Judging by the frequency you see Kia’s third-generation Sportage on the roads, British buyers are captivated by its combination of Dolce & Gabbana looks at Matalan prices. But in the fiercely contested crossover market is the 1.7 CRDi front-wheel drive Sportage more style than substance in the world of faux by fours?
Is the 2011 Kia Sportage as good as it looks?
Worthy Kias, like the Ceed and Sorento, have ensured that the Korean marque has truly ensconced itself in the British car buyers' collective psyche. The Sportage grabs the baton and sprints off with it, injecting desirability into the mix.
A self-confessed not-interested-in-cars colleague summed it up, announcing that ‘Kia make good cars now, don’t they.’ It was a statement rather than a question. That's the sort of marketing that money can't buy, and has no doubt played a significant role in racking up sales of over 9000 units since its launch.
The Sportage was the first Kia released that justified the hiring of former Audi stylist Peter Schreyer. Its exterior has audacity, with the brand’s tiger nose grille and twinkly LED day running lights dominating the glitzy prow. From there, your eyes are ushered rearwards to the high-waisted body and shallow greenhouse. There’s more than hint of Teutonic strength in those broad C-pillars too, reinforced by bumper-mounted tail light strips that scream Audi Q7.
In spite of the unpainted plastic body mouldings, hinting at a rugged green lane explorer for would-be Sir Ranulph Fiennes types, this 1.7-litre turbodiesel Sportage is a front driver, as is the direct injection 1.6-litre petrol. Only the 2.0-litre models offer buyers the choice of four-wheel traction. This shouldn’t pose a problem for the majority of the Kia’s customers who are unlikely to venture far away from an asphalted surface anyway.
So what's the inside story on the Kia Sportage?
Climb aboard the Sportage and there’s an inevitable sense of deflation. It’s a pleasantly simple enough dashboard, and in ‘3’ specification is generously equipped too, but it lacks the panache that graces the exterior panels.
Charcoal grey mouldings and (standard on the '3') leather lend the cabin an austere air, although a glazed roof counters the darkness, making it feel cavernous and comfortable. The Slovakian-built Sportage is well-assembled and feels like it will more than outlast the ravages of time of its seven-year warranty. A pity Kia scrimped a bit on the soft-touch plastics quota for fingertip tactility at traffic lights, though.
The Sportage’s cabin is capacious, with room for five in comfort and a sensibly sized and shaped boot to cart about luggage, shopping and DIY centre detritus.
The front chairs are bereft of side support, which becomes immediately obvious when the Kia’s driven with any sort of vigour on twisting roads. The combination of smooth leather and shallow bolstering can have your thighs swinging like a pendulum through a series of S-bends.
How does the 2WD Sportage handle on the open road?
The Sportage rides securely on motorways, feeling planted and not susceptible to crosswinds, despite its bluff, high sides. Unfortunately, that stiffness in the damping blights urban journeys, transmitting too many ruts and bumps through to the cabin. Something to redress for the mid-life facelift.
Don’t be fooled by the Sport element of the Kia’s name because although this is a car that will tackle winding B-roads, it won’t do it with much enthusiasm. The lighter engine and lack of a driveshaft to the rear wheels saves weight, making the Sportage marginally more agile. Unfortunately, the steering telegraphs a censored message to the driver, anaesthetising the experience.
Is the Sportage's 1.7-litre engine up to the job?
The 2WD 1.7 CRDi models have accounted for almost 70% of all Sportage sales in 2011. On paper, its 114bhp 1685cc turbodiesel motor doesn’t sound like it will do anything with much enthusiasm, especially in a car that looks this substantial. The top speed barely above 100mph and a leisurely jog to 60mph in 12 seconds back this up.
Thankfully it doesn’t feel quite so pedestrian behind the wheel, with a surge of almost 200lb ft of torque accessible from low down in the rev range, enabling quiet, unstressed and economical cruising, once you've got going.
That engine, now finding its way under the bonnets of a variety of Kias and Hyundais, has the makings of being a little gem. The power it has available is served smoothly and without drama, so much so that from the cabin, most would be hard pressed to know if they were being pulled along by a motor that drinks from the green or black pipe. The Sportage just isn’t the optimum home for it. Hopefully Kia is working on a higher output version as we speak.
Claimed economy figures look impressive with an official combined average north of 50mpg. Presumably I was sporting my finest lead driving shoes on because low 40s was the best I achieved over a mixed driving route. The Sportage’s blushes were somewhat spared by the effective and imperceptible stop-and-go system. Beware though, it’s a willing engine that needs to be worked hard to make progress and economy will be hurt as you progress through the six ratios.
So, overall is the Kia Sportage a good buy?
The Sportage is a bold move by Kia. Many rivals offer a more engaging experience on the road, but if the majority of your journeys are highway commutes then its ride and handling shortcomings will be less apparent.
While the combination of a smaller turbodiesel engine and front-wheel drive should pay dividends at the fuel pump, the 1.7-litre Kia’s advantage over its 2.0-litre sibling is simply not as great as it should be.
Generously specced, enticingly styled and with a very persuasive warranty package, the Sportage is hard to ignore. At £22,195 as tested in top of the range '3' form, its appeal is even more obvious with a £2500 saving over the 2.0-litre, 4WD version. With the basic, 2WD Land Rover Freelander starting at £22,005, the Kia Sportage represents an attractive value for money package.