Kia Sportage: A rugged off-roader evolves into an urban warrior
We have to admit: we approached the new Kia Sportage compact SUV with more than just a few misgivings. That’s because we’ve been great fans of the Sportage ever since it was delivered to the market as an extremely rugged, sporty little off-roader with a 2.7-liter V6 engine and 4×4 on demand capability. This made the Sportage of that time the best compact off-roader in the market. And we had driven it to the limits of its capabilities – in the desert and in the wadis – and returned with a smile.
Now, of course, the Kia Sportage from the Carlease stable looked as if it had been urbanized beyond redemption. The power plant has shed two cylinders and quite a bit of its cubic capacity to become a 2.0-liter inline four with front-wheel drive. No question of going off the urban tarmac. So, you can imagine our trepidation. Would this sleeker city slicker be as thrilling as its rough and tough off-roading ancestor?
At the end of a week of putting the little monster through its paces, we were forced to admit that the answer is a resounding yes. Yes, the slick new Sportage is totally thrilling – in its own way and within its own capabilities. Thank you, Kia, for continuing to treat the Sportage as your favourite child!
The experience begins as soon as you shut the door with a satisfying thunk that evokes images of a perfectly aligned build quality with no loose change rattling at any of the joints. The interior is surprisingly plush for such an affordable vehicle, with saddle-stitching in evidence everywhere you look and a dashboard made of rich-looking soft material. There are numerous carefully designed storage options between the seats and on the door panels, including a cute little spare-change cuddy for those coins needed to feed hungry parking meters.
The sporty steering wheel feels chunky and firm in your hands and the understated cruise and sound controls mounted on it are well-designed while being unobtrusive. The shifter has such a luxuriant feel to it that we found it hard to take our hands off it, even though the model at Carlease comes with an automatic six-speed gearbox.
But enough of the touchy-feely; let’s get to the performance.
Smooth and effortless
One the things that struck us most is the way the Kia Sportage starts up. Crank the engine and it comes awake without the slightest tremor being felt in the car. This characteristic is extremely unusual for a car in this category.
The parking brake at your left foot is smooth and requires very little effort to engage or disengage. In-car controls include a switch to turn the parking sensors on or off, automatic headlights, auto rear wiper, and a setting to make the turn indicators blink 3, 5, or 7 times when you tap it rather than fully engage it. We really loved the last one for UAE driving conditions and lane changes.
Are you now ready for take-off? When you read the next sentence, keep in mind that this is a 2.0-liter inline-four engine. The Sportage takes off like a rocket. Yes, it does. No kidding. Switch over to the Sport mode – which is one of three driving modes including Eco and Normal – and it won’t be hard for you to imagine that you are the wheel of an Audi or a BMW. The speed is accompanied by rock-solid road-holding without even the whisper of yaw, pitch, or roll. We often had the pleasure of leaving several high-end performance cars gaping slack-jawed at us at traffic lights. What a thrill!
The Sport mode also maintains revs longer when you take your foot off the accelerator and upshifts are at higher revs than in other modes. Of course, that means slightly higher fuel consumption, but it’s a small engine to start with; how much more fuel would you actually use?
Space and comfort
Through all driving conditions, the steering remains highly responsive, and the SUV handles like a small car, except when you attempt to take turns at an uncomfortably high speed when the risk of a roll-over forces you to ease off. The Sportage is also well sprung on independent struts, making it a comfortable ride. The 17-inch alloys help.
Wide empty spaces between the front and rear seats add to the comfort of the back-seat passengers. A large luggage space can easily accommodate all the paraphernalia of a family of four on holiday.
As we have mentioned before, it is unclear what pricing philosophy Kia uses to add options to its models. The Sportage from Carlease comes with parking sensors but manually folded wing mirrors. On the other hand, the Rio provides electric wing mirrors and no parking sensors. Difficult to see where the trade-off occurs. We would have been far happier if both cars came with auto-up and auto-down windows on all four doors.
We continue to be underwhelmed by the quality of the user interface on Kia’s sound system. In an age when touch screens have matured to an incredible degree, it is disappointing to see car-makers continuing to equip their vehicles with confusing arrays of buttons. The Bluetooth connectivity to a smart phone’s music app, too, leaves a lot to be desired.
But these are little glitches that one can overlook in the overall great driving experience that the Sportage provides. The rugged little off-roader has clearly matured into a refined urban warrior that continues to provide the same level of thrill – just of a different variety.
|3 driving modes|
|Good suspension||Old-fashioned sound system|
|Space and comfort|
The Compact SUV shootout
|Kia Sportage||Honda CR-V||Mazda CX-5||Toyota RAV-4|
|Engine||2.0L I4 FWD||2.4L I4 FWD||2.0L I4 FWD||2.5L I4 FWD|
|Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)||8.1||7.2||6.4||7.7|
|0-100 kph (sec.)||9.1||8.5||9.3||9.7|
|Top Speed (kph)||170||200||195||200|
Would you believe the internet’s favourite car of the year was a Kia??? Who would’ve thought! Then again, this ain’t your grandma’s Kia.
The Cruze gets you from point A to point B with minimal fuss. And the sound system will rock your world.
Understated elegance and a well-optimized power-to-weight ratio with a fuel-efficient ride.