout Kia designs like the Optima and Rio. Sportage goes further with its raked windscreen, sloping roof and matching glasshouse all stamping this Kia as a style leader still in a segment populated with modern designs.
Over the entry-grade Si Kia Sportage, the SLi model as tested gains chrome for the grille and door handles, roof rails and a rear spoiler.
Dimensionally, the Kia Sportage at 4440mm is some 100mm shorter than Mazda’s all-new CX-5, but in terms of wheelbase the Kia is only 60mm shorter.
Our positive thoughts on the Kia Sportage from that first drive in New Zealand have remained with us in subsequent local drives of Kia’s handsome compact SUV. This time around the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel was most impressive.
In fact the extra torque (392Nm) highlighted the quality of the Kia Sportage’s chassis and its local suspension tuning. For sure Kia Sportage’s 225/60 R17 tyres are oriented to on-road performance and would be a limiting factor off-road long before ground clearance (172mm) and departure/ramp-over angles (28.2 degrees/17.7 degrees).
But the payback is obvious - over our high-speed mountain roads test route, Kia Sportage’s MacPherson strut and multi-link independent rear suspension (with local calibration and geometry changes) impressed with its cohesive feel on initial turn-in and nice mid-corner balance.
In the city too, the Kia Sportage diesel was a slick operator with plenty of acceleration for freeway merging and a nice relaxed ride. All-round visibility was generally good with just the thick C-pillars and sloping rear windows providing minor judgment tests when reverse parking (although aided considerably by the diminutive 10.6-metre turning circle and the SLi model’s reversing camera).
Our only points deduction was tyre noise on poor, coarse-chip secondary roads – although some of the much-hyped newcomers in this segment similarly lose points.
We’re splitting hairs here, but at the absolute limit, the on-road dynamics of the Kia Sportage - while in front of most in this segment - are narrowly edged by Mazda’s all-new CX-5 with its SKYACTIV technology.
We’ve been huge fans of the Kia Sportage since our first acquaintance on those icy roads in New Zealand. Sportage encapsulates why Kia is so good – excellent styling, quality engineering and high-standard build quality.
Kia has cleverly re-aligned the model lineup for 2012 to better position the Sportage to counter the onslaught of all-new models in this ultra-competitive segment. And in that context, we’re happy to report the Kia Sportage SLi diesel model as tested stands head-to-head against the best of the newcomers.
The fact Subaru’s Forester and Toyota’s RAV were the best-sellers in this segment last year perfectly illustrates the complexity of ‘compact’ SUVs – do you lean towards a wagon-like vehicle or an SUV? On the one hand the Forester is slick and sharply priced, while the RAV (also slick and nicely priced) affords better off-road capability – if that’s important to you.
Like Nissan’s X-Trail (number three best-seller in 2011), the Kia Sportage crosses both wagon and SUV.
And now we have the all-new Ford Kuga and Mazda CX-5 – both look good, drive great and deliver outstanding value-for-money so they must be included on your shopping list.
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