Car reviews - Kia - Sportage - Platinum AWD Petrol
Interior comfort and quietness, firm but supple ride, low boot lip, round-town agility
Room for improvement
Engine lacks torque, poor damp-road grip, no adaptive cruise control, cheaper variants better value
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2 Aug 2016
Price and equipment
FOR $43,490 plus on-road costs, the top-spec Sportage Platinum includes a a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, Bluetooth, auxiliary and dual-USB connectivity, a six-speaker stereo, wireless smartphone charging for compatible devices, a 3.5-inch multi-function trip computer display, security alarm, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, auto-defog system, rain-sensing wipers, an electric tailgate.
The interior is kitted out with a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, two-tone leather upholstery with contrast stitching, flat-bottomed perforated leather sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, illuminated vanity mirrors and a luggage net.
Rounding out the spec list is an electric tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, dual chrome exhaust tips, bi-Xenon headlights, LED tail-lights, 19-inch alloys with full-size alloy spare, roof rails, rear spoiler and sporty ‘GT Line’ styling flourishes plus a unique suspension tune.
Active safety gear is a Platinum-only proposition, comprising autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist warning, automatic high-beam and self-parking.
We couldn’t fathom why Kia had omitted to include adaptive cruise control among these features, which was especially galling as the system fitted does not indicate the selected speed and would easily run away with itself to well over the desired speed when driving down even slight hills, making it less than relaxing to use in today’s speed camera infested environment.
The Sportage interior has transformed from a conservative but quality car-like ambience to a chunkier, almost Jeep-esque feel. It has resulted in the infotainment screen looking less integrated with the dashboard than we would expect and the overall look is duller than we’d expect from such a design-led brand.
It’s also overwhelmingly black and for us at least, a bit cave-like in there.
The transition to hard dash plastics start pretty high up, too.
Aside from that, the comfortable front seats that are heated and cooled, the pleasant steering wheel with absolutely heaps of adjustment and a gear lever that would not feel out-of-place in something expensive and German made for a good first impression of the Sportage interior.
It’s easy to achieve a good driving position and view of the road ahead. The crisp, clear reversing camera display, proximity sensors – including highly sensitive rear cross-traffic alert – and self-parking tech helped overcome the vision-robbing fat C-pillars.
Consistent and excellently judged control weights also made us smile, from the steering to the pedals and even the rotary air-conditioning controls that had a classy amount of resistance and reminded us of upmarket hi-fi equipment. Other Sportage switchgear has clearly been tuned in a similar way.
The door bins can hold bottles, there are two good-sized cupholders up front – with two small additional cubbies beside them and big bin between the seats plus a reasonable-sized glovebox and net-style map pockets on the front seats.
Cabin plastics are more low-rent in the rear than in the front, but even Mercedes-Benz pulls this penny-pinching trick on larger and much more expensive cars such as the GLC. The rear passenger area is home to a further pair of cupholders in the central armrest and the door bins can also accommodate bottles.
With the driver’s seat set for a six-footer, a similarly tall passenger behind them has plenty of leg- and head-room, even with the full-length sunroof. But the reclining – via a simple handle at each end – rear bench is not very wide.
The space and wide door apertures helped make installing a child seat easy, an essential point for the young families this car will attract. Those with older children should receive no complaints about rear-seat comfort either, with plenty of support – including for thighs – back there.
We’re not fans of some electric tailgates as they can be noisy and slow – and the Sportage is no exception. But like the car it replaces, the fourth-generation model provides a usefully low boot lip that is flush with the load area floor, meaning it is easy to slide heavy objects into place.
However, the 466-litre capacity (measured beneath the cargo blind with the rear seats up) looks smaller than it is and falls way short of the 740L Kia quoted for the previous-generation Sportage. And while up to 1455L is possible with the 60/40 split-fold rear seats stowed, this again is less than the 1547L offered previously.
Kia provides a number of tie-down points and a handy cargo net, while also handy is the ability to stash the cargo blind beneath the boot floor when not in use. Beneath the boot floor is a full-size spare that, due to being forced to take evasive action when somebody came hurtling the wrong way down a service road in our direction, we had to deploy.
Road noise and wind noise on our test vehicle were well-suppressed, although on the worst of coarse-chip country-road bitumen the road noise levels would get a bit raucous and driving into a strong headwind revealed a forgivable amount of rustle around the windscreen.
Opening the sunroof blind – not the sunroof itself – resulted in a loud sucking sound from the rear of the car that led us to hastily close it again, a rattly cargo blind and a creak from the dashboard – or door, we couldn’t tell – spoiled an otherwise quality cabin feel.
Engine and transmission
Platinum-spec petrol Sportages uniquely get a 135kW/237Nm 2.4-litre four-pot direct-injection petrol engine, driving all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
Drivetrain wise, the range represents a lack of progress on the drivetrain front when compared with the previous model.
If you have your heart set on a Platinum, we think the more powerful 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine option is worth the modest $2500 premium (Toyota will slug you a massive $4500 for a diesel in the RAV4), delivering an additional kilowatt but a seriously healthy 400Nm slug of torque.
Although it’s smooth, refined, revs willingly and is mostly adequate in urban driving, we really got tired of the petrol’s lack of grunt and it has to be driven hard (noisily and inefficiently) to get the most out of it. It’s also not the most willing car off the line and even in Sport mode, the throttle response is not great.
Even gentle inclines would have the transmission searching for lower ratios and although it is generally pretty muted, there is a definite strained-sounding note to be heard when the engine is working hard.
It’s a shame Kia doesn’t fit a turbo-petrol instead. Other countries get this option, so Australian customers are getting a raw deal.
Consuming 6.8 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres, the diesel is also a 20 per cent more efficient than the Platinum-only 2.4L petrol (8.5L/100km). As a result, you’ll soon recoup the diesel premium at the pumps, especially if you cover a lot of distance each month. Even if not, you’ll probably get most of it back at resale time anyway.
We were pleased to see our average on-test fuel consumption in the high eights, not far off the official figure, although we did have an unusually high number of motorway miles in there. We would see low-to-mid sevens on the motorway, again a little above the 6.7L/100km official highway figure.
If there’s a positive in the Platinum petrol’s drivetrain, it’s the automatic transmission. Effectively and unobtrusively doing its job in the background most of the time, it eagerly leaps into action when the driver flexes their right ankle, instantly dropping a cog or two for additional revs when overtaking or accelerating up a motorway entry ramp.
The programming is also impressively intuitive, accurately second-guessing the driver on twisty roads. We rarely had to reach for the manual paddle-shifters as the Sportage was ready with the right ratio for us. Changes are pretty quick, too.
However, manual mode is not manual and it will change up before the redline.
The gearing also seems a bit too tall for the engine’s lack of grunt, further exacerbating the lethargic throttle response.
Ride and handling
Kia and its Australian local chassis tuning arm are masters at creating a well-engineered feeling ride and handling setup that bestows a quality to its products that shame some from expensive European premium brands.
It has quite a firm ride, but it remains comfortable and rarely crashes or jiggles – the latter only really felt on an unusual concrete motorway surface at 100km/h.
There is plenty of agility for urban cut-and-thrust driving and out of town we enjoyed the fact the stability control calibration would helpfully – and sometimes not so subtly – tug the car into line and quell understeer.
It would encourage the driver rather than stop play when pressing on close to the limits of grip, but the lazy, delayed throttle response instantly destroyed any driver-initiated throttle-adjustability the Sportage might have had.
Unfazed by mid-corner dips, bumps or ripples and admirably lacking in rack-rattle or kickback, the Sportage tracked true and would hold its line well on dry roads.
But damp conditions on the dynamic part of our road test route uncovered a confidence-crushing squirreliness and floatiness. The feeling from the rear of the car was unnervingly loose, so while driving quickly in the wet can be fun the Sportage was just worrying. The rather vague, rubbery and insufficiently direct steering feel didn’t help matters.
Interestingly, the Hankook tyres coped much better with soaking-wet roads, but overall we came away with our high hopes for the new Sportage dashed. It felt like quite a step backwards from the old car.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP awarded the Sportage a maximum five-star safety rating, with an overall score of 34.62 out of 37. The frontal offset test score was 13.62 out of 16, while 16 out of 16 was awarded for side impact performance and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed “good” but pedestrian protection was “Acceptable”.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags (including curtain bags), seatbelt pre-tensioners and load-limiters, active front head restraints, three child restraint anchorages and two ISOFIX positions.
The usual anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control and traction control are present and supplemented by hill-descent control, hill-start assist and on this automatic variant, trailer sway control.
As mentioned above, only top-spec Platinum variants as tested here get autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and blind-spot detection with lane-change assist warning.
Kia’s market-leading seven-year warranty, seven-year capped servicing, and seven-year roadside assistance package includes 12-month/15,000km service intervals, with the first 3000km service free of charge.
We really wanted to like the new Sportage and were bestowed with the top-spec Platinum to test for a week, but we came away slightly disappointed with a few specification omissions and the weak naturally aspirated engine that, for us, was the biggest let-down.
A slightly scary time on damp roads didn’t help and after driving the wonderful and almost identically-priced Optima GT back-to-back with the Sportage Platinum, we couldn’t understand why the same company could exceed expectations with one product and disappoint with another.
We also couldn’t help but feel that something special about the previous Sportage had been lost on the way to creating the new one.
The biggest saving grace is Kia’s modest $2500 premium for the diesel engine, which by all accounts is the best driveline of the Sportage range.
Apart from buying a Hyundai Tucson instead, were it our money we’d go for a diesel SLi – which is still generously specified – and pocket the huge $7000 difference.
Hyundai Tucson Highlander 1.6T AWD from $43,490 plus on-road costs
Identical price to the Kia, but in our opinion a nicer drive and with the decent turbo-petrol engine so lacking in the Sportage. Bland dashboard notwithstanding, the Tucson is a comfortable, smooth, fluid-driving operator that is hard to fault, especially now it’s managed to get the full five ANCAP crash safety stars.
Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD from $43,390 plus on-road costs
Critics are split over whether the CX-5 remains the medium SUV of choice now the Tucson is available. Mazda shows Kia how it’s done with a punchy 2.5-litre petrol. It’s a sharp drive that feels premium and European, apart from the fact is suffers a bit too much road noise for our liking.
Nissan X-Trail Ti AWD from $45,190 plus on-road costs
The X-Trail’s move from utilitarian box-on-wheels to modern and funky has been rewarded with continued sales success. Spacious and affordable with a seven-seat option and decent drivetrain, but while dynamics have moved on in leaps and bounds they remain far from class-leading.
Toyota RAV4 Cruiser from $44,990 plus on-road costs
Not just the boring default choice but with the recent facelift an impressive package in its own right. Spacious, comfortable, refined, well equipped and now much classier inside and out. The reputation for reliability and resale make it worth the extra $1500 or so.
Subaru Forester XT from $40,990 plus on-road costs
Punchy turbo boxer engine (see what we did there?), value for money, a bit more go-anywhere credibility than most rivals, decent dynamics and the fact there must be good reason for Subaru’s ability to capture customers for life are offset only by the Forester’s slightly dour – if light and airy – interior.
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