Car reviews - Kia - Sportage - Si
Classy interior, well equipped, doesn’t look or feel like a base model, ride comfort, fun handling, slick and swift automatic transmission, lack of road noise
Room for improvement
Thirsty round town, engine vocal when revved, over-zealous traction control
17 Sep 2015
Price and equipment
APART from the lack of luxuries like satellite navigation or automatic climate control, it is difficult to tell the $25,990 entry-level Sportage Si is a base model – this is no poverty pack special.
It comes with air-conditioning, tinted windows, cornering lamps, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth connectivity with phone and audio streaming, rear parking sensors, 16-inch alloy wheels and cruise control.
The $2200 optional six-speed automatic transmission fitted to our test vehicle also gains trailer stability control. A $590 option box for premium paint was also ticked.
This Slovakian-built SUV feels European in many ways, with its high-quality, solidly built and user-friendly interior providing the first impression of its Continental provenance. It’s a big step up from the pre-facelift, South Korean-built version that launched in 2010.
Apart from a rubbery textured light grey finish across the front of the soft-touch dash, the interior is unrelentingly black, but it feels cosy rather than claustrophobic and despite the arrival of an all-new replacement next year, doesn’t feel dated.
For the facelift, Kia fitted a soundproofed windscreen, a bush-mounted front subframe, a stiffer transmission mounting bracket and other modifications designed to improve refinement and reduce noise, vibration and harshness. It works. The lack of wind noise – and particularly road noise – is impressive.
Shorter people will marvel in the amount of height adjustment in the driver’s seat, and with seven other ways of altering its position plus a reach-and-rake steering column, most shapes and sizes will get themselves comfortable behind the wheel.
A mix of convincing fake leather and cloth upholstery adds to the premium cabin feel, although rear passengers do not benefit from the same soft-touch door trims as those in the front.
It’s not all good news. The front seats are incredibly hard and feel more like a bar stool perch than a chair, producing a numb bum in less than an hour. Rear passengers fare much better with a softer squab.
Two six-footers can just about sit in tandem and there is plenty of space for elbows and heads in outboard positions. The raised, hump-like central seat is another story and as such suitable only for small (or unpopular) people on short journeys.
With two in the back, two cupholders in the fold-down central rear armrest are generously sized, while the deep and tall rear door bins offer more drinks and oddment storage.
A surprisingly low tailgate release opens to reveal a boot floor that is almost completely flush with the rear panel, making it easy to slide cumbersome objects in. Beneath the boot floor is a full-size alloy spare wheel, around which is heaps of extra storage. The boot also features a 12V socket, two bins, one large and deep, with the smaller one useful for storing the cargo net.
Back up front, a clear instrument pack, simple multi-function steering wheel and fuss-free audio system are a breeze to familiarise with, with Bluetooth pairing a doddle and audio streaming a cinch. There are no colour displays or touchscreens in sight, but we’d prefer to live with this than the badly executed and frustrating technology fitted to some competitors.
The front door bins are perfect for holding small drinks bottles, while two different sizes of cupholder provide further options. Beneath the comfortable armrest is a deep bin with smartphone tray and the glovebox is adequately sized. Twelve-volt, USB and auxiliary audio inputs are also provided.
Extendable sun visors are a thoughtful touch, while the big mirrors and reversing camera built into the interior mirror help overcome poor visibility through the high-set and letterbox-like rear windscreen.
Engine and transmission
The facelifted Sportage’s new-generation 2.0-litre four-cylinder GDi petrol engine reprises the 122kW power output of the unit it replaces, while torque climbs 8Nm to 205Nm.
At cruise the engine is muted but it soon becomes almost unacceptably raucous when revved, causing an uninspiring gravelly drone to enter the cabin. It would not be so noticeable were the Sportage not so quiet and refined at other times.
We would describe the petrol engine as revvy and linear rather than grunty, and like the sounds it makes when revs, it is generally uninspiring in operation.
In its defence it does feel less strained than the 2.0-litre option of a Mazda CX-5.
Acceleration is never punchy but always adequate and those who can bear the noise above 4000rpm are rewarded with crisp, eager throttle response and decent amounts of poke. It only noticeably runs out of puff on steeper hills.
The new six-speed automatic is a peach. It is quick to kick down a couple of cogs at the flex of the driver’s right foot and on twisty roads it is intelligent enough to be in the right ratio most of the time – and is quick to correct if caught out.
A little torque converter flare means it is not as quick, slick or assertive in its shifts as the unit in a CX-5 but apart from that it’s one of the best conventional six-speed autos we’ve sampled.
During our test comprising motorway cruising, dynamic country driving and urban/suburban commuting, we came within a tenth of the petrol-auto Sportage’s official: 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres combined fuel consumption figure.
Crossing inner-city Brisbane suburbs in relatively free-flowing traffic increased consumption to 9.7L/100km – well below the official 11.2L/100km – but the figure was well into the teens on the same route in heavy traffic, probably because it lacks the idle-stop tech that helps more modern petrol competitors to consume less fuel in town.
One thing that irked us was an incident in which the traction control called time as we attempted to quickly exit a side road into the traffic flow. The gap was small and we had only just collected the car so we applied a bit too much throttle, which chirped the tyres and prompted the electronics to kill power for what felt like a heart-stoppingly long time.
Rather than allowing the tyres to find grip or the driver to make their own correction, this well-intentioned safety technology heavy handedly provided the opposite of what we wanted to happen – and what the traffic we were merging into was expecting.
Ride and handling
On its 16-inch alloys, the Sportage has a firm but expertly damped ride, adding to the impressive, classy – even premium – European feel. Compared with the pre-facelift version, the steering is now perfectly weighted, deliciously direct and impressively accurate. It is a confident feeling and confidence-inspiring car to drive.
Helped by the fact it’s one of the segment’s smallest contenders, the Sportage’s accurate steering and hatchback-like 10.6-metre turning circle help overcome visibility issues by ensuring great manoeuvrability.
The Sportage feels as though it shrinks around the driver, making it easy to judge where the four corners are. It adds up to make the Sportage easy and pleasurable to use day-to-day.
At the same time, the Kia did not disappoint in the handling stakes. There is a lot of grip available, an impressively neutral balance and reserves of grip to be found once the front starts to push wide by applying extra steering input.
The Sportage corners without excessive pitching and with plenty of composure, shrugging off off-camber turns, mid-corner bumps and patchwork surfaces. It’s a surprisingly agile, accurate, responsive and fun little SUV.
However, meaningful steering feedback is absent. A very early indication that the limit of front-end grip is approaching comes in the form of an indecipherable vibration and squirming from the steering wheel. Finding out it is possible to push through this envelope and discovering additional grip is more about driver confidence than communication or encouragement from the vehicle.
In contrast to the heavy handed traction control mentioned above, the stability control is discrete, well calibrated and could teach a Toyota RAV4 a thing or two.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP awarded the Sportage a maximum five-star safety rating, with an overall score of 35.10 out of 37. The frontal offset test score was 15.10 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 “marginal”.
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.
Kia’s market-leading seven-year warranty, seven-year capped-price servicing, and seven-year roadside assistance package includes 12-month/15,000km service intervals, with the first 3000km service free of charge.
Older, smaller and less expensive than its most serious competitors, the Sportage has matured well and despite originally launching back in 2010 with an all-new replacement on the horizon, still more than holds its own in a competitive segment.
That’s an impressive achievement and testament to Kia’s ability to craft cars with a broad spectrum of talents and plenty of appeal both on paper and in the metal.
Unless the power delivery and fuel consumption characteristics of a diesel engine mean a lot or all-wheel-drive is an absolute must, it is hard to see why shoppers would look past the Sportage Si in a Kia showroom.
It offers a compelling mixture of value-for-money, style, quality and driving enjoyment. And in a tough segment full of strong competition starting from less than $1000 more, Kia’s seven-year customer care package might just be enough to tip the scales in its favour at this end of the market.
Ford Kuga Ambiente EcoBoost automatic from $28,990 plus on-road costs
Bang up-to-date engine and on-board tech plus spirited handling and a low price make the Kuga desirable, but it is spoiled by road noise, a fussy interior, hefty kerb weight, poor visibility and lack of a reversing camera.
Mazda CX-5 Maxx automatic from $29,190 plus on-road costs
The medium SUV class leader for almost every reason, but you might wish you’d opted for the punchier AWD-only 2.5-litre petrol (from $32,190). Like the Kuga it’s a sharp drive but you pay for that with excessive road noise.
Honda CR-V VTi automatic from $29,790 plus on-road costs
Airy, spacious, quiet, refined and some of the best all-round visibility in the segment. But the plasticy interior, torque-free engine, iffy handling and dim-witted transmission put it near the bottom of our SUV shopping list.
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