When the world market for SUV’s is a very bankable 3.8 million units a year, every manufacturer wants a slice of the pie, and Kia want to feast in the medium SUV sector which accounts for half that total. With the new generation three Sportage, it looks set to really pig out. It’s aimed straight at those 30-plus married families with kids, a need for space and the energy to still do outdoorsy, sporty activities, or failing that, at least look sporty during the week’s commute. In truth, Sportage is just a raised station wagon with lots of toys and extra traction if you want to dob in more cash. Nothing wrong with that, it’s the latest fashion, but what does it really offer?
Visually, it kills the already popular Hyundai ix35, the sibling from the same stable and based on exactly the same platform and underpinnings. Design man Peter Schreyer and team built on all the good stuff from the 2007 Kue concept and the essence has made production. It looks sharp-edged, narrow at the top and chunky in the lower regions, a bit like a squashed Q5 out back, though the grille, which Kia likes to call a Tiger face but is really more bottle opener, is hugely distinctive. The strong and simple front, much better than ix35’s weaving curves, is made masculine by the clamshell bonnet and the LED daytime running lights integrated into the headlights which deliver on-road aggression. Lekker details include the prominent wheel arches, big rims (17-inch standard on 2WD, 18in on 4WD), chrome accent on the D-pillar, strong raised shoulder line, robust plastic wheel arch/side sill protectors and extruded ally roof rail sections that appear pretty bulletproof. One could go on, and that’s just the exterior. By the numbers, it’s longer than the predecessor by 95mm, a fraction wider, a bit lower (60mm) and the track is wider, so it looks more Tonka toy and has the secure handling to back it all up. Ground clearance has suffered by 23mm to clear 172mm. So, from ugly cousin, Sportage is now buff brother.
Tweaks inside make the right impacts too. Seats are high, electrically adjustable, firm and swathed in leather on all but the base version. The ‘three-cylinder’ instrument binnacle starts the quality impression, switchgear is easy on the eye and crisp to use, the four-spoke steering wheel great to hold and low in weighting, but firming up at speed. The dash is a sensible, appealing design without the fussiness of ix35, yet it retains all the enhanced utility spaces for cups and clutter, plus all the new de rigeur Aux connectivity options and a full suite of safety kit including ABS, airbags and Isofix child seat anchors. The extra rear legroom comes in handy, plus the extra load space in the boot area (740 litres, with 1587 litres seats folded). So on the utility front, this is a car you can live with easily and could get to like a lot. Add niceties like keyless entry, reversing sensors and reverse camera embedded in the rear-view mirror, satellite steering controls for cruise and audio and the optional (R10k) panoramic sunroof and you have a great place to do your commuting, shopping and the occasional gravel travel.
Technology is right up there. The monocoque chassis is complemented by sub-frame mounted MacPherson struts up front, with the multi-link rear also on a sub-frame and complemented by trick dampers (Amplitude Selective) that are firmer on smooth surfaces, more compliant when the bumps get closer. Kia has adopted the Dynamax AWD powertrain developed in conjunction with Magna Powertrain (ix35 uses the JTEKT system) that whips drive front to rear in milliseconds when slip is expected, based on throttle, wheel angle and other inputs, using a centre differential which links the front and rear drive using a hydraulically actuated plate stack. That happens automatically at pace, but at speeds below 40kph you can lock the diff using a dash switch for a 50:50 drive distribution. The extra ability of the 4WD versions is complemented (on all models) by an ABS-based traction control array, offering independent wheel braking to enhance cornering by reducing under- and over-steer, plus prevent rollover, and forming the basis of the hill start and hill descent controls. The acronyms? ABS, ESC, BAS, TCS, CBC, DBC, HAC.
The Sportage is never going to be everything for everybody, but it comes close: good looks, quality interior and finishes, very competent drive and handling, and all at a highly competitive price – if indeed the range between R250 000 and R330 000 is reasonable. Choices are there too: Nine colours (including the zany Techno Orange and Electronic Yellow), three engines, three gearboxes (five-speed and six-speed manual, and six-speed auto with tip function) and of course front-drive or all-wheel drive. On the price list, AWD in general adds R20 000, Auto R10 000. For those on a stricter budget, go for the five-speed manual 2.0-litre petrol (122kW/197Nm). Dig deeper for more toys and the 130kW/220Nm 2.4-litre petrol if that’s your fuel choice, though it’s available only with the slick six-speed auto (which is a bit harsh on kickdown), or go the full whack and choose the torquey and smooth new 130kW/392Nm 2.0-litre turbodiesel, the latter preferably coupled to the auto (rather than the six-speed manual), for a great all-rounder. The diesel has 20 000km service intervals, the down side being it only runs on 50ppm fuel (run more than two tanks of 500ppm and you’ll be changing filters at your expense and perhaps putting that very good 5-year/100 000kmwarranty and equivalent service plan in jeopardy).
Kia’s 2010 gen might not be as tough or as capable off-road as the previous Sportages, but it stylishly covers a lot of bases really well. Nissan’s very competent Qashqai is in the sights and cleverly foiled on cost and spec. Nice one Kia.
2WD 2.0 Manual Ignite – R249 995
2WD 2.0 Manual R264 995
2WD 2.0 Auto R274 995
AWD 2.0 Manual – R294 995
AWD 2.0 Auto R304 995
AWD 2.4 Auto – R319 995
2WD CRDi 2.0 Manual – R289 995
2WD CRDi 2.0 Auto – R299 995
AWD CRDi Manual – R319 995
AWD CRDi 2.0 Auto – R329 995