Kia’s decision to appoint ex-Audi man Peter Schreyer as its head designer is already paying dividends, that much is clear from a quick walk-around of the latest – and let’s be clear, very sexy – Kia Sportage. It is not often that a vehicle in this category attracts so much attention, and judging by the overwhelmingly positive response to the newcomer during its time with us, the good looks are likely to translate into good sales. But does that make it a good car, or is the Kia Sportage merely a pretty face?
A VERY pretty face for Kia SportageAs is to be expected, the Kia Sportage shares much under the skin with its Hyundai cousin, the ix35. But you’d never say it by looking at the two vehicles, even when parked right next to one another. This is not to say that the ix35 is an unattractive vehicle, but merely that the Kia is so bold, so individualistic and so appealing, that the Hyundai fades into the background.
The Kia Sportage with its muscular presence has much to do with its narrow side glass area and the well-defined edging of the sheet metal, but Schreyer and his design gang have also worked hard on the details. The headlamps, complete with striking LED detailing, represent a party trick that the public appears to love, and the subtle use of chrome accentuates rather than overpowers the design. Oh, and then there are those large alloy wheels, of course, which do well to give the Kia Sportage a visual “lift” that disguises the fact that the ground clearance is a relatively poor 172 mm.
Spacious, plasticky cabinTo a large degree the same attention to detail is evident inside, where the Kia Sportage boasts considerable flair. The facia may be largely constructed from hard black plastics, but at least much of the dashboard “looks” soft. Highlights include particularly sporty instrumentation with a very deep-set centre dial (speedo), and a very neat control panel, finished in piano black, for the dual-zone climate control system. Whereas the backlighting is of a cooler blue tone in the Hyundai, the Kia’s more aggressive, sporty character is reinforced by the predominantly red lighting.
Just like its Hyundai sibling, the Kia Sportage boasts very impressive rear legroom, which comes courtesy of a relatively long wheelbase. Headroom is good too, and the boot is, at 740 litres in size, capable of swallowing more items than the ix35’s, yet still features a full-size spare (on an alloy rim) under the boot board. The rear seat is split 60:40 and can fold to accommodate larger items.
As is to be expected from a Korean manufacturer, the standard specification list reads like a fairytale. Included in the price are leather upholstery, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, auto lights, power folding mirrors, the aforementioned dual-zone climate control, a radio/CD player with remote audio controls and auxiliary and USB support, cruise control, six airbags and rear park distance control… the list goes on.
What is lacking, however, is reach adjustment for the steering wheel – a failing shared with its sibling. And just like the Hyundai, the driver’s seat also doesn’t adjust low enough. The result is that some taller drivers may not be able to quite achieve the ideal driving position.
Not so fast…This version of the Kia Sportage is powered by a 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol engine that delivers 122 kW and 197 Nm of torque. The power figure is certainly nothing to be sniffed at, but unfortunately the reality is that this engine does not quite deliver the expected performance. Yes, grit your teeth and rev it hard, and you may well be able to sprint to 100 km/h in 10,4 seconds, but it’s not a pleasurable exercise, primarily because the engine lacks refinement, becoming quite coarse and loud at higher engine speeds. But that’s not all… There is a comparative dearth of torque at low revs, a five-speed gearbox that doesn’t deliver the slickest of gear shifts, and a clutch that “takes” far too suddenly, too. All of this combined result in a car that is not particularly easy to drive smoothly, and which can become tiresome around town. In these conditions you’ll also struggle to match the 8,7 L/100 km fuel consumption figure.
Better on the open roadThankfully the Kia Sportage is significantly better outside of the confines of the city. Boasting the same multi-link rear suspension design as the ix35, the Kia Sportage nevertheless feels different on the road, with less of the harshness exhibited by the Hyundai at low speeds. Out on the open road, cruising at near the speed limit, the Kia Sportage is a pleasure to be in – the cabin has all the toys, there is ample space for passengers and their baggage, and the suspension deals well with corners, bumps etc. It is also at this kind of speed where the engine feels at its best, even exhibiting some overtaking grunt.
Kia Sportage - VerdictIn addition to its good looks and long specification, the Kia also offers a five-year warranty and service plan for added peace of mind. Consequently the Kia Sportage is a very appealing offering that will undoubtedly lure many first-time Kia buyers into the brand’s ownership circle. While some of the irritations are annoying – especially the lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel and the coarseness of the engine – we suspect many buyers won’t care and fall head-over-heels in love with the look of the car. See what we mean about having a top-notch designer on board?
- Good looks
- Standard equipment
- Long warranty
- Gruff, unwilling engine
- Bouncy ride
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 122 kW @ 6 200 rpm
Torque: 197 Nm @ 4 600 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 184 km/h
0-100 km/h: 10,4 seconds
Fuel economy: 8,7 litres/100 km
- Hyundai ix35 2,0 GLS: The Kia’s sibling is already a top-selling vehicle and it’s easy to see why. The standard features list is long, the warranty and service plan comprehensive, and the cabin spacious. The low-speed ride, however, is a trifle too firm, and the steering lacks reach adjustment.
- VW Tiguan 1,4 TSI Trend & Fun: The Tiguan is a firm South African favourite, and not without reason. The Tiguan is a more compact vehicle than its main rivals, but the cabin space is nevertheless very good. And while it can’t match the Koreans on specification, it is arguably the more comfortable car overall, partly due to its superior suspension set-up, and also because it boasts a better driving position.
- Renault Koleos 2,5 4x2 Dynamique: A surprisingly good first-ever compact SUV from Renault. Developed from the solid underpinnings of the Nissan X-Trail, the Koleos offers superb MPV-like packaging, great perceived quality, and lots of features.