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Car reviews - Kia - Sportage - Platinum 2.4 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Design, cabin, Oz-spec chassis alterations, R2.0 diesel, safety, value, warranty
Room for improvement
Kia image, carryover Sportage name, some road noise, reduced side and rear vision, some hard interior plastics

Kia logo2 Aug 2010

By PHILIP LORD

THE transition of Kia’s product line-up from rather mundane cheaply built cars to those that appear well built and – dare we say it – imbued with a degree of class and European panache, has been like night and day.

It seems only five minutes ago that the Kia product catalogue looked like that of a discount department store. Sure, not a bottom-of-the-barrel $2 shop, but not any more flash than a Target or K-mart. Wholesome products at good prices, but generally nothing that would be considered fashionable.

Kia did what any self-respecting Asian car company would do to imbue its new product lines with a sense of European style and dynamics: it went in search of talent, drawing on an Italian designer for Sportage, for instance, and German suspension and chassis engineers. Even the Aussies got a guernsey, with the Sportage the first Kia product to have local ride and handling input.

With this league of nations behind the Sportage, you might be tempted to think ‘so what’, as it has been tried before: think Korean brand SsangYong and British designer Ken Greenly – his designs, commissioned by SsangYong and that resulted in Stavic and Actyon, are seared in the memory.

The new Sportage looks and feels very different, every bit a contemporary European SUV. The design is up to the minute and the paint, panel fit and finish are every bit as good as the better-credentialed compact SUVs, as is the interior presentation.

Slide into the driver’s seat and you are faced by a simple, clear dashboard – with classy backlit instruments – and good vision to the front and sides. The large side mirrors are welcome, as is the rear-view screen, incorporated into the rear vision mirror, as the rear window is the victim of fashion over function – small with ample blind spots.

To be really picky about interior presentation, the shiny plastic control stalks aren’t to everyone’s taste.

The seats, with the typical SUV ‘command’ position, are a little lacking in side support but that is the only criticism up front.

In the back, the outboard occupants are treated to nicely sculptured cushions, but typically this has come at the cost of the centre passenger position, which feels half a floor higher than the outboard seats and lacking in support. Luckily, there is little to complain about with foot room, with a relatively flat floor and also reasonable leg room.

The child seat anchor points are fitted on the cargo floor at the base of the seatback, which does not impose on loading space but the presentation is not ideal – the anchor tangs are under fussy, cheap plastic covers.

The cargo area is accessed via a low loading lip, and while it isn’t a huge space, it is reasonably well squared off. The full-size spare wheel is under the cargo floor.

The 2.4-litre engine has all the requisites for internal combustion greatness –16 valves, twin cams, variable valve timing and electronic fuel injection – yet despite the ingredients you don’t get your cake and eat it too.

Although initial throttle response is good when shuffling through urban canyons, try an open-road overtaking manoeuvre or ascending a long hill and the engine needs to take a deep breath.

The smooth six-speed automatic hides some of this apparent lack of torque, picking up a lower gear quickly and seamlessly, but eventually it cannot hide the fact that the engine needs high revs to maintain speed or to overtake. And when it reaches for the redline, slight vibrations are felt though the pedals and floor, and the engine sounds either raucous or sporty, depending on your perception of such noise. It isn’t as bad as Kia’s Theta II 2.0-litre engine, but it is not the smoothest engine in the class.

Economy could be a bit better, too. We achieved an average of 12.9L/100km in town and 9.9L/100km in an urban/country mix.

The Sportage has an on-demand clutch pack engaged all-wheel system that shuffles torque around well, without the unsophisticated delay of some competitors.

With its local suspension tune, the Sportage has good touring suspension control and suppleness, although in extremis appears to lack suspension travel as it tops out up front. Around town, it absorbs most bumps well but lacks suppleness over sharp bumps such as road join strips or potholes.

The Sportage has crisp steering response and takes a relatively composed cornering stance, providing a decent amount of mechanical grip from its tyres.

The Sportage Platinum 2.4 does not quite have the makings for a class-leader, but it delves into the compact SUV mix with a degree of style and substance that Kia has not reached before, and should be on any compact SUV shopping short-list. At last, Kia has a real contender on its hands.

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