The Kia Sportage is one of the most exciting new SUVs in Australia. Like its dizygotic twin, Hyundai Tucson, Sportage has exactly what it takes to take on Mazda's CX-5.
In fact, I can think of several reasons why you’d want to park a Kia Sportage, as opposed to a Mazda CX-5, in your driveway at home. However, I’d stop short of calling this road test ‘love at first drive’ - because there is a major impediment, a significant speed hump on the road to Sportage ownership. We'll get to that.
But first, as with all my reviews, Kia has no say whatsoever in the content of my 2016 Kia Sportage review. To compile this review, I borrowed two Sportages from Kia - an SLi diesel and a 2.4 petrol Platinum. That’s the full extent of Kia’s involvement in this review. No money changed hands, and I accept no advertising or promotional revenue from Kia. The views are entirely my own, based on driving those two vehicles and living with them for a week apiece.
Elephant in the room
I really enjoyed driving the 2016 Kia Sportage, but let’s acknowledge that elephant. It’s here in the room, after all. Kia says the all-new Sportage is “modern, progressive, taut and strong” … with a “dynamic, always-on-the-go, stance”. The company says this is “sure to leave an impression on admirers and passers-by”. Really.
In reality, it’s ugly. U-G-L-Y. But even that determination needs qualification. A marketing person, backed into a corner by a journo, might say it’s designed to “polarise opinion”. But it’s more than that. It’s not that awful, obsequious, shrinking violet kind of ugly. Not that at all. It’s a completely different flavour of ugly. It’s ugly with flair. Like: Yeah, ugly - you got a problem with that? It’s ugly in a low-cut black dress and six-inch Christian Louboutin pumps, striding across the dance floor, grabs you by the lapels, says ‘buy me a drink; I’ll sleep with you after.” That kinda ugly. Ugly with a twist. Boldly ugly. You might like that; you might not.
You'll either like it or loathe it. There's no middle ground with the 2016 Kia Sportage's aesthetics.
If you’re thinking about spending the early $30s to about $50 grand - the price range for a 2016 Kia Sportage here in Australia - here’s what you need to know:
Kia has just an awesome warranty - seven years plus unlimited kilometres. Plus annual servicing (or 15,000 kilometres - whichever comes first). So for most Aussies that means just one trip to the dealership for a capped-price service every year. There’s a full-sized alloy spare wheel and tyre - not a hateful space-saver - and a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Kia is also remarkably good at customer support, in the rare cases of problems I’ve been hands-on with. I’ve probably referred about four genuine complaints to my contact in Kia Oz - and they just jumped on it and fixed it. This is real peace of mind - when you compare this with other brands - many offering three-year warranty, two services a year, a space-saver spare tyre and a general approach to customers aftermarket where you get treated like shit, as opposed to like an actual customer, with at least vestigial respect, when you really need support. This is something that not nearly enough car buyers think about, up front.
And it bites them.
Kia Sportage model Range
The Sportage range is pretty easy to wrap one’s cognitive awareness around: Three grades: Si, SLi and Platinum.
You can have Si or SLi with either a 2.0-litre atmo petrol engine or a 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel. The diesel comes with all-wheel-drive and the petrol is a front driver. They’re both six-speed conventional autos. No manual transmission option if you want a manual you’ll have to shop for a Hyundai Tucson Active or Active X. Auto for auto - Sportage is about $1500 cheaper than Tucson.
Platinum Sportage comes with the diesel too, but the petrol is upgraded to 2.4 litres, and that 2.4 is also all-wheel drive - it’s about 12 per cent quicker than the two-litre petrol in Si and SLi, based on power-to-weight ratio. But it’s making more like 23 per cent more power at about 4000rpm - so it’s pretty strong in the mid-range, and the six-speed auto is brilliant.
COMPARED WITH HYUNDAI TUCSON
So here’s the first thing that hits me with the 2.4-litre engine in the Sportage: the competitor at house of Hyundai - the Tucson - is a 1.6 turbo petrol with a dual-clutch transmission. The turbo Hyundai makes slightly less power, ultimately, but a heap more torque across a broad rev-range - so it’s stronger in the mid-rev range - but the trade-off is driveability at low speeds, because the dual-clutch in the Hyundai isn’t especially smooth at low-speed manoeuvering. and of course you need to get a minor service done on Hyundai’s 1.6 turbo to change the oil every six months or 7500 kilometres.
This is a real point of difference, between the two models, and my take on that is the 2.4 in the Sportage is a better, more refined and intuitive overall proposition than the 1.6 turbo in the Tucson - for the vast majority of drivers. If you just want the best performance in a straight line, however, the Tucson turbo wins.
The other two engines are basically identical to the Tucson. The 2.0-petrol is a good entry-level budget workhorse, and the diesel is just outstanding - but bear in mind diesels need about 40 minutes of freeway or open road driving a fortnight to stay healthy. If you can’t offer a diesel that, yours will be a better home for a petrol. The diesel out-points the petrol in the low and middle revs.
Tow capacity is interesting, too. Here are the Sportage towing limits:
- Diesel Sportage - 1900kg.
- Two-litre petrol - 1600kg.
- 2.4 petrol - 1500kg.
If you’re planning on towing, the extra 300-400 kilo capacity on the diesel could be a real winner. Remember it's the same 2.0 diesel engine in the Tucson, and it tows a maximum of 1600 kilos. Mazda CX-5 tows 1800 kilos and the diesel X-TRAIL tows 1500 kilos with a CVT and 2.0 tonnes with a manual. More on CX-5 >>
Read more about towing & load limits for SUVs & utes >>
On the road
Driving the Sportage is, frankly, a joy. It’s just really well sorted out, dynamically. This is something Kia’s invested a lot of resources in, locally, and the suspension tune is excellent for Australia’s generally shit roads. As a whole package, from the ergonomics to the control feedback and the response to bumps and other non-ideal road inputs, the Sportage gets a big tick - it’s well sorted out when you’re on the move. Control layout and comfort levels are high, too. It’s also pretty intuitive to get in the first time and get set up. Noise levels are low, comfort levels are high, and it does what you tell it too - unless you tell it to offend Isaac Newton by disrespecting his laws of motion. I mean, there are limits, right?
When you look at the model grades, Kia has an excellent comparison tool on its website, in which you can highlight the differences and get the granular detail. Visit the official Kia Sportage features comparator here >>
Here are the highlights.
KIA SPORTAGE Si
The base-model Si is pretty well equipped. 17-inch alloys, reversing camera and rear sensors, auto headlamps, heated wing mirrors with electric folding, cruise control, trip computer, Bluetooth and six-speaker audio system, seven-inch LCD centre screen, two USB chargers and three 12-volt power outlets (two up the front and the third behind the centre console so the kids can fight over it, all the way to interstate, on holiday).
So - Si is not exactly ‘poverty’. But there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Hello? 2016 calling… People want that - and you can have it in a Tucson. Sometimes. Go figure. In fact, those Apple and Android car integrations seem not to be available in SLi or Platinum, either. And Si does not get GPS sat-nav. It’s got the same sized centre LCD colour touch screen as SLi and Platinum … and no GPS. Can you hear that? The sound of a thousand synchronised facepalms. I cannot help but think this is a somewhat cynical attempt to upsell you into the SLi. What would it actually cost to add that GPS on the line? Ten bucks? So, that’s a fail.
KIA SPORTAGE SLi
SLi is going to cost you another $5500 - same incremental jump from petrol to petrol or diesel to diesel - and that’s a lot to pay for GPS. But you also get 18-inch alloys (up from 17s) plus tyre pressure monitoring, front parking sensors, a moderate front lighting upgrade, leather (which is not actually leather in some places, when you read the disclaimer), plus electric adjustment on the driver’s seat (goodbye, undignified manual pumping, which I’m pretty sure is a crime … except in Tasmania and the Northern Territory). You also get rain-sensing wipers, privacy glass, styling garnish, climate air, and the notably absent from Si GPS.
SLi is a reasonable step up for the price. But there’s no proximity key. Hello? This is a vehicle that’s going to cost you early-to-mid $40s. The new Kia Cerato small car - Si and SLi - from about $30,000 - both have proximity keys. This is a glaring inconsistency, to me. You can make friends with the omission of a proximity key, sure, especially if you’re trading in a 1996 Camry with 240,000 kays on the clock. The Sportage SLi’s flip-out key might seem quite the novelty in that case - but on a comparative basis, a flip-out key is a joke on a mid-40-grand SUV. And the slap in the face - Monty Python’s French castle guard’s ‘fart in your general direction’ - is the fact the mid-spec Hyundai Tucson has (you guessed it) a proximity key.
KIA SPORTAGE PLATINUM
It’s a fair old hike uphill to Sportage Platinum - almost $10,000 - but if you’re stepping up, petrol to petrol, a big chunk of that is absorbed by the upgrade from front-drive to all-wheel drive. And that’s why it’s ‘only’ a seven-ish thousand dollar step up from the diesel SLi to diesel Platinum. There’s a flat-out tsunami of additional equipment in Platinum, too - especially on the safety side.
You get: 19-inch alloys, a proximity key (hallelujah) and the front passenger gets a power-adjustable seat. So, no undignified-slash-illegal manual pumping for her. Them. Whomever. Heating and ventilation for the front seats as well. Bi-xenon lights, panoramic glass sunroof, plenty of extra garnish. There’s a satin silver ‘Schreyer’ radiator grille - the Burkin handbag of radiator grilles - plus a power tailgate that uses the Force (or the proximity key, I forget which) to detect your presence and open automatically when you’ve got both hands full of - I dunno - adult reading materials. Take that, SLi owner...
A couple of interesting points about the Platinum. There’s a wireless phone charging pad in the centre, below the air conditioning controls.
Obviously you need a phone that knows how to stimulate itself 'down there', in the battery compartment, wirelessly. Otherwise it’s just a rubber mat to put stuff on.
It’s quite a neat feature when you consider how much cumulative time is spent plugging your phone in, over the ownership term.
There’s also a major active safety upgrade - blind spot detection, lance-change assist, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and - importantly - autonomous emergency braking. Very significant safety equipment that might just save your neck one day.
Kia added the automated parking feature, too - called SPAS, counter-intuitively. Smart Parking Assistance System - this one area where Sportage Platinum steps out and overtakes the Hyundai Tucson Highlander, which lacks that feature.
It’s really capable, too - turns even the most spatially challenged moron reverse parker into a professional pole position parking powerhouse. How the SPAS system works in a Santa Fe >>
Even if you think you’re truly excellent - beyond 'weapons-grade' at reverse-parking, I challenge you to do a better job than it, in a tight spot, at night, in the rain.
Platinum has the radar unit in the grille, for the auto emergency braking system. And yet there’s no adaptive cruise control. Houston? Uh, Houston? Tucson is like this as well. Why go to the trouble of fitting the expensive hardware and not incorporating a few additional lines of relatively cheap computer code that would give you adaptive cruise - that’s the cruise functionality that adapts to slower traffic ahead, so the vehicle slows automatically and maintains a safe following distance until the congestion eases. You get cruise control across the range of Sportage - but: steam-powered cruise control. Like cars have had since - I dunno - Charles Dickens. I don’t know why they did this - except possibly to provide an inducement to step up to a Sorento Platinum or Santa Fe Highlander, respectively - both of which come with adaptive cruise.
How 'premium' is Platinum?
The other point I’d make about the Platinum is: Peter Schreyer. He’s the guy who designed the Audi TT, then got poached by Kia, soon after which - not coincidentally - Kias stopped looking awful. He’s now Hyundai-Kia’s design boss. You can see his work over the platinum. Flat-bottom steering wheel, ‘GT-line’ badging, brilliant interior design integration. This is a bold statement, but I reckon you could blindfold someone (not a car nut - and remember - most people who buy cars are not car nuts) take them out to the Platinum, help them behind the wheel, and if the badges were covered up, you could tell them they were sitting in the next Audi SUV - and they’d buy it. It’s that good. That well integrated. It’s a big call - but it feels premium.
And in fact, when you compare an Audi Q3 TDI auto with a Sportage Platinum (they’re about the same price) the Platinum has a better interior, a hugely superior powertrain, and when it comes to standard features, the Kia knocks out the Audi in the first round. Just an epic right hook. Then it hurls the Q3 in a shallow grave, douses it with Zippo fluid, sets it ablaze and - wait for it - refuses to piss on it to put it out. That’s classy.
Do the research - you can’t make an objective case that that Spanish-built Audi SUV shitbox is superior. You can’t.
I dare you to try.
So - I came away hugely impressed by the latest - and, so far, greatest - Kia Sportage. There are a few notable quirks in the specifications, and you will have to make friends with the boldly ugly face that commits to sleeping with you after that first drink. And that’s going to be too much for anyone who wants that over-rated reserved, demure, elegant, romance, automotive courtship thing. But I’ll take ‘to boldly ugly, where no man has gone before’. (Just like William Shatner’s most famous split infinitive of all time, as Captain James T Kirk.)
I’d have no hesitation spending my own money on a Platinum - petrol or diesel - and thereafter I would embrace every opportunity to park it next to an Audi Q3. Even if I didn’t need to.
Contact me via the red link below to get a new Sportage at thousands under the recommended price - or any other vehicle.