It took just 1700km of local test driving for Kia to decide Australia wouldn’t like the new Sportage’s suspension. And to set about finding a different one. When they did, it already had an Australian flavour.
Having judged the suspension of the test Sportage sent out here in March as unsuitable, the Aussie Kia team set off with their ideal set-up on paper to match it with the components available in other markets.
After some benchmarking, they settled on the UK suspension set-up – to which Kia Australia had originally contributed in the planning stages. The steering was given similar attention with a calibration specifically our market.
And Kia believes those local touches will be key for the popularity of the new Sportage, which will face strong competition in the growing compact SUV category.
Pricing and variants
Kia expects to sell about 300 per month, and to try and ensure there’s something for everybody, the Sportage has both two-wheel and all-drive versions, with three engines and two transmissions. Prices start from $25,990 for the Si 2WD 2.0-litre with five-speed manual transmission ($2000 extra for auto).
The mid-spec SLi AWD auto-only versions are $31,990 for the 2.4-litre petrol and $35,990 for the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, while Platinum spec adds extra equipment to each of those for an extra $3000.
Fit-out and equipment
Base models get a solid list of features including MP3-compatible six-speaker audio system, 17-in alloy wheels and foglights, with safety covered by six airbags, anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist and force distribution to help out in extreme situations, stability and traction control, plus hill-start assist and downhill brake control that slows the Sportage to 8km/h on steep slopes.
Mid-spec adds extras like a rear-view camera, auto headlights, dual-zone climate control for the airconditioning and a swag of cosmetic and trim upgrades. The Platinum bags you 18-in alloys, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery – ventilated on the driver’s seat – and daytime running lights among its extras.
There’ll be some latecomers to the equipment list, with Bluetooth and the reach-adjustable electronic steering arriving in November, with Kia choosing to launch now rather than wait for them.
Appearance and body
While it’s based on the same platform as the Hyundai ix35, the styling is more conservative, with Kia saying their focus clinics voiced unanimous support for the Sportage styling over the ix35’s more detailed creasing and character lines. It retains the sharply sloping windscreen and A-pillars of the Kia Kue concept show car, with a high belt-line pushing the coupe image.
It looks lower than it actually is – and is already lower, wider and longer than the previous Sportage (by 60mm, 15mm and 90mm respectively) – with black protective cladding adding off-road hints and slimming the side profile.
With that, there’s ample legroom front and rear, but headroom is compromised by that sleeker roofline, although it probably contributes to the more slippery body (and lighter weight) that help keep fuel consumption respectable. But you can still carry 740 litres of luggage, stacking that up to 1547 litres with the rear seats folded.
The base model’s 2.0-litre petrol engine develops 122kW of power and 197Nm of torque, getting to 100km/h in an official time of 10.4 seconds with the manual transmission and 10.6 seconds with the auto. The 2.4-litre gives you 130kW and 227Nm, with slightly better acceleration showing in the 0-100km/h time of 10 seconds and the faster top speed of 188km/h.
The diesel is the 2.0-litre version of Kia’s ‘R’ unit, offering 135kW and 393Nm, with the extra urge getting you to 100km/h in 9.6 seconds. The AWD versions get an on-demand system with slip detection that can send up to 40 per cent of torque to the rear axle as needed, with a lock
However long Kia spent tweaking the Sportage steering for Australia, it’s been time well spent. And it took just a couple of minutes behind the wheel of the AWD for the better feel and response to prove itself. It’s a big move forward for Kia, but they forecast it’s just the start of more local specification in their cars.
And it benefits from being partnered with the quite decent suspension - McPherson strut front, multi-link rear -- with the UK tuning. The 2.4-litre petrol engine we briefly tested struggled slightly on steep slopes but was otherwise sprightly, although more so with the transmission slotted into faux manual mode.
The advantage of more torque meant the diesel performed better, but the base model 2.0-litre petrol made harder work of most driving and is better suited to those who primarily want a city car.
It also seemed to be noisier than its higher-spec siblings – suggesting that the levels of damping may be different in the variants. But otherwise, the cabins were quiet apart from wind rush around the wipers and wing mirrors.
The mirror wind noise is due to their large size, but you’ll be grateful for that when you try reverse parking, with the elegant letter-box of a rear windscreen and the massive rear pillars making visibility a chore unless you’re up to the reversing camera spec. Another annoying factor was the steering column being tilt but not reach, but Kia says this will be added when the electronic steering arrives in November.
Hard plastics are here and there, but otherwise the cabin fit-out is sensible and pleasant – and we preferred the sporty black tricot upholstery over the slippery leather. The fabric seemed to fit better with the Sportage’s overall personality: sensible, comfortable and practical.
Price: from $25,990 ($2000 extra for auto)
Engines: 122kW/197Nm 2.0-litre petrol, 130kW/227Nm 2.4-litre petrol, 135kW/393Nm 2.0-litre diesel
Transmissions: 5-speed man (petrol 2WD only), 6-speed auto
Economy: 8.8L/100km (2.0-litre man) 9.0L (auto) 9.2L (2.4-litre) 7.5L (diesel)
Toyota RAV4 2.4-litre AWD from $33,790
Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0-litre diesel 4WD from $36,990