Car reviews - Kia - Sportage - 2WD and CRDi range
CRDi EX's mid-range torque and fuel economy, 2.0-litre LX's value, ride/handling compromise, cabin space in all models
Room for improvement
2.0-litre LX coarseness when revved and lack of cruising speed performance, no auto transmission for CRDi, CRDi's trip computer lacks sophistication, lack of cargo space in all models
6 Sep 2007
By PHILIP LORD
WHILE there was nothing particularly wrong with the Kia Sportage V6 when it arrived here in April 2005, it simply didn't have the power advantage over four-cylinder competitors its V6 badge implied.
Yet it drank fuel as well as quickly as any thirsty petrol V6 - not really an attribute at a time when fuel prices skyrocketed in 2006.
The answer was a Sportage with a more fuel-efficient engine and Kia has done even better by offering two alternatives - an entry-level four-cylinder petrol or a four-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Both the petrol LX and diesel CRDi share the comfortable interior space with the V6. With a driver's seat that supplies ample side and under-thigh support and firm cushioning, most will find the Sportage an easy vehicle to cover long distances in.
The view from the driver's seat is over clear, legible instruments and most controls conveniently mounted high up on the dash.
Gone is the shiny plastic finish of Korean cars of old it is as good as most $30k compact SUVs, and certainly better than some coming out of the USA.
Large side mirrors provide abundant rear view, although the rear window is typical of the class in not providing the most abundant vision. Rear seat space is also ample although the centre position is not nearly as comfortable as the outboard seats.
The cargo space is sufficient at 667 litres, although the loading lip is high, no doubt in part because of the spare wheel positioned under the floor, which is a full-size alloy in all models, as it should be in the class.
The rear seat folds in a 70/30-split, each in one easy movement, and Sportage persists with the two-piece glass opening tailgate, a convenience feature not many buyers of other makes ever seemed to use, given that most have reverted to single-piece tailgates. With the rear seat down the Sportage presents a flat load floor and has 1886 litres cargo capacity.
Even though the LX 2.0-litre 2WD lacks the all-wheel drive hardware, it has the same ground clearance as the AWD EX V6 and EX CRDi. So dynamics are similar - the steering is not the most communicative, and the wheel will tug with a small amount of torque steer.
Despite that, the chassis does respond quickly to steering input as well as the better wagons in the compact SUV class.
Understeer is the endgame here, but there is a lot of rewarding driving to be had before it comes to that. Lower your expectations several notches below sports car handling and the Sportage can be an enjoyable steer threading down your favourite ribbon of road, just as it can down a fire trail.
The Sportage is quite agile on twisting tarmac or dirt and is not easily flustered by mid-corner bumps. Tyres have surprisingly good levels of grip and there is minimal bodyroll for a tall SUV.
The suspension is quite supple, with only the largest of holes or lumps in the road transferring road shock through to the cabin. In summary, the Sportage has a well-sorted chassis that is light years ahead of its awful predecessor.
The CRDi shares very similar dynamics to the LX 2.0-litre, with only a slightly more nose-heavy feel when turning into a corner.
The LX has a satisfying amount of urge off the mark and at low rpm driving around town it has the serene confident demeanor of a politician.
Ask a little more of it though, and the sweat above its brow quickly appears.
The LX just lacks the necessary torque to keep it on a steady 100km/h up highway hills and if you want to overtake, you will need to give the engine room plenty of notice.
The 2.0-litre alloy head, cast-iron block four-cylinder also does not feel smooth and makes a fair amount of noise when revved, too.
No problems with torque in the CRDi. Even though surprisingly quiet when on the move, the diesel clatter at idle will leave passengers in no doubt which Sportage they are in.
Endemic in small-capacity turbo-diesels that are lugging substantial kerb weight around is turbo lag.
At 1685kg, the CRDi is the heaviest Sportage and its 2.0-litre displacement is quite small, but turbo lag is minimal.
Part of the key is its variable geometry turbocharger, which allows more gas flow at low revs and opens the turbo vanes for more boost as revs rise, but also the relatively short first gear in the six-speed manual gearbox also helps to get revs over the lag hurdle.
Once peak torque arrives at 1800rpm, the CRDi feels like it could lug itself up a vertical slope.
Although the price-conscious will see plenty of SUV metal for the money in the LX, and it makes a plausible argument as a city car, the real pick of the new Sportage range is the CRDi.
Pity it's only available as a manual, for with a self-shifter option, Kia could hope for an even bigger slice of the SUV market.
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