The Sportage, a mainstay in the compact SUV line-up, enhances the familiar formula.
Kia has a reputation to maintain as the maker of the Sorento, the reigning CarsGuide Car of the Year. With the fourth-generation Sportage compact SUV there's no need for concern because it's right up with its larger sibling as one of Korea's best mainstream cars.
The previous Sportage was a favourite of ours for its styling, powertrains, size, drive feel and value for money. It sold up a storm and is partly responsible for the booming compact SUV segment in Australia.
The new model follows through on this, with improved powertrains, more kit, increased interior room and plenty of driver assistance features normally associated with high-end European vehicles.
In styling terms, the profile is familiar but the face is new.
The three engines — 2.0 and 2.4-litre petrol and 2.0 turbo diesel — carry over with extensive revisions to improve power and fuel efficiency.
A six-speed auto is the sole transmission, in line with buyers' overwhelming preference in the previous model.
The Sportage is much stronger than before due to greater use of high-strength steel
Six models are available starting with the Si at $28,990. Then come the Si diesel, the SLi in petrol and diesel, the Platinum 2.4 and the range-topping Platinum diesel at $45,990.
Diesel variants are all-wheel drive, as is the Platinum 2.4. The 2.0-litre petrol variants are front-drivers.
The Sportage scored five stars in European NCAP crash tests but hasn't yet been tested in Australia. That should happen next month and Kia has reason to feel a little nervous — its sister car, the Hyundai Tucson, scored only four stars initially, although that has recently been upgraded.
All models get six airbags, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, hill start assist, auto headlights and improved pedestrian safety. The Platinum pair adds more advanced driver assistance and safety features.
The Sportage is much stronger than before due to greater use of high-strength steel throughout the body and chassis.
Petrol versions can run on regular unleaded and claim 7.9L-8.5L/100km. The diesel, now with upgraded electrics and a lighter cylinder block, uses 6.8L/100km. Turbo efficiency has been improved.
As is the case with all models, Kia has fettled the Sportage's steering, brakes, suspension and tyres to suit local roads, enhancing driving dynamics. These tweaks also deliver a discernible improvement in cabin noise suppression.
More interior room is appreciated as is the large load space
The lower-spec Si models have a decent amount of kit including Normal, Sport and Eco drive modes, rake and reach steering wheel adjustment, electric park brake, 17-inch alloy wheels, reverse parking sensors with dash display, auto headlights, reclining rear seats, cruise control, multi-function trip computer, Bluetooth phone and audio and a connection box for USBs, jacks and power plugs.
The feature list is longer on the SLi but only the Platinum gets autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning using radar, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and lane change assist. None of the technology is available as an option on cheaper models.
The Platinum is also the only one to get an inductive phone charger in the centre console.
A GT exterior package adds more aggressive styling.
On the road
Behind the wheel, we immediately notice the improvements to noise and vibration suppression. Throttle response is snappier too.
The Sportage has agile handling for a compact SUV, displaying minimal body roll through turns and no steering backlash on bumpy corners. It's not a sports car but can be driven with a measure of intent in complete safety.
The interior is stylish and divided into two zones for control and information, which works perfectly. More interior room is appreciated as is the large load space. All Sportages come with a full-size alloy spare — big tick.
We aren't sold on the new "tiger nose" face with separated headlights. Looks a bit too cute for us but the rest of the package is solid.