Kia Sportage

Ever-improving Korean SUV demands even more respect

JAMES WHITBOURN

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

CAST your mind back to the flimsy, uninspiring SUVs that once wore the Sportage badge and the increasingly uttered “Geez, Kia has come a long way” has never been more applicable.

The outgoing third-generation Sportage (from 2010) had already covered solid ground, boasting core qualities of generous equipment and keen pricing alongside newer ones such as Euro-sharp Peter Schreyer styling, locally tuned dynamic smarts, and a seven-year warranty.

The all-new, fourth-generation Sportage builds on the body solidity, adds to the superseded model’s interior appeal, polishes its steering and handling, and comes wrapped in convincing Cayenne-spiced styling, though the ‘Tiger Nose’ snout is a matter of personal taste.

It still champions equipment and value, but ride quality on tuned-for-Oz suspension (and 19s on the flagship Platinum) takes a much-needed step up.

A change to Korean production after the third-gen’s mid-life switch to Slovakian supply revives the 135kW 2.4-litre directinjection petrol four, but also brings a cheaper 114kW/192Nm 2.0-litre multi-point unit with lower outputs than the previous GDi 2.0-litre. But fuel consumption improves by around a litre to 7.9L/100km, despite kerb weight increases of more than 100kg.

The 2.0-litre is flexible and refined – there’s not much engine, tyre, suspension or wind noise, other than some exterior mirror rustle – but the 2.4 is the better petrol engine, offering 237Nm and pairing agreeably with the rangeissue six-speed auto. However, it’s only available in Platinum spec.

By the time you get to the glamorous and enviably equipped range-topper, you might as well opt for the stout 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, which is AWD-only across the three variants. A great modern oilburner, it’s a refined, immediate and efficient performer, offering consumption of 6.8L/100km, which also brings a boost in range from the 62-litre tank.

A decent electric steering system – tautened by switching from Normal or Eco to Sport mode, along with the throttle and transmission calibration – and disciplined dynamics (strut front suspension and redesigned multi-link rear) ensure a level of driver appeal that’s beyond standard SUV fare.

There’s space to sprawl in most directions on the comfortably angled rear seat, and the adjustable backrest angle, rear air-con vents and 12V and USB sockets add to the appeal of riding in the second row.

It’s remarkable how comfortably the Platinum tackles poor Aussie backroads, even on GT Line 19s. The big wheels, powered panoramic sunroof and sports package set off the flagship, which may have tyrekickers enquiring which Euro brand is responsible.

The Platinum (from $43,490) shares LED running lights and tail-lights, tyre-pressure monitors, front parking sensors, leather, a 10-way powered driver’s seat, auto wipers, sat-nav and dual-zone air-con with the SLi (from $33,990) but adds a stack of safety and convenience gear.

Even the $28,990 front-drive entry-level model ($33,990 for the diesel) is endowed with cruise, a rear camera and parking sensors, auto headlights and Bluetooth/ iPhone-compatible audio with a 7.0-inch colour LCD touchscreen and steering-wheel controls.

Long equipment lists, among other persuasive strengths, are nothing new in a Kia, but the Sportage wasn’t always this great to drive or nice to own.

PLUS & MINUS

Cartoonish nose; cedes drivetrain tech to its Hyundai Tucson relative Well-proportioned shape; impressive dynamics; quality cabin

01 INCHING UP

Sportage steps from 17s (Si) via 18s (SLi) to 19-inch alloys on the Platinum, while tyre profile drops from 60 to 45. Responses are sharpened rather than the ride, despite the flagship’s firmer GT Line suspension.

02 INSIDE PRIDE

Cabin’s quietness, design and high-quality finishes make a compelling triple act. New Sportage is bigger inside, especially in the rear area, which benefits from the 30mm-longer wheelbase.

03 PLATINUM CARD

Entry Si gets monochrome TFTLCD instrument cluster; SLi and Platinum versions are colour.

Top version also gets flat-bottom perforated leather sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, and heated/ventilated front seats.

Flagship safety

Sportage’s extensive active safety suite is limited to the top-shelf Platinum model. Among the highlights are autonomous emergency braking and radar-based forward collision warning systems, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist and lane-departure warning systems, and a high-beam assist system, which automatically dips the headlights when an oncoming vehicle is detected.

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