When the Kia Sportage arrived on the market, it heralded a new chapter for the brand, but the newcomer shared not only a platform but also its looks with the Hyundai Tucson. Then Kia decided it wanted its own identity and everything changed. The Sportage became hugely popular, possibly even a thorn in the side of Hyundai with its less adventurous ix35.
Earlier in 2016 Hyundai went back to the Tucson name with its ix35 replacement and it’s a great car, but then Kia did it again, launching the new Sportage with its almost Porsche Cayenne-like front end and a far more modern interior. It has also taken the new Sportage more upmarket, giving it more equipment. All of this comes at a price, but Kia has made it clear over the past few years that it wants to be seen as a more premium product, even when compared with its Hyundai sister brand.
We had the range-topping GT-Line model on test. The front is a radical departure from the old model. The tiger-nose grille is wider; the bonnet is higher and features a couple of power bulges. It is all far more sporty and grown up but more fussy than the last generation.
There are radical changes inside, where, in spite of some hard plastics, the designers have given the car a much better look and feel. The centre console is angled towards the driver, reflecting the brand’s promise to make more driver-focused vehicles with a slightly more sporty bias than Hyundai. The quality feels great and there is the specification list for which Korean brands are renowned.
You know there has to be a lot of kit when you open up the glove box and find an owner’s manual thicker than War and Peace. There are heated and cooled leather seats, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and an electrically operated tailgate.
Kia has also finally woken up to the idea that infotainment is the new big thing and you get a touchscreen system with all the essentials. It is not the best system in the game, with little touchscreen buttons that are temperamental at times. Expect to find yourself getting a little frustrated.
Under the bonnet sits a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine pushing out 130kW and 265Nm. It’s a responsive motor, with instant action when you push the accelerator, even at Gauteng altitudes. It is mated to a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox, but before you get too excited and think it will be like driving a Golf GTi, I had to check the specs because it felt like a continuously variable transmission. Accelerate and the engine screams up through the revs, which occasionally left me wondering if there really were seven speeds in that ’box. Play nicely with the throttle and it’s much better, but this is the GT-Line, surely a more sporty number?
The steering response is superb, although on occasion it was slightly oversensitive. It weights up nicely when you press on and shows that the engineers wanted to balance the needs to the A-to-B city driver with those who like to drive in a slightly more spirited fashion from time to time.
It is a great package and has all the characteristics to make it another success. But then there is that price. At R599 995 for the range topper, it is downright expensive. It is playing with much bigger toys at this price. The range does start at R369 995 but you get something far more basic. You could get a top-of-the-range Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line and still have 40 grand to spend on options. That is a problem for Kia.
The Sportage is a great car, but it is not as great as the Tiguan and it is very difficult for Kia to justify the premium price tag compared with its German rival, even with an extensive standard kit list. Sadly, the Sportage has lost its ace. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: Kia Sportage 1.6 TGDI GT-Line
Engine: 1591cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 130kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 265Nm from 1500 to 4500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch auto
0-100km/h: 9.1-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 201km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 7.5l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 175g/km (claimed)
Price: From R599 995