The boom in Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) shows no sign of abating. Given that they tick so many boxes for the average buyer, these tall, sensible and practical vehicles look certain to be here for the long haul.
Such is the confidence of major carmakers that they are loading up their ranges with up to five 4WD/SUV models in varying sizes, styles and degrees of toughness.
Kia was one of the pioneers of the mid-sized soft-road SUVs when it launched the original Sportage way back in 1996. Indeed it was one of the first models to go on sale here when the Korean carmaker arrived downunder, and is the only one to have been here continuously since then.
For many years sales were hampered by Sportage's rather bland styling but all that changed when Kia brought in renowned design chief, Peter Schreyer, who transformed the third-generation model it into a much more stylish vehicle, one that is gradually clawing its way up the sales ladder in this most competitive of segments.
Four Sportage equipment levels are offered: Si (2WD petrol manual or auto); Si Premium (2WD petrol auto only); SLi (4WD petrol or diesel auto only); and Platinum (4WD petrol or diesel auto only).
Our test car was the Sportage Si Premium priced at $30,510 without on-roads and including the optional metallic paint ($520).
The clincher might just be Kia's new industry-leading seven-year / unlimited kilometre warranty
Just because buyers have chosen sensible shapes for their SUVs doesn't mean that they want them to be bland and boring which unfortunately Sportage was for much of its 18 years. All that changed when it underwent the duckling/swan treatment and Sportage is now right up there with the most attractive SUVs on the market.
Engines / Transmissions
Sportage comes with the choice of two four-cylinder engines, one petrol and one diesel. Each has a capacity of 2.0 litres but the diesel puts out significantly more power (135 kW vs 122 kW) and torque (392 Nm vs 205 Nm) than the petrol.
The diesel comes only with four-wheel drive and automatic transmission while the petrol gets that same combination as well as 2WD with either manual or automatic. Both transmissions have six forward ratios. There are no paddle shifters so manual overrides can only be made via the gear lever.
Interior space is well managed with reasonable rear legroom and, given the rear-sloping roofline, surprisingly good head space. Width will be the main issue for any more than two rear passengers with the narrow centre seat only suitable for small children.
Cargo space is right up with the best in the class ranging from 564 litres with the rear seatbacks upright to 1353 litres with them folded. There's a full size spare wheel under the cargo area floor which makes for a relatively high loading height.
All Sportage models come with an impressive list of standard safety equipment. On top of the mandatory stability and traction control there are six airbags; ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist; Downhill Brake Control; Hill-Start Assist; Emergency Stop Signal; rear parking sensors; impact sensing auto door unlocking; and static cornering lamps. All but the Si manual also have Trailer Stability Control.
The Si Premium adds a reversing camera (displayed on the left-side of the rear view mirror); LED daytime running lights; dusk-sensing automatic headlights; and auto-dimming rear view mirror. Sportage SLi and Platinum also get front parking sensors with the reversing camera's images displayed on the dashboard monitor.
Unlike the higher-specced Sportage models which use a 7-inch LCD colour monitor the Si Premium, as tested, gets a rather basic 4.2-inch red/black screen. I does have nice large, clear characters.
Likewise the various audio controls are large and well-positioned with the minor inconvenience of the power/volume control being on the left-hand side of the audio unit. Bluetooth pairing is refreshingly simple and intuitive while the Aux and USB sockets are easily visible and accessible at the lower centre of the dashboard.
Start up is via a traditional pop-out key that is inserted into the ignition slot, an option we prefer to the growing trend towards smart keys and start-stop buttons (as used in the top-of-the-range Sportage Platinum).
A moderately heavy vehicle (1492 kg to 1580 kg) powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine can be a problem when it's fully-loaded. We didn't have more than two on board at any stage and had no problem cruising around town and on the motorway but did struggle on steepish hills.
If you do want more grunt then the 2.0-litre diesel will be much more suitable, although it does weigh in at 1712 kg. All models can tow up to 1600 kg with a braked trailer.
Outward visibility isn't great with large pillars and a small rear windscreen although large side mirrors and the reversing camera do alleviate the problem to some degree.
Noise, vibration and harshness levels are impressively low partly due to the addition of a film between the glass laminations on the windscreen.
Ride and handling characteristics have been optimised for Australia, with local engineers contributing to better dynamics. Some may find the ride a little on the firm side, with enough compromise to satisfy those like tighter handling and extra grip.
Fuel consumption from the petrol engine is officially listed at 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined city/highway cycle. We recorded 10.1 L/100 km during our week of testing in our usual 50/50 mix of urban and motorway conditions.
Provided that we accept the 'Sports' in SUV – and in Sportage – as meaning carrying golf clubs, cricket kits, etc and not sporty performance then this neat and functional vehicle will satisfy the needs of a diverse group of buyers. The petrol-powered variants should be fine for city commuting, for those who need extra grunt, and don't mind paying an extra $3000, then there's the diesel.
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