The new Kia Sportage is unlikely to fade into the periphery of the crowded SUV segment, writes Brenwin Naidu
What is this car all about?
We are not going to bore you with the lengthy then-and-now comparisons that ensue when motoring hacks evaluate products from Kia and Hyundai. Let us be pretty succinct: their cars were once crap, but now they are cool. There. Done.
Like the model before it, this fourth-generation Sportage panders to the burgeoning family-oriented SUV market. The outgoing car performed pretty well in this segment. But peers have moved along considerably since that version arrived on the scene in 2010. We headed to the Western Cape to find out if Kia did enough to bridge the gap with this new iteration.
What’s under the hood?
At the bottom of the model-grade ladder you will find a normally-aspirated, 2.0-litre petrol engine good for 114kW and 192Nm. This unit is carried over from the old car and is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox. Kia purports that a host of tweaks have made it better. Unfortunately, it was not available for us to sample. But we did drive the 1.6 T-GDi derivative (turbocharged, petrol, direct injection) which has an output of 130kW and 265Nm.
This is equipped with a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. It felt reasonably peppy under normal conditions. Planting the right pedal down with the intention of a quick overtaking manoeuvre, things got noisier but not really much faster. I think the 2.0-litre turbocharged-diesel (130kW and 400Nm) would be more satisfying to live with. This is paired with a six-speed automatic. You can also have a 2.4-litre petrol (135kW and 237Nm), which I expect would be the opposite of lively up at our lofty Johannesburg altitudes.
Does is stand out from the crowd?
Like the guy who still wears Crocs to the office. But way, way trendier, obviously. On looks alone the Kia Sportage will seize affections. Striking design is the way to buyers’ hearts, as Mercedes-Benz proved with their stylish but substance-lacking A-Class. With an imposing snout and a helmet-like silhouette, the Sportage looks the business. Shoppers can pick from a dazzling assortment of colours too.
What’s noteworthy on the inside?
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all driving position. But the Sportage was nigh-on perfect for me: it feels like you are sitting inside it, not on top of it, unlike many other cars in this segment. But this does not mean that it lacks the commanding view that consumers in this category love so much.
Surface materials are of good quality, with soft, squishy, premium stuff cladding all the immediate touch points. But the hard plastics were sneaked in on the lower parts of the fascia. Legroom and boot space has increased marginally. Higher-grade versions get a seven-inch touchscreen with navigation and a reverse camera. The top-tier GT Line boasts wireless charging for smartphones. In Kia’s press release, the descriptor “luxurious ambience” is followed by “model dependant” in parentheses. This tells me that the interior quarters of the entry-level cars are unlikely to stir the soul (Seoul?) as much as the top-tier cars.
Is it good to drive?
Yes, it is. The Sportage was a comfortable place to be as the blustery Cape weather raged outside. Apart from some wind noise at higher speeds, the Sportage revealed no glaring shortcomings that would put you off. They’ve even managed to remedy the unnervingly vague steering, which was my abiding memory of the old car. It is a pleasant companion overall.
Who’s going to lose sleep about this car?
As you know, this end of the market is saturated with offerings. There is the Ford Kuga, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Qashqai, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester. The Sportage is a good product. But instead of speculating on who might lose sleep over this car, I could tell you who won’t lose sleep over it instead. That remarkable new Volkswagen Tiguan is still going to enjoy a deep, peaceful eight hours of slumber at night…
Sportage 2.0 Ignite: R369 995
Sportage 2.0 CRDi EX: R487 995
Sportage 2.4 GDI SX AWD: R557 995
Sportage 2.0 CRDi SX AWD: R567 995
Sportage 1.6 T-GDI GT-LINE AWD: R599 995