The Sportage is new, is it? Doesn’t look it...
It’s a facelift rather than an all-new car, and we’re talking nip and tuck rather than major surgery. Park the old and new models next to each other, and the changes are more obvious. There’s a new grille, black bezel headlamps and 16-inch alloy wheels. The bumpers are now body coloured, too. It’s enough to freshen up the slightly frumpy looks of the old car. But no, we can’t see fashion-conscious Land Rover owners queuing up to trade in their Freelander.
The price is more likely to grab attention than the looks. You’ll pay just £13,995 for one of the new two-wheel drive versions.
What’s the point of a two-wheel drive 4x4?
Well, if you want an SUV but can’t stand the thought of getting it muddy, a two-wheel drive will reduce fuel consumption and emissions. A bit. The 2WD 2.0-litre petrol manages 35.3mpg and 190g/km. The 4WD goes 0.9 miles less on a gallon and puts out 4g/km more carbon – not exactly a night and day difference. So while you can tell the other school run mums and dads you’ve done it for the kids, the real reason is likely to be the price, which saves £1000 over the otherwise identical 4WD model.
It’s much harder to argue a case for the 2WD diesel. It’s only available with an automatic transmission, so its fuel consumption and emissions figures are actually worse than for the 4WD. It swaps gears smoothly enough, but the manual makes better use of the engine’s torque and is a £1000 cheaper.
And under the bonnet?
The engine line-up is unchanged. So there’s the same choice of 2.0-litre petrol, 2.0-litre diesel or 2.7-litre V6. Most buyers go for the diesel, but the petrol shouldn’t be ignored. Just 136lb ft of torque isn’t very much in a car which weighs over 1600kg, but as long as you work the engine hard you can make decent progress. It’s £1200 cheaper than the equivalent diesel and only 4.5mpg less economical.
So you’re saying the petrol is the pick of the range?
Not if you’re a high-mileage driver, or need to shift around a lot of people and their clobber. In that case, the extra torque of the diesel engine – 225lb ft compared with 136lb ft – really tells. It’s not the quietest engine, with a thrummy note that never really disappears, but if you want to tow a boat or a horsebox it’s the only sensible choice.
The 2.7-litre V6 has the muscle for load hauling, but a thirst for unleaded to match. It’s available with an automatic gearbox only, so it’s no quicker than the 2.0-litre manual. Resale values are poor, too. Unless you set fire to used £20s for kicks, it’s best avoided.
It doesn’t sound much fun?
Head off road and the Sportage can raise a smile. There’s no low-ratio gearbox and you need to push a button on the dash to lock the car in four-wheel drive, but it’s surprisingly capable in the rough stuff. Approach and departure angles are good, the diesel has enough pull for the steepest slopes and the suspension does a good job of keeping all four wheels in touch with the ground. Revisions to the steering and suspension are intended to make the Sportage more engaging on Tarmac. Even so, the steering is numb and the ride is disappointingly lumpy.
So, cheap but not too cheerful, then?
The Land Rover Freelander and Nissan X-Trail are streets ahead. But then with price tags starting close to the £20,000 mark, so they should be. Compared with other budget 4x4s, like the Jeep Patriot and Hyundai Tucson, the Sportage is right up there. Build quality is a notch above what you’d expect, and the cabin is surprisingly spacious. There’s lots of room for adults to get comfortable in the back and the boot is huge.
Kia hasn’t skimped on kit, either. Even the most basic models have air-conditioning, all-round electric windows, front fog lamps, alloys and six airbags. The warranty package is hard to argue with, too. Since production has been switched from Korea to Kia’s high-tech factory in Slovakia, the Sportage now comes with the same seven-year, 100,000-mile package offered on all Kia’s Slovak-built cars.
There are better compact 4x4s than the Sportage. Much better. But then it’s not priced to compete with the class leaders. If you can accept the iffy refinement and unsettled ride this is a lot of SUV for the money. It’s spacious, well equipped, and surprisingly strong off-road. And if you plan to hang on to the car for a while, that seven-year warranty is pretty compelling.