In just a few years Kia has gone from making up the numbers to becoming a true force in global car manufacture. At first it was all about changing brand perception, but that alone was never going to be enough. Now the Korean carmaker is setting about proving itself to be able to make good quality, well-equipped and aesthetically desirable vehicles in almost every market segment. One of the latest models to receive this full force treatment is Kia’s Sportage small SUV. Already a popular model on NZ roads the new look Sportage is ready to build on its predecessor’s reputation for practicality and durability at a bargain price. But take one look at the next-gen Sportage and it’s clear that this is one compact SUV that won’t be content with just being practical and durable, now it wants to be the best. Car and SUV booked some time with the new Sportage LTD to see how it measures up.
Before opening its doors or starting the engine, it’s hard not to take a moment and admire the Sportage for its absolutely striking styling. Its compact proportions are hidden behind a muscular, sporty look and athletic stance. A staunch character is created by expansive amounts of sheetmetal, a minimal glasshouse and raked-back front windscreen. Unique front and rear lights give the Sportage a futuristic concept car charm and a low roof line with forward-sloping C-pillars distance it from traditional boxy SUV shapes. Hints of off-road ability come from a raised ride height and tough black plastic capping the Sportage’s underside. Our top spec Ltd tested model came with visual extras like chrome trim around the window line and grille, silver integrated roof rails, LED daytime running lights and 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels.
The Sportage’s sleek style pushes its way into the cabin with one of the best interiors in the compact SUV segment. The dashboard is multi-layered and uncluttered with thoughtfully ordered switchgear easily at hand. Instrumentation is large and bright in a three-gauge design with a LED display offering a wide variety of trip computer information. The overall interior quality is very good with nicely tactile and soft dashboard plastics. The contrasting silver and chrome trim pieces look great but may not prove as durable long term. That said, everything appears well screwed together and any moving parts are exact.
The leather seats are wide and supportive all around and rear occupants get ample leg and headroom despite the Sportage’s tapered roofline. The driving position in the Sportage is comfortable and although the leather-wrapped steering wheel only adjusts for rake it’s still easy to get settled. Visibility is good from the raised vehicle out the front, but the view out the back is slightly compromised by thick C-pillars and a narrow rear windscreen. To help, a rear view camera is a handy addition with a small display in the rear view mirror. Cargo capacity is limited by a full size spare wheel but is usable at 740 litres, and with the 60:40 split rear seat back folded down this doubles to 1547 litres.
A high equipment level for the price has become a Kia strength and the new Sportage is no exception. Our top-spec Ltd model was fully loaded with dual zone air-con, cruise control, Bluetooth with steering wheel controls, auto lights, electric drivers seat adjustment, heated front seats, reversing sensors, keyless entry, 7-speaker 6-disc CD stereo with full iPod integration and rain sensing wipers all included as standard. It’s an equipment list that would be impressive on a vehicle in a higher class but Kia can offer it all for $46,990.
The Sportage is currently available with a choice of two petrol engines and diesel units expected later in 2011. The lower spec 2WD models receive a 2.0-litre Theta II engine while the higher-end EX and LTD AWD models get a larger 2.4-litre motor. Our tested LTD model boasted the larger engine and its lightweight aluminum block houses four-cylinders producing 130kW of power and 227Nm of torque. It’s not a fire-breathing monster but is a lively unit that is well powered for the Sportage’s target market. It’s also a smooth-running motor that has good strength for open road overtaking and remains settled even when pushed hard. Peak power isn’t reached till 6000rpm in the Sportage so keen drivers can find enjoyment in the peaky nature of the motor.
Both engines come mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission which isn’t as refined as some in the market but is competent with well-spaced ratios and does well to extract full power from the engine. It can be caught pondering the correct gear on occasion but is overall a solid unit. If manual changes are desired there is a sequential shifting option at the gearstick. The well-sorted powertrain gives the Sportage LTD a fuel economy of 9.2l/100km combined.
Dynamically there is a lot to like with the Sportage, it feels assured on road and uses a very modern all-wheel-drive-system. Called the Dynamax AWD system this set up is constantly analysing information from the car’s traction and stability control programs to distribute power to whichever wheels need it. In normal conditions the Sportage will chase fuel economy and run as a front-wheel-drive with 100% of power at the front wheels. As soon as traction is lost the system will send more torque to the rear and rapidly remedy the situation. It works seamlessly and makes the Sportage highly capable on a variety of road surfaces and conditions. On twisty roads the Sportage handles nicely and doesn’t display any excessive body roll with a high level of grip instilling driver confidence.
Ride comfort is also very good and the Sportage has excellent damping on broken surfaces. Combined with supportive seats and a quiet cabin the Sportage is nicely suited for long distance travelling.
If the terrain turns nasty the Sportage drivetrain can be locked into a 50:50 split between the front and rear axels which will help. But it’s not a vehicle designed for rugged off-roading and will be hampered by a low 172mm ground clearance and 225/60 tyres best suited to tarmac.
For a family-focused vehicle safety is always a concern and the Sportage is well covered. ABS brakes with EBD, electronic stability programme, seatbelt pretensioners and six airbags in total are all included across the range.
The Sportage is the latest in a line of Kia products to stack up strongly against more expensive competition. Our LTD tested model was well appointed for the price with a comfortable and spacious interior and solid driving dynamics thanks largely to the high-tech Dynamax AWD system. The styling is very bold and although it might not suit all tastes it will win fans with its sharp-angled charm. The 2.4-litre petrol engine is a touch thirsty but gets the Sportage along at a good pace. The diesel unit may be worth the wait for some buyers as Kia’s recent diesel mills have been excellent in terms of power and economy. However, if you can’t wait and love the futuristic styling then the Kia Sportage won’t disappoint in any form.
Price: from $33,990 as tested Ltd $46,990
What we like:
- Standout exterior styling
- Good quality interior
- Strong petrol engine
- Value for money
What we don’t like:
- Wide C-pillars can cause minor visibility issues,
- Gearbox isn’t the most refined
- Styling won’t appeal to all
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo