The new Kia Sportage now sports a new look, with drastic new styling compared to the outgoing model.
So it’s going to turn heads; but we took the new compact SUV from Korea onto the road to find out what it’s like.
The evolution of the Kia Sportage runs parallels with the company that builds it. When it was launched in the mid-90s, the Sportage was a rough-around-the-edges offering from a company still finding its feet outside of its home country. Sporting a full-time 4WD system and a budget price tag, the Sportage entered a market when the trend called for funky ‘soft-roaders’, rather than a compact 4x4.
The next model addressed those concerns and, as part of Kia’s march towards becoming more than a niche player, the second-generation Sportage dropped the 4WD capability, built up from a larger platform and won fans for its comfort, reliability and value for money.
The third generation Sportage has been, by far, the most popular model – building on the sophistication of the second-generation and wearing a much sleeker exterior design as part of the rejuvenation from Seoul. Awards started to flow in for the compact SUV, praised for its reliability and whole-of-ownership costs.
Now, that Kia has established itself as a key player for Australian car buyers – the new Sportage comes with a brand new exterior, concealing a bigger wheelbase, as well as a new top-spec designation, the Platinum GT-Line – featuring tweaked suspension and body kit, that we got into to put it to the test.
The first thing you’ll notice is that this isn’t your parent’s Sportage – which may well be actually true, given that it’s a model that’s been on sale for nearly 20 years. The new styling is said to have been inspired by fighter jets – but aside from both having wheels, it’s a pretty long bow to draw for those of us with no experience in mechanical design.
The headlight placement will likely draw the most raised eyebrows, with the Sportage pushing them up, away from their traditional home in line with the grille. Cover the front though, and the Sportage looks pretty conventional as far as compact SUVs go – almost like a shrunken version of the attractively styled Kia Sorento.
Fit and finish on the inside is the quality that’s now expected from the Koreans, with premium plastics and respectable build quality with no gaps or creaks. Something that Kia is obviously trying to make catch on is the Qi wireless charging mat, which is now standard in the Optima GT and the high-end models of the new Sportage. It makes sense, since the technology is most widely available in Samsung devices – another Korean success story – but as admirable as it is to adopt new technologies, the wireless charging will be next to useless if you have an iPhone or other smart device. As we mentioned in our review of the all-new Optima, there are ways to adapt your non-compatible device to wirelessly charge on the Qi mat – but all sort of defeat the purpose of just placing your phone on the pad to charge. (EDIT, Late-2017: Newer models of the iPhone now support wireless charging.)
The new flagship of Kia’s compact SUV – the Platinum GT-Line – is an attempt to differentiate the Sportage from its competitors, by offering a genuinely sportier model at the top of the range.
The ‘GT-Line’ feels immediately zippy as soon as you set-off, even in the 2.0L turbo diesel tested, where a diesel would usually conjure images of a dawdling big 4WD or ute. Most of this has to do with power delivery, with the bulk sent through the front wheels, despite the ostensible Active All Wheel Drive system.
At speed, the diesel Sportage is admirably quiet, there’s no clatter or buzz. There could be better sound dampening in-cabin when accelerating, but it’s a small price to pay for the even power curve provided by the turbo-diesel. The six-speed auto, carried over from the previous model, is still perfectly in tune with the engine choices.
Put it to work around town, and the Sportage is eager to get involved in the traffic: low speeds aren’t strenuous – the steering is light and nimble, the suspension absorbs any harsh potholes without being too pillowy and the smooth power delivery extends to the bottom end of the speedo; when you ask for power you’ll get it, but if you’re just cruising around town, you don’t have to struggle to control the Sportage.
The compact SUV segment used to cop flak for having less-than-stellar on-road dynamics compared to the equivalent passenger car like a hatch or sedan. While that certainly may have been true of early examples, the modern SUV is just as good, if not better, than an average passenger car.
The Sportage GT-Line pack, in particular, demonstrates how far engineering has come in the years since the SUV started to dominate sales among buyers. Kia’s Australian engineering arm has worked overtime to ensure that the Sportage is well adjusted to the sometimes patchy, sometimes poorly sealed Australian road network, and the longer distances we have to drive. The Sportage is well suited as a sporty cruiser: comfortable to a fault for long distances with enough get up and go to zip down a highway on the way out of town on the weekend.
Since the Sportage moved away from the 4x4 heritage that defined the first model, it has been widely praised for its comfort and practicality for urban dwellers. The new model builds on those qualities and improves where it can, with excellent fit and finish, more space and increased safety features.
The Platinum GT-Line is packed with kit that you couldn’t even have dreamt of when it arrived in 1997. Sitting in the Platinum, you can now open up the panoramic sunroof and zip across the city with dual zone climate control and heated, powered seats.
Even things that you can’t see are part of the package on the Sportage. In its development, the Kia team took it for hot weather testing in 50-degree days through Death Valley in the scorched Nevada desert to ensure that the cabin would come back to cool as quickly as possible with the insulation and air-conditioning. Unspoken features like that ensure that the Sportage gives you an all-round premium feel.
Based on a whole new platform, the Sportage gets wider and longer but remains the same height. Not that it was craving for more space, but the extra room is appreciated no matter where you’re sitting in the car – from the roomy front, right through to the increased boot space in the back for the family pet. (The remote power tailgate also sweetens the deal for any four-legged passengers who can’t wait to get out of the yard on the weekend.)
Safety has been beefed up, especially in regards to active safety features on the Platinum. Autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning systems all find their way into the new top-spec Sportage. Six airbags carry over to the new model, but the strengthened new body presumably increases their effectiveness. The new model has not yet been tested by ANCAP, but the last model received five stars, and the current Hyundai Tucson on which the Sportage is based also got the top rating from the independent safety testers – but until the new model is tested independently, these should be used as a rough guide only.
In a clear case of recognising the market, manual variants have been dropped in favour of the six-speed auto across the range. Those looking to make their own gear changes can use the sports auto’s shifter, but only the Platinum gets paddle shifters to quickly cycle up and down through the gears.
Fuel consumption in the diesel is tight at a claimed 6.8L/100km for a mix of driving conditions, with the petrol engines slightly higher. This rings true on the road, with the needle barely nudging the nearest mark on the fuel gauge in our test, even sitting in heavy city traffic, and through heavy acceleration up the highway.
The new Sportage now starts at $28,990 for the entry level Si, with two-wheel drive and the 2.0-litre petrol engine. Diesel models command a $5000 premium over the petrol in both the Si and SLi models, and neither entry- or mid-grade model is available with all-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive Platinum GT-Line models start from $43,490 for the bigger 2.4-litre petrol engine exclusive to the top-spec Sportage – with the flagship turbo-diesel available from $45,990.
All prices exclude on-road costs such as registration, stamp duty and dealer delivery. Premium paint is available at an additional cost, with Clear White the standard option – both Cherry Black and Snow White Pearl are paint colours exclusive to the Platinum.
The Sportage is covered by Kia’s 7 year, unlimited kilometre warranty, with capped price servicing and roadside assistance included as part of the coverage. Service intervals are annually or every 15,000km. Specific service pricing can be found by entering your VIN on the Kia website, but as a general guide, the diesel Sportage costs $3695 across seven years with the major service due at 4 years/60,000kms for $726.
The Sportage is reflective of how far Kia has come as a carmaker. From a cheap and cheerful off-roader with a less than refined presentation, to it’s current model available with premium touches to rival even luxury brands – still all wrapped up in a package that you can get into from under $30,000 before on-roads.
See the team at Motorama Kia to test drive the new Sportage, and see for yourself how refined the newest compact SUV has become.