While sister company Hyundai has been making rapid progress and making many new friends (customers) with its Getz and Tucson models, one senses Kia is poised to follow in its tracks very shortly. Following a spate of new model introductions, including the Rio, Picanto and, now the Kia Sportage, this Korean marque suddenly boasts a modern and attractive line-up of vehicles. The question is, however, whether they are too obviously reskinned Hyundai products? Or do the Kia's have identities of their own? And why would you buy a Kia, but not a Hyundai? We test the flagship Kia Sportage 2,7 Automatic to find out.
Smart, upmarket looks for Kia SportageFor many people we suspect the Kia’s smart, upmarket looks alone will be a deciding factor. There is no way to tell for sure that the Kia Sportage rides on the same platform as the Tucson, because visually there are no similarities, save for the wheelbase. And it’s worth pointing out that a number of commentators were of the opinion that it is the Kia Sportage that looks more attractive, and more expensive. That’s a good start… Certainly, with its double exhaust outlets, extended wheelarches, short overhangs and neat alloys, this is a smart-looking vehicle.
Compared with its predecessor, which did much to establish the brand in this country, the new Sportage represents a significant departure in approach. As is the case with most other manufacturers, Kia has learnt that customers shopping for compact SUVs don’t necessarily want a hardcore off-road vehicle, but place an emphasis on comfort and refinement, with only a small measure of off-road ability being required. Consequently, the new Kia Sportage is of unibody construction, as opposed to the separate ladder-frame chassis of its forebear. This gives the new car improved torsional rigidity, which bodes well for ride refinement and cabin comfort.
Light off-road abilityStill, the Kia Sportage is not completely witless when faced with a spot of gravel. The ground clearance of just below 200 mm is good enough to clear most likely obstacles, and the approach/departure angles are also impressive due to short front and rear overhangs. The Kia Sportage makes use of a part-time all-wheel drive system that generally runs in front-wheel drive mode, but which will send torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected at the front. The driver can also lock it into four-wheel drive mode using a switch on the facia, but as soon as the vehicle speed rises to above 40 km/h, it reverts to front-wheel drive.
Luxurious cabinKia’s engineers have used the Sportage’s relatively long wheelbase to design a cabin that places a priority on passenger space. Rear legroom is very good for a vehicle in this segment, and the rear seat backrests even boast a reclining function. Unfortunately the cabin’s spaciousness comes at some cost to boot volume. At least the rear seats can fold down when larger objects need to be transported. Also noteworthy is a rear window that can open separately to the tailgate – to drop shopping bags into the boot, for example.
This flagship Kia Sportage model is loaded to the roof with standard luxury features, including leather upholstery, cruise control, auto lights, climate control and a radio/CD audio system. Safety equipment includes dual front airbags, ABS with EBD and, surprise, surprise, an electronic stability control system. The driver’s chair boasts height adjustment, and the steering wheel can be adjusted for rake.
All of this sounds impressive, but there are some niggles. Firstly, the driving position is not quite ideal, with the height adjustment range being too limited. And perhaps most importantly, the execution of the facia is not quite as “upmarket” as the features may make it appear to be. The plastics are generally hard and shiny, and the fit and finish is not yet as good as the competition. The steering wheel lacks remote audio controls, which is an oversight at this price/specification level. On the positive side of things, however, there is ample storage space – a large box between the front seats and even a tray underneath the passenger seat.
Lazy performanceAs with the Tucson, the 2,7-litre V6 engine is not quite as impressive as one may hope. The power and torque figures (128 kW and 246 Nm) look good, but much of it seems to go missing somewhere in the workings of what is a comparatively lazy four-speed automatic gearbox. Consequently, the performance is rather lethargic. One may forgive the Kia Sportage for this relaxed approach to throttle input if only the fuel economy was better, but at well over 10 L/100 km (if you’re lucky) this is also not the case.
Once up and running, however, the Kia Sportage starts to regain some lost ground. The cabin is very quiet and the drivetrain feels refined and smooth. The ride, too, is rather good, although perhaps slightly too firm at low speeds. On the other hand, this inherent firmness does mean the Kia Sportage remains a stable vehicle during fast cornering.
Kia Sportage - VerdictAs is the case with the equivalent Tucson, this flagship model is perhaps not the best example of the Kia Sportage range. While it impresses with its standard specification, cabin comfort and good looks, the lazy performance and heavy fuel economy are rather big negatives. Note, however, that the criticisms also apply to the Hyundai, so if you are really keen for one of these two vehicles, the Kia’s impressive maintenance plan may just be the clincher.
- Standard specification
- Good looks
- Long service maintenance plan
- Cabin quietness
- Passenger space
- Fuel consumption
- Bouncy ride
Engine: 2,7-litre, V6, petrol
Power: 128 kW @ 6 000 rpm
Torque: 246 Nm @ 4 000 rpm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: n/a km/h (180 km/h est)
0-100 km/h: n/a seconds (12,0 sec est.)
Fuel economy: 10 litres/100 km
- Hyundai Tucson 2,7 V6 GLS 4x4 H-matic: The Kia’s slightly older brother… The Tucson has the same drivetrain as the Kia Sportage and the driving experience is therefore similar. Of course, the Hyundai has the wider servicing network, but the Kia trumps its sibling with a long maintenance plan.
- Subaru Forester 2,5 XS Premium Auto: Fresh from a questionable facelift, the Forester may be an awkward-looking car, but it’s a very good one. Offers excellent refinement, build quality and all-road capability. More expensive, but probably worth it.
- Toyota RAV4 200 5-door 4x4 Auto: The very likeable RAV4 may not have the power of the Koreans, but it feels more agile and responsive. And while it falls short on specification, it does come with the peace of mind of driving a Toyota.