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Car reviews - Kia - Sportage - range

Our Opinion

We like
Improved cabin quality, NVH levels, crisp steering, solid turbo-diesel engine, overall packaging
Room for improvement
Active safety systems only offered in Platinum, polarising front-end styling, laggy audio and touchscreen, gutless 2.0-litre engine

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Kia logo21 Jan 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON

WITH each new-generation Kia product, the Korean car-maker has taken a massive leap forward in the overall quality of its vehicles.

It stepped up its game years ago with its exterior design, but increasingly the focus has been on improving driveability and the look, feel and quality of its interiors.

In the past 12 months, new versions of the Carnival people-mover, Sorento large SUV and Optima mid-size sedan have arrived in Australia and each has been a dramatic improvement when compared with their predecessors.

Turbocharged engines, cabin design and functionality that is up there with the best in their respective segments, and big changes to ride and handling thanks to the Kia Motors Australia’s (KMAu) local ride and handling program have lifted the new models.

The new fourth-generation Sportage, therefore, arrives with fairly high expectations. However, there was a lot to like about the previous model so perhaps it didn’t require as dramatic a change-up as its stablemates.

Kia has moved away from the strong, appealing design aesthetic it used for the Sorento/Carnival siblings, taking a risk on a rather bold front-end design that will be polarising.

Even among the journalists assembled for the SUV’s local media launch, opinion was divided, but mostly people were not sold.

There is almost a hint of Porsche Cayenne about the high-set swept-back headlights that are separated from the familiar Schreyer tiger-nose grille, while the two additional air intakes and the large foglight housings (the four ‘ice cube’ LED units on higher grades) make for a busy front end.

The silhouette and glasshouse remains familiar, although the A and C-pillars are smaller this time around for improved visibility (the previous-gen model’s C-pillars were massive).

The tail-end design of the Sportage is spot on, with lovely shape and sleek, modern tail-lights in any grade making for a seriously sexy behind.

Analysing the car’s overall look, it is almost as though the front end was handled by one design studio, while the rear was taken care of somewhere else.

At least it doesn’t look like any other compact SUV on the road though, so kudos to Kia for pushing the envelope.

Inside, the Sportage loosely follows the look of the Sorento/Carnival and Optima, with more soft-touch materials than before, a classy dark-grey dash, a cleaner look and an overall high-end feel.

The controls in the lower centre stack are angled 10 degrees towards to driver, which is a neat touch, and compared with the bulbous, fussy dash of the previous Sportage, the new version is light years ahead.

We recently spent time behind the wheel of the Sportage’s cousin, the Hyundai Tucson, and found it difficult to find the perfect driving position.

Thankfully that is not the case with the Sportage. The seats and steering wheel adjust in ways that make it a cinch to find the best position, all the while feeling a bit more car-like than the Hyundai.

In Si grade you get cloth seats and fewer colour options for jazzing up the cabin, but there is nothing to complain about. We did not get time in the SLi, but the Platinum offers optional dual-tone leather-appointed seats with the colour contrast on the door panels, and the light grey/dark grey offering is a winner.

The seats up front are bolstered well and offer great comfort levels, while the second row would be a fine place to spend a few hours with few complaints.

There is heaps of legroom back there, and headroom is up on the old model too.

Also with the smaller C-pillar, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as gloomy as the previous Sportage’s second row did. The second row backrest can be reclined slightly for sleepy occupants.

Neat cabin storage compartments and bins can be found throughout and the cargo area has a low load height for easy loading and plenty of space – 466 litres to be precise – which is more than the Mazda CX-5’s 403 litres, but slightly off the 488-litre capacity of the Tucson.

The fit and finish of the interior is impressive, proving how much of a focus cabin quality is for the bullish Korean car-maker.

While the connectivity system in the touchscreen is simple to use, there is a lengthy lag between turning the car on and the screen coming to life.

Thankfully if you whack it in reverse as soon as you turn the key, the standard reversing camera display appears pretty quickly.

Another small annoyance on start-up is that the audio system does not revert back to the volume it was when you last turned the car off and while we tried to quickly turn the volume down, there was a lag in response there too.

The first Sportage sampled was the range-topping Platinum diesel that is priced from $45,990 plus on-road costs, which is about $500 more then the top-spec oil-burning Tucson but close to $5000 cheaper than the flagship Mazda CX-5 Akera diesel.

In fact the only other direct rivals in the segment that are cheaper at this end are the soon-to-be-discontinued Honda CR-V VTi-L ADAS AWD diesel ($45,790) and the Subaru Forester 2.0D-S ($39,490).

There is a lot of fruit in the Platinum, including a standard suite of active safety gear – autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, blind-spot detection, a lane-change assist warning, high-beam assist and the Smart Parking Assist (SPAS) – but these features are not even offered as an option on any other variant.

The significant work Kia engineers undertook to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are evident in the Platinum diesel, particularly when compared with the outgoing Sportage.

The cabin is seriously hushed when cruising and even under acceleration, while the 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre ‘R’ turbo-diesel engine is not as agricultural as some of its rivals.

Kia has included a GT Line specification as standard on Platinum and it has its own suspension characteristics compared with other variants.

The local engineering work conducted by Graeme Gambold and his team has clearly had an impact. Ride comfort has improved and the Sportage handles a variety of surfaces admirably.

In Platinum all-wheel drive diesel guise, the Sportage coped well with rough gravel back-roads, pot-holed single-lane country roads and city freeways, with only a hint of slippage on wet, unsealed surfaces.

Kia says it improved the steering response of the column-mounted electric motor-driven power steering and it is noticeable, with the SUV offering precise turn-in and responding sharply to whatever direction we gave it.

Steering feel is neither too heavy nor too light, and like the ad says, it is just right.

The diesel pulls away well and we failed to notice much lag, and despite a hint of body roll, the Sportage delivers solid, if not sporting performance and handling.

The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth when matched with the top-spec diesel too.

Opening the range is the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine delivering 114kW/192Nm two-wheel drive from $28,990.

After reverting back to Korean production instead of Slovakia where the previous model was sourced, Kia Motors Australia can no longer access the turbo-petrol engines for the Sportage promised to other regions.

And that is a shame. While many buyers might be completely fine with the entry level petrol donk, it feels gutless, becomes seriously thrashy when accelerating and does not like steep hills.

It did highlight how good the diesel is, although Kia has a way to go before it matches the powertrain tech and capabilities of Mazda’s SkyActiv suite.

The 135kW/237Nm 2.4-litre four-pot GDI petrol engine feels slightly more powerful and doesn’t sound as cranky when pushed, but we expected far better performance over the 2.0-litre unit and it is really only marginally better.

We achieved a fuel use figure of 8.0 litres per 100km on the combined cycle in the 2.4-litre Sportage, which is less than the stated 8.5L/100km figure.

In terms of ride quality, the two petrol variants are no match for the Platinum diesel, but we will have to wait for a full road test to see if the ride of the lower-grade diesels is any different.

The interior space, packaging and strong standard features list of the Sportage makes it an ideal car for a small family. Price-wise it is bang on its competitors and it has unique styling that sets it apart.

It is not quite the same leap forward as the new Carnival, Sorento and Optima are compared with their predecessors, but nevertheless the Sportage is well ahead of the model it replaces in terms of cabin comfort, handling and ride quality.

For our money, we would pick the diesel Platinum, but in any guise the Sportage offers a lot of customer appeal and could give the likes of the Tucson and the CX-5 a bit of a scare.

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