Car reviews - Kia - Sportage
Improved ride comfort, ergonomic and accessible interior layout, strong turbo-diesel engine, new standard safety kit, good NVH levels
Room for improvement
Improved styling still a bit goofy, asthmatic 2.0-litre petrol, no adaptive cruise control option for lower grades
Kia sharpens Sportage range with added safety, spec, improvements to ride
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11 Jul 2018
AFTER launching its fourth-generation Sportage medium SUV at the start of 2016, Kia is back with a lightly-refreshed version of its second-best-selling model to keep it competitive in the cut-throat segment.
The car-maker identified safety, ride quality and styling as areas of improvement for the update, while largely leaving powertrains and interior alone.
Getting the mix right is critically important due to the size of the medium SUV segment, which has the highest market share of 18.0 per cent, ahead of small passenger cars (17.8%) and 4x4 pick-ups (14.7%).
Kia believes the update can net up to 200 additional sales a month for the brand that currently hovers around 1200.
Does the mid-life update do enough to keep the Sportage competitive in one of the busiest segments on the market?
The Sportage is a critically important model to Kia, with 7298 sales year-to-date placing it second for the brand behind the Cerato small car (10,232), and with the ever-increasing popularity of crossovers, there may come a time when the Sportage eclipses the Cerato’s sales.
With the Sportage update comes an increase in price across the line-up, ranging from $1000 in the entry-level Si petrol ($29,990 plus on-roads) and $2500 for the diesel SLi ($42,190). The range tops out at $47,690 for the GT-Line diesel.
Justifying the price rise is a mixture of increased specification, safety and improvements to ride quality, with Kia engineers opting for sharper steering response and a softer suspension set-up.
The result is a comfortable and refined driving experience that is able to deal well with some of the potholes and rough road surfaces on the backroads around Canberra and regional New South Wales.
Particularly in the Si with a softer suspension tune and smaller alloy wheels, the ride quality is excellent, especially considering the grade is the most affordable offering in the range. Having said that, the GT-Line still rides comfortably with the sportier suspension and 19-inch hoops.
Steering response is also well-weighted and direct, allowing for confident and composed driving at any speed.
For manufacturers these days, appropriate levels of active safety features are as important as any other vehicle aspect, and Kia has taken it on board with the inclusion of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assist, forward collision warning and driver attention alert as standard across the range. The lane-keep assist feature worked particularly well.
According the Kia Motors Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith, active safety technologies are relatively low on a customer’s priority list when compared to the manufacturer, however AEB is now compulsory for netting a five-star rating from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).
Adaptive cruise control is offered as standard on the top-spec GT-Line, however is not available anywhere else – even as an option. As such a convenient active safety feature, it would have been good of Kia to offer it as an option, instead of having to fork out for the top-spec variant.
The three powerplants in the Sportage range – 114kW/192Nm 2.0-litre petrol, 135kW/237Nm 2.4-litre petrol and 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel – remain unchanged, apart from the diesel swapping out its existing six-speed auto for an in-house-developed eight-speed unit, which it claims reduces fuel consumption by as much as 0.4 litres per 100km.
As the on-paper figure may suggest, the turbo-diesel is the pick of the engines (although we didn’t get to test the 2.4-litre petrol, available only on GT-Line), offering punchy performance at a minimum of fuss.
The eight-speed auto works well to manage engine revs, and can downshift on declines to increase engine braking and maintain vehicle speed. Having a diesel also means the Sportage comes with all-wheel drive, which can add further poise around corners and in conditions where grip is sub-optimal.
For those who value their bottom dollar, the 2.0-litre front-drive petrol set-up is adequate, able to pull the Sportage along with reasonable acceleration (albeit with a lot of engine noise) and with a recorded 8.2 litres per 100km fuel economy figure, consumption is decent.
The petrol is a good pick for, say, an urban couple without children, however if there is a family with two children, a dog and a car full of luggage, we feel the 114kW unit would struggle with a full load and fuel consumption would suffer. For those who do a lot of long-distance travel or have a family, the diesel is the pick of the bunch.
Styling has been sharpened, with a new-look lower grille that gives the Sportage a more aggressive look, as well as tweaks to the signature tiger-nose grille, rear bumper and tail-lights.
While the changes are positive, the Sportage still looks a little odd in our opinion, with bug-like headlights and bulbous proportions. Compared to the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V, the Sportage may struggle with buyers who prioritise styling.
Interior changes are relatively minor, with casual fans possibly struggling to distinguish the old Sportage from the new. Variants from Si Premium up gain an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, up from the 7.0-inch unit that proliferated the entire outgoing range.
The decision to largely leave the interior alone is understandable, as the Sportage’s cabin is already well laid out, ergonomic and easy to use. Dashboard buttons come with a large font that is easy to operate, and the infotainment screen, steering wheel-mounted buttons and instrument cluster display are simple to navigate.
Kia’s infotainment system isn’t quite as slick as the market leaders, but it still holds up well.
According to the brand, cabin space has increased with the update due to a wheelbase extension, and interior dimensions are comfortable, even for those above six feet tall. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is also kept to a pleasantly low level.
Specification is also solid with feature such as dual-zone climate control, full-size spare tyre, rain-sensing wipers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, reversing camera automatic headlights and folding heated exterior mirrors standard across the range.
Already a strong offering, Kia has not reinvented the wheel and has rather refined an already compelling package.
The inclusion of AEB and other safety tech is savvy, as is the decision to refine the ride quality for harsh Australian roads.
Offering adaptive cruise control across the range would be a good idea, while either a turbocharged 1.6- or 2.0-litre engine from the Kia/Hyundai stable would go well in lieu of the 2.0-litre free-breathing petrol unit.
Whether the updates will be enough for 200 extra monthly sales remains to be seen, but the Sportage’s compelling package plus its industry-leading seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty should see it on the shopping list of many potential buyers.
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