The new Kia Sportage.
The new Kia Sportage.

Kia Sportage road test review - pioneer evolves with quality

EVERYTHING really does seem to move in cycles. About 20 years ago, I remember watching a friend violently slam the door of her recently acquired, exceptionally cheap, brand new Korean hatchback.

We were on the way to a barbecue and we had made the most of it by relentlessly winding her up.

To be fair, it was not a very good car at all.

So she slammed the door with "shock and awe" force, and the passenger side wing mirror fell off.

The car was sold the next day amid a cloud of shame and regret.

Those days are obviously long gone. Korean brands like Kia and Hyundai have shrugged off the image created by years of not quite getting it right.

Nothing is more true than Kia's Sportage which, depending on what you'd class as an SUV, may or may not have created the category.

Kia probably was the first player in the SUV game - its Sportage appeared 21 years ago, before the Toyota RAV4 that others, especially Toyota, call the pioneer.

But the Sportage in those earlier years wasn't exactly the refined medium-sized crossover that we now see - facelifted and in its third generation.

It was an ugly duckling back then - available as an awkwardly shaped boxy wagon or as an odd ute that only a mother could love.

One big move by the South Korean manufacturer, stablemate to the ever-growing Hyundai, has driven a huge change of fortunes in recent times. The Sportage is now considered well-built, extremely well-designed and a sharply priced contender. It didn't happen overnight, but it's now bang on.

The secret weapon was Peter Schreyer, the ex-VW Group design head poached by Kia and then, probably due to some kind of sibling jealousy, morphed into Hyundai-Kia design head.

You can't fault Hyundai for wanting a bit of the action - one only need look back through the Kia family album to know that there was an obvious change to the gene pool when Schreyer's name was screwed to an office door in Seoul.

The growth has since gained pace, the brand has generally been accepted into the mainstream, and the Chinese and Indian makes have become the new target of snipes, whether fair or not.

It does pay to remember that Chinese development of everything is neck-snappingly fast, although its cars still are not, and that Jaguar and Land Rover have now moved to the colonies.

Kia isn't restricted to Korea, either - all Australia's Sportages are built at its very expensive new factory in Slovakia.

While a facelift model doesn't quite pack the sales punch as a whole new generation, the Sportage is definitely better than its predecessor.

But the best changes are the invisible ones.

Noise, vibration and harshness

have been reduced sharply by rubber subframe mounts, and acoustic film in the laminated glass cuts road noise, especially on coarse chip.

The steering set-up has been significantly refined, although suspension remains unchanged, and all models feel more stable because of better weighting at different speeds.

Ever-present SUV understeer is toned down by sharper turn-in, and handling is light enough to make parking and slow manoeuvres less taxing than in earlier models.

There's no doubt that this model evolution has significantly improved the already capable Sportage.

The newly introduced Si Premium grade sits at the top of the 2WD range with a standard six-speed automatic gearbox, 17-inch alloys, automatic headlamps, roof rails, reversing camera, leather and cloth trim seats, outside mirror-mounted indicators, LED running lights and driver lumbar support.

Standard equipment in the outgoing model continues with an across-the-range safety suite of six airbags, stability control with traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Hill-start assist and downhill brake control are also standard, along with disc brakes and active front head restraints.

Bluetooth with phone and media streaming is also standard fare, along with cruise control, power windows, tinted glass, projection headlamps with cornering lamps, driver's seat height adjustment, trip computer, keyless entry and rain-sensing wipers.

Over the outgoing model, the Si gains a new-style 16-inch alloy wheel with a full-size alloy spare, a new grille design with chrome horizontal bar, rear parking sensors, trailer stability control on the automatic, front console storage box and increased soft-touch trim.

For the SLi, the additional equipment over the Si Premium includes the active AWD system, an economy setting on the diesel model, dual-zone climate control, sat nav, a high-quality seven-speaker Infinity sound system with added sub-woofer, front parking sensors with dash display, a 10.6cm colour cluster and a shark fin antenna.

The top-shelf Platinum scores 18-inch wheels, smart key and push-button start, driver's power seat, leather trim seats, privacy glass, HID headlamps with washers and heated seats front and rear.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: Kia Sportage.

Details: Five-door two- or all-wheel drive compact sports utility vehicle.

Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 122kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque of 205Nm @ 4000rpm. 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel 135kW @ 4000rpm and 392Nm @ 1800-2500rpm.

Transmissions: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

Consumption: Petrol - 8.2 litres/100km (m), 8.4L/100km (a), 8.6L/100km (a, AWD). Diesel - 7.2L/100km.

CO2: Petrol - 197g/km (m), 200g/km (a), 206g/km (a, AWD). Diesel - 161g/km.

Bottom line

2014 Kia Sportage

Si 2WD (m) 2.0 GDi $25,990

Si 2WD (a) 2.0 GDi $28,190

Si Premium 2WD (a) 2.0 GDi $29,990

SLi AWD (a) 2.0 GDi $34,790

SLi AWD (a) 2.0 CRDi $37,790

Platinum AWD (a) 2.0 GDi $38,390

Platinum AWD (a) 2.0 CRDi $41,390



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