Kia Sportage’s unfair advantage: It’s GORGEOUS, nimble, good value and, oh, GORGEOUS

Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (3)Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (1)Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (2)Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (4)Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (9)Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (5)Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (6)Kia Sportage Platinum and Si (7)

Let’s take a moment to do a quick walk round the stunning Kia Sportage. It’s yet another Kia that managed to look almost exactly like the concept drawing. It’s the sort of thing a proud schoolboy would doodle on his pad when he is meant to be doing biology, or maybe that was just me.

The chunky body sits slanting forward on big chunky 18”wheels, schoolboy-style. The range starts at $26,990 but we had the top model at around $40k which was simply stuffed full of goodies. The front end sweeps down low as does the rear roof which together disguise how tall she is. The rear door has a nice low loading lip, but because of the low top edge of the rear window, you have a slightly limited view out back. That’s ok though, don’t look backwards unless you’re reversing where the camera and sensors will help out!

The headlights, running lights and fog lights are all integrated into the bumper in an angry aggressive design meant to impress. I say bumper, but there really isn’t one, not at either end. It has the affect looking like being chiselled from a lump of molten lava then some shiny bits glued on. Our red test car looked particularly ravishing and very, very fast, even at rest. Apart from fast, it also looked very sexy. This is just the look that appeals to savvy young buyers with pockets full IT industry cash. They’ve been buying up SUV’s at an Olympic pace where the market has grown hugely. Kia have sold 1,423 Sportages so far this year out of a total of 106,989 SUV’s to the end of April. Have you noticed the ever increasing number of SUV’s? Well you aren’t alone and the reason is a simple one, 29.9% of all vehicles sold are SUV’s. So that means either a hard-core 4WD, or one of these new fangled soft-roader things, like the fab Sportage make up nearly a third of new vehicle sales.

The low opening rear hatch allows a sporty bloke to throw a wet suit in the back without getting the rest of the car soggy. The height means very tall things can be hauled about as well as providing a nice high driving position. You can add a couple of bike racks to the inbuilt roof rails, and if you’re heading on a road trip, the roof-pod can be attached to the same rails for extra storage. It really is terribly clever.

Within the voluptuous cocoon, a comfy cabin is accessed via the keyless entry/start system. As you approach the Kia, it senses that you’ve got the key fob secreted about your person, and gets ready to unlock the doors by illuminating the cabin lighting if it’s dark. You can press the button with your thumb and pull the door handle open in a single move once you become adept at it. The doors are huge with plenty of space for a beefy bloke to jump in.

The interior feels spacious and care has been taken to make sure everything is within easy reach. There is quite a lot of plastic exposed which does feel a bit low rent at times but there is plenty to compensate for it. It’s nice to see a bit of leather but it’s the inclusions that are most welcome.

The roof is two sections of tinted glass with retractable internal sunshades. The front panel can tilt and slide backwards at the push of a button. Pushing a button will also adjust the leather-clad driver’s seat, tilt the rear-view mirrors and scroll through the driver info on the instrument panel LCD. Finally, for those days when even the pluckiest driver gets a little bit lost, the Satnav can programmed by touching the screen. The reasonably fast response means you can directly input addresses without having to use a silly knob to scroll through letters. Some Satnav systems allow you to search for streets if you don’t know the suburb but I couldn’t get the one on the Sportage to play ball. Annoyingly, it gives you street by street instructions without the handy street names. If you’re approaching a complex set of roads it helps to have the name of the street you are wanting. Also, I wasn’t able to get the instructions repeated despite consulting the paper manual. Mind you, isn’t it about time that the complex systems in a car had an electronic help option? I’m surprised all car makers haven’t put the manuals into a phone app? The satnav screen also displays the reversing camera which should be in all cars as a matter of safety. When you’re bored you can stream music from your phone through the excellent 7 speakers system with sub-woofer.

So, we have killer looks and a comfy interior. I’d describe the Sportage as tasteful without being OTT but the proof of the pudding is in the driving and I have to say the Sportage drives very well. The brakes are responsive without putting you through the windscreen and the acceleration from the 2.4L petrol engine is peppy and responsive. Honestly, there isn’t a huge amount in reserve for overtaking but this just means a little extra planning is needed on trips. We’ve seen this power plant before in the Optima and liked it very much. It isn’t hugely powerful at 130kw, but at 1588kg’s it’s not hugely heavy either, at least for an SUV. At first the steering felt a little heavy but as I got used to it I realised it was a goldilocks-amount of assistance. It’s called MDPS (motor driven power steering) meaning a little electric motor helps you turn the wheels, but that’s what all electric steering is isn’t it? In tandem with parking sensors, that’s how self parking is done, but sadly that option isn’t available in the Sportage as yet. Let’s write to the blokes round at Kia and ask them nicely to pop it on for us. The computer used to gather info from the sensors and turn the steering wheel is very cheap now.

Now to the AWD bit: Just think, AWD only became possible thanks to Audi and their brilliant Quattro. They wanted all the wheels driving their rally cars but 4WD systems just didn’t cut the mustard. The advent of modern electronics means all sorts of whizbangery control every aspect of motoring, including the AWD systems. There are sensors telling the wheels to drive at different amounts of power to give grip. It is supposed to help you stay on the road, but also to assist on less favourable muddy tracks. That’s handy for drivers of a less adept nature. There is the usual ABS, downhill braking control and Hill Assist that we’ve come to expect in Soft Roaders. Even though we know well that none of these beauties are likely to venture too far from tarmac, the AWD system helps in wet, icy conditions too. One particular Sunday afternoon storm felt like Armageddon. Leaves and branches were being blown across the road along with anything else not tied down. The heavens opened, lightening flashed and thunder could be felt even inside the cabin. It was so dark that most drivers had their lights on. The Kia had sensed disaster and switched its own lights on in preparation for the end of the world. It’s hard to tell on some roads when water is laying across it and we hit a deep mini-lake at 50kph and it has to be said that the Sportage held its ground. It didn’t spear off into the shrubbery but as you would expect slowed as if the anchors had been thrown out back. The auto wipers worked extremely well and there wasn’t a single leak despite the torrential mini-cyclone outside. We got home in one piece no thanks to climate change.

She was even better on the open road:

The Sportage felt wafty and smooth on the highway. The mark of a well-designed car is one in which you feel you could keep going even after hours in the saddle. We used the Satnav extensively on the open road just to give it a thorough workout. We took a run to the NSW Southern Highlands and the picture postcard autumn hues we love at this time of year. It’s here where the quick response to the inputs was most appreciated. We searched for some points of interest to gather a list because blokes just hate to ask for directions.

The driving position is very good. You sit nice and high but not so high so as to feel like you’re driving around in a tower. The cushioning is comfy without being soggy and the is plenty of support without being intrusive. In short, it’s a very nice place to be.

The USB connection was particularly effective and among the best I’ve used. It was easy to go from menu item to the next and to find and play exactly what you want. Surely a good system allows a driver to do this with as little distraction as possible. Regardless of the simplicity of the system, I’m old fashioned enough to recommend stopping for anything more than volume, next or stop. I’ve had many a hairy scare after being distracted by an audio system and my need for Kylie.

One thing highlighted by a trip at speed was the noise from the sunroof when open. The full length glass roof means the front panel slides up and over the rear panel rather than down into the cabin. The wind noise is marked and not something which can be ignored. Even the trailing edge raised slightly elicits a cacophony of epic proportions so keep it closed and turn on the air con. The system keeps the temperature inside as perfectly as if being tended by Mother Nature herself.

The fuel consumption is neither here nor there because all cars of this ilk are not particularly fuel efficient. They are bulky and you simply can’t have it both ways. We were above the claimed figures. They claim 9.2l/100k but it’s more like 12 or 13 in real life. The “combined” figure depends entirely on how much time you spend on toll roads and freeways. If you catch a bus to work and only go shopping and a Sunday drive, you are going to be worse off.

It doesn’t drive like a BMW X3, nor does the interior have the same top draw feel, but then it costs 1/3 as much. You have to make up your own mind about how you want to spend your money, cars or cocktails.

The conclusion is simple: Would I have one? Yes I would. Why? Because it looks good, drives well and doesn’t cost a huge amount to buy. On top of that there is the 5 year warranty to consider. The exterior is as sexy as hell and the cabin has all the comforts of home. Except for the more frivolous claims, the Kia is exactly what it says in the bumph.

Price $26,990-$36,990

Engine: 2.4L petrol, 130kw/227Nm, combined 9.2L/100k

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2 thoughts on “Kia Sportage’s unfair advantage: It’s GORGEOUS, nimble, good value and, oh, GORGEOUS

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