2016 Kia Sportage Si petrol review | road test

29 April 2016

Packing pleasant surprises, Kia’s SUV is on par with the best mid-sizers

In last week’s Carsguide story on new car quality and reliability, we revealed that the pecking order is based largely on country of origin.

The best Japanese makers have had a laser-like focus on quality and reliability since they began exporting in the 1960s. Brands such as Lexus, Toyota and Honda continue to top the quality and reliability charts in surveys of owners.

South Korea’s major manufacturers, though, are closing in. Since the 1980s Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia have modelled their engineering and production on proven, tightly regulated Japanese systems, because the cars these deliver are consistently tight, reliable and durable.

The new Kia Sportage is a prime example. Even in the base Si, it’s apparent even before you turn the key that it’s equal in quality to the best mid-size SUVs from Japan: Mazda’s CX5 and the Subaru Forester.

Kia also has the longest warranty in the business: seven years/unlimited kilometres. That’s called backing your product.

Most European manufacturers would go broke inside a week if they had to honour such a warranty. Three years’ coverage is average for a Euro brand — and when it’s over and you’re on your own, you ought to be very afraid.


Sportage Si, priced at $28,990, is a twin under the skin with the Hyundai Tucson Active.

Several years ago Kia headhunted some of Germany’s finest design (and engineering) talent, notably from Audi, with a simple brief: “Make our cars look like yours.”

The Kia’s cabin is almost an Audi clone...

So the Sportage has chunky Euro-style sheetmetal, a wheel at each corner stance and a bold, aggressive front end.

The Kia’s cabin is almost an Audi clone, albeit circa 2006 and done down to a price. The Vorsprung durch Technik cues are obvious: dark, monochrome decor, sprinkles of fake alloy, formal and efficient control layout, minimal bling and soft-touch, textured plastics.

We are talking here about a $29K base model and in this context the Kia’s fit, finish and materials quality are excellent. It feels more premium than its price and was totally free of squeaks, chirps and rattles over 1000km of testing.

About town

More spacious than a hatchback, the Sportage is just as easy to drive and still sufficiently compact to cut it in guerilla city traffic.

The dash is a brutal, inelegant lump with a low-rent monotone touchscreen that’s a bit of a reach. You often need to stab an icon a few times to get a result, too.

Three friendly adults can fit across the rear seat, with plenty of headroom and legroom; vents, 12V outlet, USB port and a modicum of storage also make it a workable kid zone. High window sills may impede the view for young children.

Its large boot can easily expand to 1.7 metres of floor length without compromising front seat travel.

Performance numbers for the Si are feeble on paper but the long-stroke 2.0-litre base engine is surprisingly smooth, quiet and tractable around town — more so than rivals with 2.0-litre atmo base engines, including Mazda’s CX-5.

Its cause is helped by the efficiently geared standard six-speed automatic, which has Eco, Normal and Sport modes.

Eco is fine around town, where you can go close to single-figure thirst with a gentle right foot.

Kia’s local suspension tuner can at times sacrifice too much ride comfort for faux sporty dynamics, as in the Optima sedan. Here, with tall SUV rubber on 17-inch alloys, the ride, though still firm, is acceptably compliant and comfortable.

On the road

The 114kW 2.0-litre should struggle with 1.6 tonnes of SUV but instead delivers impressively easy and refined highway hauling.

On hills, the six-speed gets busy but shifts are smooth and well-timed. Cruise control allows too much set speed variation.

However, considerable engineering integrity shows through at speed...

Expect 6.0L-7.0L/100km on the open road.

The Sportage Si is a basic, front-wheel drive SUV, so sporty it ain’t. However, considerable engineering integrity shows through at speed, notably in its tight, rigid body, finely tuned suspension, secure roadholding on our goat tracks and a flat, relatively neutral attitude in corners.

Steering is light, precise and consistently weighted, with Sport mode adding synthetic heft. Brakes are OK and Hankook tyres have reasonable grip.

If you want to go off road, there are hill descent control and a full-size spare. Given clearance of just 172mm, this is the wrong SUV for an adventure.


The Sportage now argues for best in class status with the CX-5 and Forester. In Si spec, it’s a quality SUV with many more pleasant surprises than you usually find in a base model. Factor in that killer warranty and it’s a winner.

What it has

Six airbags, stability control, hill descent control, 17-inch alloy wheels with full-size alloy spare, rear parking sensors, rear camera with moving guidelines, auto headlights, alarm, cloth trim, power folding mirrors, roof rails, cruise control, manual aircon, three 12V outlets, two USB sockets, aux input, cargo blind, seven-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth with audio streaming.

What it hasn't

Advanced safety features such as blind spot assist, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are available only on top-spec Platinum; navigation, front parking sensors, paddle shifters.


Capped-price servicing costs $2942 over seven years/ 105,000km, with intervals of 12 months/15,000km. One-year roadside assist standard; up to seven years with dealer servicing.

What we liked

Great value for money. Seven-year warranty. Standard automatic. Excellent build, fit and finish quality. Spacious, practical, comfortable and refined. Reasonable performance and fuel economy, on regular unleaded. Tidy dynamics.

What we didn't

Dash isn’t pretty. Basic phone connectivity, touchscreen is too far away and icons sometimes don’t respond. Driver’s seat cushion could use more padding.

Also consider

Hyundai Tucson Active    $27,990

The same drivetrain but a brighter interior and better infotainment. Six-speed auto adds $2500; five year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Mazda CX-5 Maxx    $27,190

Beautifully built but the frugal 2.0-litre engine is gutless. Six-speed auto adds $2000. Strong resale values. Three-year/100,000km warranty.\

Subaru Forester 2.0i-L    $29,990

All-wheel drive standard. CVT adds $2000 but the 2.0-litre engine still struggles. Rock solid resale and safety, plus a bigger cabin than the others.

At a glance

Kia Sportage Si

Price: $28,990
Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
Capped: Price servicing $2942 over 7 years
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/192Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Thirst: 7.9L/100km
Dimensions: 4480mm (L), 1855mm (W), 1655mm (H), 2670mm (WB)
Weight: 1606kg
Spare: Full-size alloy
Towing: 1600kg

Given the choice, would you choose a Sportage over a Forester or CX-5? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to see more Kia Sportage pricing and spec info.


2016 Kia Sportage Si petrol review | road test

What we like

  • Stylish cabin
  • Smooth engine
  • Secure roadholding

What we don't

  • Hills have the six-speed hunting for gears
  • Cruise control
  • Touchscreen feels a bit cheap