Car reviews - Kia - Sportage - Si Premium
Interior space and serenity, excellent ride comfort, keener steering enhances overall sense of agility, raft of new safety tech adds to value equation
Room for improvement
2.0-litre petrol engine is only just adequate, bland cabin mismatched with striking exterior, a bit soulless
Kia refines Sportage SUV to keep it competitive, but segment stardom remains elusive
8 Apr 2019
WHEN the fourth-generation Kia Sportage launched in early 2016, we couldn’t help but think it felt a little underdone compared with some of the excellent models it shared showroom space with.
The mid-size SUV game has moved on significantly in the intervening years and months, so Kia had to play some serious catch-up with this facelifted Sportage.
In many ways, this has been successful, especially the welcome addition of more safety tech and some meaningful tweaks to how it rides and handles. And its well-built cabin looks and works better courtesy of a big new touchscreen and extra space courtesy of an unusual decision to lengthen the wheelbase as part of this facelift.
During our week with the Sportage, we found a lot to like, but it never quite charmed us in the way other Kia models do so well.
Price and equipment
Priced at $32,290 plus on-road costs, the Sportage Si Premium petrol tested here costs $2300 more than the entry-level Si. Above it is the SLi at $36,790. Both are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, while another $5400 buys a same-sized diesel engine with an eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive.
Topping the range is the GT-Line that costs $44,790 with a 2.4-litre petrol engine and all-wheel drive, with a $2900 premium commanded for the same diesel driveline as offered on the lower grades.
Prices of between $1000 and $2500 arrived with this mid-life update, in return for the standard inclusion of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, driver attention alert and a self-dimming rearview mirror. GT-Line variants now get adaptive cruise control – a glaring omission from the pre-facelift Sportage – along with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
All this extra safety and driver-assistance tech is very welcome, although we’d like to see some of the GT-Line’s gizmos made available as an option on more modest variants because we found the combination of incredibly accurate lane-keep assist with non-adaptive cruise control pretty weird to say the least.
Driving along with non-adaptive cruise control while the steering wheel moves around in your hands as it follows the lane markings feels plain odd. It’s fine on an empty road, but in traffic it requires extra mental recalibration.
However, if this was your first car with this technology, it might not seem so odd as it does to people who are used to experiencing both adaptive cruise and lane-keeping systems working in tandem.
But the fact remains that Kia is missing a trick by not offering adaptive cruise and some of the other assistance goodies as an option on lower-spec models, rather than reserving them for the most expensive GT-Line variants.
The Si Premium as tested here includes a new 8.0-inch infotainment system with sat-nav, DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring and an eight-speaker JBL audio system plus front and rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and a 10-year navigation map and traffic monitoring subscription.
It’s a worthwhile step up from the Si that has a smaller 7.0-inch screen, six speakers, parking sensors at the rear only and 17-inch alloys.
Other standard gear comprises dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beam, electrically heated and folding exterior mirrors and leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector.
Upgrading to the SLi adds an electric parking brake with auto hold, tyre pressure monitoring, keyless entry with push button start, contrast-stitched leather upholstery, 10-way electric driver’s seat adjustment (up from six-way manual), LED tail-lights, rear privacy glass, a 4.2-inch multi-function instrument cluster display and a luggage net.
Flagship GT-Line variants have a bodykit and dual exhaust outlets to go with their 19-inch alloys and sporty flat-bottom steering wheel plus eight-way power adjustment for the front passenger seat, self-parking, LED headlights and foglights, a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging, heated and ventilated front seats, and hands-free tailgate opening.
In addition to the diesel engine option, Kia offers premium paint for $520, among which is the Sparkling Silver finish applied to our test car. Four other colours are available (six on the GT-Line), with only Clear White being a no-cost choice.
On first impressions, Kia has done little to update the Sportage interior. It’s still overwhelmingly black, with chunky buttons, a dull but logical layout and disappointingly large areas of scratchy plastic.
In the Si Premium variant we tested, this includes most of the door trims – although it’s worth noting that this is good enough for Audi in its smaller models – but at least the steering wheel and gear selector touchpoints feel expensively tactile.
Similarly satisfying are the Sportage’s well-matched control weights, a perceived quality trait that Kia seems to get better and better at with every new model we drive.
The new 8.0-inch touchscreen is a highlight, sitting much more happily in the dashboard than its smaller predecessor and working brilliantly as Kia multimedia systems tend to. It’s as though Kia always designed the Sportage interior with this screen in mind but was waiting for the technology to catch up or become affordable enough.
Car manufacturers don’t often change the dimensions of a vehicle for a mid-life facelift, but Kia has grown the Sportage by 45mm in length, with 30mm of that going into the wheelbase. As a result, headroom and legroom has increased front and rear.
We never had any complaints about interior space offered by the Sportage – even on variants fitted with a headroom-robbing sunroof – but even we were surprised by the extra sense of spaciousness and comfort provided by this update.
Kia also redesigned the rear bench to provide more thigh support and a better seating position and it certainly felt respectably plush back there. We preferred it to the front seats, which had a ratchet-style backrest adjustment that is either too upright or too reclined.
Entry and egress were always a Sportage strong point, and the wide-opening doors have not been tampered with. This made fitting a child seat easy (there’s Isofix on the outer positions), and the tailgate’s low load lip that opens flush with the boot floor makes loading bulky items a breeze too.
Kia didn’t make the boot any bigger, though, remaining at a respectable but hardly segment-busting 466 litres with the rear seats up and up to 1455L with the 60/40 split-fold rear bench folded.
Cabin storage is also decent, with a big bin between the seats plus a reasonable-sized glovebox and fabric map pockets on the front seats, door bins shaped to hold bottles, two good-sized cupholders up front and another pair in the fold-down rear armrest.
We’re not fans of the odd-shaped recess in front of the gear selector though, as the asymmetrical design harms its ability to hold more than one phone for example. And the small iPhone SE only just fits when connected to a charge cable.
On the subject of charging, being a Kia, the Sportage cabin is peppered with 12V and USB sockets. Handy.
We were mightily impressed with how quiet the Sportage cabin was on the move, suppressing the roar of coarse-chip bitumen on our road test circuit of crumbling country lanes with more success than a lot of much more expensive metal.
Don’t underestimate how much this level of serenity can improve your daily drive, especially if your local roads leave a lot to be desired. Value-for-money is often measured in how much standard equipment a car comes with – and the Sportage does well on this count – but getting big expensive car levels of isolation is arguably worth even more than that.
Engine and transmission
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine fitted to front-drive Sportages such as the one tested here sometimes struggles to lug its 1532kg mass (plus passengers and their possessions).
It develops a modest 114kW of power at 6200rpm and 192Nm of torque at 4000rpm, but you wouldn’t want to get anywhere near its power peak as the thrashing, boomy noise it makes above 5500rpm really breaches the peace inside the otherwise calm and quiet Sportage cabin.
It is an engine that’s clearly outclassed by the transmission it is paired with. Kia has seemingly worked hard to recalibrate its wonderful slick-and-quick six-speed auto to avoid extended high-rev histrionics when accelerating up hills, but just be prepared for a noisy, slow time if you need to occasionally get a move on, especially if your neighbourhood is full of steep hills.
That said, for most round-town work, the 2.0-litre petrol Sportage punts along smoothly and it works surprisingly well on the motorway once up to speed. And that transmission can reliably be left to its own devices even when making progress on a twisty road.
Evidence that this engine is overworked came from our average fuel consumption reading of 10.1 litres per 100 kilometres after a week of driving, which is not far off the official urban figure of 10.9L/100km. That said, 7.3L/100km on the motorway was more encouraging but then the official extra-urban rating is an optimistic 6.1L/100km.
Ride and handling
The Sportage was already a tidy handler, striking balance that slightly prioritised dynamic smarts over comfort, without compromising the latter and resulting in a convincingly European feel.
Not resting on their laurels, Kia Australia and its local chassis tuners have tweaked the set-up to make the Sportage comfier, but with sharper steering. The results are impressive.
There is a section of broken bitumen on our road test circuit that is the undoing of all but the best-sorted vehicles. After gliding over it in the Sportage without feeling a thing, we turned around to check if it had resurfaced since our last test a week ago. It hadn’t.
We really enjoyed the new steering set-up, too. It still doesn’t tip into corners with grin-inducing crispness like a Mazda CX-5 or the vigour of a Hyundai Tucson but it does feel incredibly natural and confidence-inspiring.
Despite the comfier ride, we didn’t find that exploiting the fun new steering resulted in excessive lean when cornering quickly and the dry conditions of our test posed few problems for the Nexen tyres that hung on admirably when extra lock was applied to tackle tightening-radius bends or maintaining grip during emergency stops. If only the brake pedal feel was as convincing as the performance.
In fact, the Sportage’s front end had a lot to give in terms of grip and the car felt rock-solid stable, balanced, nimble and predictable whatever we threw at it.
Safety and servicing
In addition to this update’s range-wide standardisation of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assist, forward collision warning and driver attention alert, the Kia Sportage comes with dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags plus advanced seat belt reminders on all seats.
The model attained a full five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating in 2016, despite scoring a mediocre 13.62 out of 16 in the frontal offset test. It made up for this with a full 16 points in the side impact test and a perfect two out of two in the pole test. Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’. Overall, it scored 34.62 out of a maximum 37 points.
All Kia passenger cars have a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assistance and capped-price servicing for the duration.
Service scheduling falls every 12 months or 15,000km – whichever comes first. For the petrol we drove, the cost of each interval ranges from $252 to $604, averaging at just under $392 per visit across the first 105,000km or seven years.
With Australia’s mid-size SUV segment being so fiercely competitive, the Sportage was starting to feel the pinch after less than three years on the market.
Kia had to do more than iron out the Sportage’s shortcomings if it was going to regain lost ground.
To a large extent, it has succeeded. The standard active safety and driver assistance systems help elevate the Sportage over a number of competitors, and the subtle boost to interior space combines well with the extra comfort provided by work done to the suspension.
A new infotainment unit that better integrates with the dashboard and meaningful improvements to what was already pretty good steering also add to the Sportage’s smile factor. Then there’s Kia’s standard-setting seven-year aftercare package.
Overall, the Sportage – in petrol guise at least – is let down by a lacklustre engine. The interior is dull and plasticky too, which is a real letdown considering the striking exterior styling.
It’s a good car but it never charmed us in the way many Kia models so often do. A solid head purchase, then, but your heart will be longing for more.
Honda CR-V VTi-S 2WD (from $33,290 plus on-road costs)
Lots and lots to like about the latest CR-V, including everything the model line has been good at for generations in terms of space and visibility plus a great new engine and a useful dose of dynamic ability without compromising on comfort.
Subaru Forester 2.5i (from $33,490 plus on-road costs)
Major update sees Subaru go a bit Skoda with thoughtful touches on its venerable Forester, with heaps of space and a quality feel plus everything that keeps Subaru buyers coming back generation after generation. We reckon they could have tried harder with the drivetrain, though.
Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.0 (from $34,390 plus on-road costs)
The contemporary Mazda hallmarks of upmarket interior and fun handling are present and correct and the CX-5 is massively popular for good reason. Great value, with standard autonomous emergency braking, but this variant is hamstrung by not having the punchier 2.5-litre petrol engine option.
Nissan X-Trail ST 2WD automatic (from $30,990 plus on-road costs)
Popular for good reason, the X-Trail is one of the segment’s most spacious, with sharp pricing and standard autonomous emergency braking. Let down a bit by dated mechanicals and the ride can feel a bit unresolved.
Hyundai Tucson Active X 2.0 petrol automatic (from $33,850 plus on-road costs)
Unlike sister brand Kia, Hyundai missed a huge opportunity to make autonomous emergency braking and other safety tech standard on all Tucson variants. Otherwise, the smooth-operating Tucson remains great to drive and easy to use.
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Model release date: 1 July 2018
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