After a week road-testing the new Kia Sportage 1.7 CRDi 2, what do we reckon?
3 May 2016
Notching up 105,317 units throughout Europe, the previous, third generation Kia Sportage has proved more popular than the Range Rover Evoque, Ford Kuga and all but three other compact crossovers and is currently the fourth most successful car of its type. Certainly not ‘broken’, Kia has ‘fixed it’ anyway, as car manufacturers can never sit back, instead having to continuously improve their products.
Externally, the all-new, fourth generation Sportage sees the outgoing model’s Tony the Tiger face replaced by an equally cartoony look that will divide opinion but is largely inoffensive, while the discretely muscular and chunky trademark silhouette that has garnered universal respect remains. The Sportage’s sister model, Hyundai’s new Tucson, has a more conventionally-styled front-end and very similar overall proportions, but its rear is devoid of any style at all compared to the Kia, which is German-troublingly elegant and sophisticated at the back.
In addition to the ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’ trim levels we’ve become accustomed to, Kia has introduced two additional choices. There’s GT-Line, providing a sportier image courtesy of more accentuated body styling, a high-gloss black grille, dual exhausts, flashes of chrome, special 19” alloys, silver skid plates and funky ‘ice cube-style’ quad LED fog lights. There’s also a limited-run First Edition package with special white or black metallic paint and distinctive decals, grey and black two-tone leather, an electrically-operated boot, wireless smartphone charger and the firm’s Smart Parking Assist System. The engine lineup for the new Sportage includes Kia’s turbocharged 1.6-litre T-GDi petrol engine and a 2-litre diesel unit. The best-seller, though, is tipped to be the 1.7-litre CRDi diesel manual variant in ‘2’ trim.
Inside, the cabin of the new Sportage is so comfortable and ergonomically well-executed that it’s easier to forgive the stark plastics inevitably still found on-board. The minimalist dashboard is refreshing, its large buttons logically positioned and easy to use while keeping one’s eyes on the road. Secondary controls have been migrated to the colour touchscreen infotainment system that is fitted as standard from ‘2’ trim upwards. Bluetooth paired instantly with my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone and the audio system sounds fabulous. The presence of a conventional handbrake will impress a significant proportion of customers who aren’t smitten with electronic parking brakes, and the steering wheel feels tactile as part of an excellent, driver-focussed seating position.
Access is relatively more comfortable thanks to a 40mm height reduction, although the doors are on the heavy side. Head, leg and shoulder room is abundant in the back, too, where the seats even recline, and the 491-litre boot is larger than the Nissan Qashqai’s although it doesn’t provide as much space as the new Hyundai Tucson. Expanding to 1,480 litres with the rear seats folded, load-in is more or less flat, making the new Sportage a practical crossover. With excellent visibility provided by large windows and mirrors, parking sensors and a reverse camera, it’s also an easy car to manoeuvre.
Although some variants can be specified with four-wheel drive, the 1.7-litre CRDi Sportage as tested is driven by the front wheels. Kia has tweaked all the new line-up’s engines so that they comply with Euro6 emissions standards. CO2 emissions for the 1.7 CRDi have reduced from 135g/km to 119g/km, meaning that for fleet drivers considering a Kia Sportage as a company car, it sits in VED band C, BIK having fallen from 25% to 21%. Combined fuel economy is cited as 61.4mpg on paper (we averaged 52mpg, a large proportion spent in rush-hour) and road tax, which is included in car leasing prices anyway, is free for the first year.
Unusually for a new car, the ‘2’ trim Sportage as tested is started with a traditional key rather than a button. The 1.7-litre engine in the Kia is actually more refined than in its sister car, the new Hyundai Tucson, but it’s still not the quietest kid on the block whilst idling or in gears one to three. On the move, though, in gears four to six, it settles down and becomes nicely refined and rather endearing. Overtaking necessitates dropping down a gear, or two in some cases, but the shift action is so slick and the gearbox and engine so well-suited that it’s no chore.
Developing 114bhp and a peak torque of 280Nm between 1,250 and 2,750rpm in the rev band, the Sportage is no rocket by any stretch of the imagination but is perfectly at home when munching miles on the motorway or being hustled along country roads. Wind noise is discernible at various speeds and it bobbles about in crosswinds and when passing high-sided vehicles, which is surprising considering its bulky form and supposedly planted stance, but tyre and road noise are suitably restrained. Kia’s Lane Keep Assist system works very well indeed, enhancing the Sportage’s 5-star EURO NCAP safety credentials, and ‘2’ trim even comes with High Beam Assist, taking the effort out of driving at night. A degree of body roll during brisk cornering is inevitable in a compact crossover of this price point, and the Motor Driven Power Steering could do with being a touch crisper, but it has a nicely-weighted feel on the whole and helps make the Sportage a doddle to manoeuvre around town and reasonable fun on twisty roads.
With an on-the-road price tag of just £22,050 for the 1.7-litre CRDi ‘2’ trim variant with a manual gearbox, translating into monthly business fleet leasing rentals of £180.99+VAT and personal contract hire (PCH) deals starting at £216.99 inclusive of VAT, the all-new Sportage is hard to ignore. Kia’s peerless 7-year warranty is the cherry on the cake, although most leasing customers plump for 2, 3 or 4-year contracts, and Kia models generally prove stunningly reliable.
The sweet combination of the likeable 6-speed manual gearbox and 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine, along with a commanding driving position, plenty of useful and comfortable space front and rear and a whole array of entertainment, safety and convenience technology as standard makes the Sportage a firmly viable alternative to the Nissan Qashqai and other comparable crossovers. The Korean firm has laudably ambitious aspirations and has indeed bettered one of the best.