Article written by Cosi Dichiera
From the land of Kimchi, K-Pop and Kim Jung Un’s ancestors, comes a modern people mover for Australian families on the move, the Kia Sportage. While North Korea seem obsessed with building rockets, the South seem content to establish themselves as a Motoring Powerhouse, aiming to perhaps one day rival their close East Asian neighbour Japan, for total vehicle output and quality.
Kia a decade or more ago, was the butt of all automotive jokes in Australia, but they’ve gotten their act together in recent years, they’ve taken on certain people from prestigious manufacturers and are turning out a range of modern styled vehicles, that are well built, offer serious bang for buck and undercut competitors vehicles substantially, whilst matching competitor build quality.
With passenger sedans on the decline on Australian roads, one vehicle segment which continues to show strong growth is the medium to large SUV category and the Kia Sportage has found its spot well, in this popular and competitive vehicle range.
So what is a Sportage, it sort of sounds like a new age French cocktail, well not quite…, it’s Kia’s medium 5 seater SUV. The 2017 Kia Sportage GT Line, we were able to sample over a few days, is the top of the line model in the Sportage range, it’s certainly not cheap at knocking close to $46000 + O.R .C, but it has a momentous list of features and ticks all the boxes for safe, fun urban family cruising in luxury and with the 2ltr diesel it’s a fire cracker of an SUV to drive.
From the outside the Sportage is very modern looking, it is hard to make big cars look sexy or cool, Kia have certainly tried with the Sportage, it will hold up well for a few years to come in its current guise and doesn’t have any angular or space invader looks of a Toyota C-HR for instance, which is a good thing in my eyes. Starting at the front, the Sportage is fitted with the now mandatory Kia tiger grill, I am not a fan…definitely something Kia should revise, the grill of a car is its smile, no one likes smokers smiles, they are yellow and gritty, this grill looks cheap and boring, why would I want to associate my Sportage, with a cheap Picanto, same brand same look. I’m not a fan of this philosophy, why devalue more expensive vehicles, because of this constant look across a product range. Apart from the grill, the front end is hip, the bonnet has a number of weaves in the panel and is aimed high, the Sportage certainly borrows design cues from Porsche, certainly not unique. Kia needs to mature and perhaps not borrow contemporary design cues, but if it works for other marques, I can see why they have used these styling features. From the sides and rear the Kia looks best, soft lines, chrome tip exhausts and chrome window frames look nice, the SUV stands tall, looks cool and has its own character, overall a stylish car. The only thing alerting people that this is the top of the line model is the small GT Line badging on the rear and the size of the wheels, 19inch of modern styled alloy wheels, pop the boot and there is a full size alloy inside, take note other manufactures PLEASE…, drivers want a full size spare… yes we paid for it…stingy car companies are cutting costs where they can, but Kia have a big winner here, by offering a full size spare Alloy in my book! Other styling cues I will mention, that add a touch of panache, are the faux chrome door handles and faux chrome lips on the front and rear of the car, certainly looks nice but on a vehicle at this price I’d prefer chromed plastic…not the nasty imitation stuff. The LED fog lights at the front need mention, they sort of resemble bug eyes, something different, something odd…personally the high gloss black plastic housing probably should be satin or chromed all together, to give the car just a bit more of a premium exterior look. Overall the Sportage appears fresh and youthful, although its sister car the Hyundai Tucson has it beat on sheer elegance, something for Kia to aim towards in future model designs.
Enough of the outside, swing open the driver’s door which feels well assembled and the interior lights illuminate what is a very classy and premium looking interior, alas to many higher priced competitors. If you’d cover the badge on the steering you’d think you were in a Scandinavian vehicle…, Koreans can’t make things this good? Wrong they can, Sportage is testament to this. The plastics on the inside are of good quality, soft touch, the interior is a faux leather cocoon, nothing rattles or looks/feels cheap, it’s a pleasant space to be in front and rear. The dash for instance appears to be almost a solid rubber mould, it looks and feels nice, personally I would’ve had the top of the dash covered with leather, as now that seems standard in most European vehicles and certainly says premium, apart from that though, the dash is quality in look and feel. The hands free tailgate at the rear is great for those wanting quick boot access and opens and closes at the press of a bottom on the key fob. Keyless entry and pushbutton start are standard on the range and the proximity sensor on the fob automatically illumines the inside, when you approach the vehicle. The front seats are supportive and offer both heating/cooling and are power controlled. What I liked most was that they were comfortable, they aren’t sport seats, but certainly offer good support and you don’t slide around in them whilst cornering at pace. The perforated faux leather is a good look, it helps the seats breath doesn’t trap smells and gives a seat character…this styling cue in vehicle seats was the rage in 70’s styling and it’s a good thing that automotive stylists have reintroduced this back into cars. If you want storage space inside, there are plenty of places to put loose keys, change, sunglasses, you name it and you can store it somewhere in this car. With drinks storage in the door panels on all doors and in the centre console and USB ports up front and at back, the whole family can plug and charge what they want when they want (upfront you can charge your phone wirelessly)…smart tech from Kia!
Kia stylists have styled the inside for all passengers in mind, little things like rear air conditioning vents for instance (a lot of cars don’t have them), a panoramic sunroof that encompasses the majority of the roof, rear seats that can adjust in angles (think of how you adjust your seat on a plane), simple touches and creature comforts are what make or break car sales in my book and Kia engineers have designed things that are practical for all.
The layout of controls in the dash are central and split into 3 rows, one for the 7inch media touch screen, one for the dual climate control air conditioning and the third for other adjustments, like seat cooling/heating. Central location means easy access for both driver and passenger to make quick adjustments. The leather steering wheel has cruise, Bluetooth and audio controls, as well as paddle shifters, from my point of view an unnecessary gimmick, as the auto transmission is silky smooth and always in the correct gear, why you’d use paddles seems silly, this isn’t Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car. Alloy pedals and alloy “Sportage” branding in the door frames are a nice touch, I’d just wish Kia would actually use real chrome for final interior fittings, like door handles and around air vents, that would add class to what already is a fantastic interior. The interior lighting is excellent at night and with the white interior our test car came with, it had a surreal effect entering the car in the evening, for anyone considering this vehicle stick with the dark interior combination, it’s an urban SUV, kids would have it dirt ridden in days, so go for practicality. Other mentions are that the black polished plastics inside, accentuated an attempt to highlight certain areas of the car and the sun-visors both with their own lighting were solidly assembled, not flimsy as seen on other vehicles.
So what’s the Kia like to drive, excellent. The 2 litre turbo diesel has minimal lag and torque hits in low in the rev range, meaning that the Kia rockets off the lights and out of corners with ease. The Kia Sportage GT-Line diesel comes equipped with and All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system to help you handle even the most difficult conditions with ease. With 400nm of torque under your foot, overtaking with a fully laden car on the highway is a breeze. Modern diesels are so refined and economical, I can’t understand why Australians aren’t taking them up in droves, especially in SUV’s, it just makes sense, pay a bit more and get a car with a lot more zoom factor, but as frugal as a small sedan at the pump, for busy families it a no brainer. Cabin engine noise at any speed is minimal. The gearbox, a 6 speed auto was faultless, changes were silky smooth and I rarely recall being in a gear not suited to the vehicle speed. The suspension on the GT Line Sportage is a tad firmer than the other Sportage models, but was sublime for a big car, there was minimal body roll and out in the Adelaide Hills the Kia was a faultless when pushed hard in the twisties. KIA like to remind us of the fact, that they tune local cars for Aussie roads and whatever they are doing seems to be working, as the Sportage was firmly planted on the road, at all speeds even when pushed even to triple figure speeds. Steering was very soft and precise, this isn’t a sports car, so I wasn’t looking for a lot of feedback in the wheel, just effortless driving is what you’ll receive and the brakes have no issues in dealing with the Sportage at any speed, the Kia has a soft pedal which when pushed brings the vehicle to a rapid and safe stop. The transmission has a lot of setting on offer like Diff Locking and different driving modes, to me more automotive gimmicks. Families want smooth practical motoring not a million and one different Playstation modes, so I won’t delve into them as an Urban Vehicle just needs quality engineering and it well sell itself. Only downside in driving is that front visibility isn’t the best, as the bonnet is quite high, just a minor fault.
The Sportage is packed with a number of safety features, it has a 5 star ANCAP rating. Kia chassis construction consists of the Extensive use of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) combined with an extremely well-reinforced chassis design and the trusted hot-stamping process has given birth to the safest and quietest Sportage to date and when combined with airbags front and rear, safety can be guaranteed for all passengers. Kia has a number of modern driving aids included, such as parking assist and blind spot detection, great things to have in modern cars, but nothing still beats a well-trained driver which in my opinion still renders these aids useless in the modern vehicle, as the driver is still in control.
In summary for those with families and needing something more than a regular sedan, definitely head top your nearest Kia dealer and seriously consider a Sportage, there are a number of models to choose from, so opt for the model in your price range, personally I’d go for the SLI with the diesel engine. All Sportage models come with Kia’s famous 7yr unlimited factory warranty and other bonuses can be had from the dealer. No doubt a Kia dealer would be open to negotiation, so haggle hard and get a good deal! If you’re in the market for a 5 seater SUV, the Sportage could just be the vehicle for you, it’s cool enough that Fonzie would give you the thumbs up!