Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi (2012) long-term test review

Published: 01 March 2013

Month 9 running a Kia Sportage - we say goodbye to our Kia

Now my time with the Sportage has ended it’s time to admit to something: I’ve never been a big fan of soft roaders. The full, river-wading, rockfall-clambering Monty is fine (even if it never does a day’s real work in its life) but I can’t bear pretend things dressed up to look the part, but which couldn’t tow a following wind or wade out of a puddle.

So the Sportage started its nine-month stay with me on the back foot. I needed something man enough to tow a trailer and it needed to prove it could do the job, despite the on-paper credentials. I soon warmed to it though, Peter Schreyer’s eye-catching design sits well on my driveway and the Sportage has a genuine presence rather than coming across as an ostentatious poseur.

Criss-crossing the country looking for a rally car promptly racked the miles up and I pretty soon made friends with the cruise control, quite liking the layout of buttons and clear display in the instrument cluster. There’s been more work since, towing the Mk2 Escort to events, acting as a fully loaded service barge and – its swansong – towing my old Ford Escort Mexico to the NEC Classic Car Show to be shown off. The Kia handled it all easily and has proved to be a consummate tow vehicle.

The four-wheel drive must have been needed at some stage, especially towing in some of the grassy paddocks, but I can’t say I noticed. The on-demand system stays mostly in frugal two-wheel-drive mode, doing what it has to, when it has to, with no fiddling or intervention needed by the driver. Fuel consumption? The best I’ve achieved is 40mpg and it’s hovered persistently around the 36mpg mark against an official combined figure of 49.6. Way off, but it’s closer than some others in the fleet have managed.

With its burden removed, the Sportage is involving and surprisingly nimble. The steering feel could be more linear but steering response and handling is sharp, and the Kia feels smaller than it is when going cross-country. You might want to sit down for this but although taller than a BMW 520d SE Touring, it’s shorter, narrower and weighs less, which does tend to undermine that whole Chelsea Tractor, anti-SUV argument a tad.

The Sportage drives like a car rather than a truck, with a firm but compliant ride. The lack of flashy, ‘spray-on’ ultra low-profile tyres probably helps, as the 225/60 R17 Hankooks are a fat enough section to soak up most things the surface throws at them, shielding those inside from the jitters. The upholstery is classy and robust if not ‘premium,’ but the dash is a bit fussy and the disastrous red-lettered centre display is unreadable.

The equipment is comprehensive on the ‘KX2’ trim level. Pretty well the only thing missing is built-in sat-nav; for that I’d need the highest level KX3. Perhaps the only thing I haven’t used is the whopping electric panoramic glass sunroof, simply because I don’t do sunroofs. What would be useful to me though, is some kind of rear-view camera to aid trailer hitching.

As I pen this 10,425 miles have passed under the wheels of the Sportage and I’ve grown to like it a lot. It’s good to look at, affordable, fun to drive, quite refined, practical, comfortable, has average fuel consumption, a seven-year transferable warranty and, when it comes to doing a hard day’s work, nobody could accuse it of being soft.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 8 running a Kia Sportage: testing the Kia's long-distance credentials

I’ve racked up a fair few miles in the Sportage during the last eight months but a trip to Aberfeldy at the foot of the Scottish Highlands, then on to Edinburgh, was the first decent road trip I’d made.

The first leg was Oxfordshire to The Lakes, 240 miles and an overnight on the shores of Ullswater. It was definitely a job for the cruise control and the further north we got, the easier it was to use as traffic thinned. We left the M6 at Kendal towards Windemere then joined one of my favourite roads, the Kirkstone pass. We spent around four and a half hours driving, including a stop for lunch and arrived at Glenridding in good shape.

Next morning, we set off on the next leg to Aberfeldy. The rain came, obviously. Plenty of time to check out the auto wash-wipe though, and while I’ve been sceptical about these in the past this one definitely works, picking up the pace as the deluge increased.

After a good couple of days including a trip to the shores of Loch Tay to enjoy some serious walking country, we headed for Edinburgh and a 10km run on Sunday. Phew! I’d planned to drive back the following day expecting to feel wrecked afterwards but felt good enough to make the 400-mile trip home that afternoon. Six and a half hours later we were back home, having covered just shy of 850 miles during the week. The Sportage’s comfort levels meant we felt like we’d done half that amount.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 6 running a Kia Sportage: the Sportage's economy figures disappoint

The Sportage has been hard at it since the last report and during the last month has really earned its credentials as a Sports Utility Vehicle. In September, it was on rallycar towing duty again with a three-hour trip each way to Woodbridge airfield in Suffolk, then in early October, it was off to bonnie Scotland for a few days for a decent road trip to the Highlands then on to Edinburgh and home.

I’ve also discovered a couple of gadgets I didn’t realise the Sportage had (they’re not that obvious), one being the Hill Start Assist Control which holds the car for a couple of seconds on a slope, long enough to move the foot from brake to throttle. As there’s no switch or graphics involved, I wanted to check this feature was actually fitted and went out to try it nearby. It works well and will be handy for those who struggle with hill starts, even though that doesn’t include me. The other is a Downhill Brake Control which does as it suggests but seems like a hardcore feature for a soft-roader like the Sportage.

As I pen this the mileage has just crept over 10,000 and the Hankook tyres are wearing well with 7mm left on the rear and just over 6mm on the fronts.

I had been a little disappointed with the fuel consumption which on average hovers around 35mpg (compared to an official combined figure of 49mpg). But having looked back through a few issues of CAR at what some of our other long termers are achieving, I realise that in percentage terms, the Sportage is doing better than some of the saloons and estates on the fleet. I’ll be saying goodbye to it soon. Have I enjoyed it? I’ll get to that when I say goodbye in a few weeks time.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 5 running a Kia Sportage: Kia Sportage passes the Apple test

I’ve racked up almost 8,000 miles in the Sportage in almost exactly six months, which must be a record for me. It hasn’t missed a beat so far, although the little ‘set-resume’ switch of the cruise control has become a bit random of late and sometimes takes a couple of prods to set, or it un-sets when I pull down to slow down. The Kia’s been fun though, living up to its name but above all comfortable, with not an aching back in sight.

I mentioned in an earlier report that the Kia passes the ‘Apple Test’ and intuitive controls mean no need to check out the handbook much. I noticed it does have a comprehensive section on the dos and don’ts of towing though, invaluable for people who might be anxious about trying it for the first time. I’d also missed a couple of useful details such as a cruise control set switch increases or reduces speed in 2mph increments if prodded briefly, useful to know as I use it a lot.

I’ve used the Bluetooth voice activated phone system with my iPhone a fair bit. When you hit the dial button the first thing it does is ask whether you want to dial ‘by number’ or ‘by name.’ Now I have to say, I’m not the biggest fan of voice activation generally but this system isn’t bad.

At higher motorway speeds it can struggle to compete with wind noise though. Ironically, I once phoned the Kia PR manager by accident instead of an engine builder (they share the same first name and different, though similar surnames) and wondered why he sounded puzzled when I started banging on about Ford Crossflow engines. It also makes me smile when I ask to dial ‘home’ and the female voice confirms with ‘hyume?’ Vowels getting mixed up there I reckon.

Otherwise, I’ve completed the first rally in the Escort I towed back from the Isle of Wight behind the Kia and you can read more about that elsewhere on the Blog page. The Sportage faced a mighty task that weekend with loads of gear to carry as well as the towing bit, but handled it easily. As I pen this, I’m preparing to leave for the next event in a couple of days time in Suffolk. It’s a fair trek so I’ll be glad of the comfort – and not for the first time.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 4 running a Kia Sportage: dim lighting puts a black mark on our Kia Sportage's record

Things have quietened down temporarily and the Sportage has been on ‘normal duties’ for the last month with a mixture of fairly routine local and long runs plus some tyre lugging for the rally car preparation. For your info, the Sportage will swallow eight wheels rims and 12 tarmac rally tyres all in one go with nay bother.

I’m still hooked on how relaxing it is to drive, though its fun too with responsive steering and a crisp turn-in. I’ve developed a phobia for car washes having spent eight hours or so polishing whirls out of one of my own cars a few months ago but this one is easy to swab off with a sponge and it’s not equipped with my pet hate, fiddly alloy wheels that are impossible to clean.

There are a couple of criticisms. Although I generally like the layout of the dash, I can’t really see the point of having a second smaller display above the audio system. A bigger one is that they otherwise decent quality is let down by the soft cladding on the dash which is gappy and poorly fitting. But still my biggest bugbear (and not unique to Kia), are the red on black displays which may look great on a designers screen but are at best, murky and indistinct.

With headlights on in any kind of daylight, they dim, whereupon the messages they give vanish from sight altogether. There’s no way I’ve found of turning that feature off, the only solution is to turn the lights off. Note to car designers, not everyone has 20/20 vision and can see flea at 10 paces in the pitch black. Make sure things are visible before you make them pretty.

Other than that the message is all good. I’m working on bringing down the fuel consumption of around the 35mpg mark a(including the towing antics) against a combined figure of 49.6mpg and I’ll let you know how I get on. Later this month It’ll be towing the rally car down to Kent for the first event, no doubt proving yet again that an SUV can double as stylish family car and a serious workhorse with no problem.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 3 running a Kia Sportage: we go towing in our Kia Sportage long-term test car

Manufacturers are forever coming up with new niches to ring the changes and what were once just 4x4s have become Sports Utility Vehicle, Sports Activity Vehicles, and now Crossovers. I reckon the Kia Sportage has slipped neatly in to every one of those pigeon holes over the last month because as well as providing the daily transport, it’s fetched my ‘new’ rally car, been a rally support vehicle and done some stirling charity work too.

The first part of the month was pretty exciting as having finally tracked down a Group 4 Ford Escort tarmac rally car that ticked all the boxes (after a five-month search), it was off to its home on the Isle of Wight to retrieve it. With the rented and sizeable trailer in tow we made a whopping 12m vehicle in the eyes of the Ferry company which attracted an appropriate ticket price.

Up with the first fart of a sparrow, junior Jesse Alex and I took off down the M40 and A34, glad of the light work the Sportage made of towing and the comfortable cabin. There was plenty of room for snacks and hot drinks in the cupholders too. The centre console has two sizes of cupholder, one big enough for those thermos cup things which is the sort of detail you notice at that time of the morning.

It was the weekend of those howling gales that we made the trip and I was fearful that a) we wouldn’t get a ferry back and b) a piece of tree would land on the new toy and seriously spoil my day. Neither happened and we made it, after a very long squawk, back in time to tuck the yellow thing up in its new home and for Al to get off and see his mates. The trip was made almost completely on motorways and the Sportage's cruise control worked well for the towing, making life a lot more restful. Keep an eye on this blog for more action with the ‘Wee Yellow Beastie’ as we call it here, and a new blog following our progress on the rally stages, starting soon.

A week later I was out at the Abingdon Stages at Dalton Barracks for some action in the co-driver’s historic spec Mk1. We were using the van to tow this time and the Sportage had an easier job as support vehicle, aka somewhere else to hide when it starts peeing down. After a lot of fun we were forced to retire after four stages with a technical hitch and with the cruise control set in the Sportage, I wafted home.

The final job was helping to set up for the annual Midnight Walk, a fund raiser for Mrs C’s place of work, Banbury’s Katharine House Hospice. There were loads of bread rolls, packs of bacon and bananas to move to the local cricket club, enough to fuel the 600 or so walkers. Seats flicked flat, the Sportage was loaded to the gunnels, its livery conveniently matching Katharine House’s corporate colours.

I was marshalling at two points throughout the night during which it stair-rodded with rain and although mid-summer, was cold. I did learn at one point to be more careful prodding around for an interior light button because I inadvertently opened the electric sunroof a tad (whose switches are adjacent) but nothing seemed to leak despite the downpour. The night was a great success, the walkers were undeterred and the part leather seats survived unmarked despite the excessive dampness of the driver.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 2 running a Kia Sportage: Just how sporty is the Sportage?

It’s amazing how your views on things can change once you actually give something a go. I’ve got to admit I read the Sportage blurb with some cynicism before it arrived, particularly the Sport bit. OK, the looks are ‘sporty’ enough but when I got to the bit about the high sheet metal glass ratio giving the feeling of sitting low in the cockpit, I started to glaze over a touch.

Actually its true, you can sit low and if anything the passenger seat, which in this model isn’t adjustable for height, is a little too low for Mrs C. who finds herself peering over the dash. But the handling certainly lives up to the claim, the steering is sharp, the nose turns in crisply and there’s very little body roll. All that makes the Sportage easy and restful to drive on the country roads where I live and I don’t feel as though I’m wrestling a Leviathon as I have done in some SUVs. Maybe the term ‘crossover’ isn’t as much marketing hype as I thought, the Kia is certainly quite car-like to drive for a biggy.

It’s great driving something more practical again after the Cayman too. The first airport trip with the two of us, ironically only involved cabin baggage so it didn’t really stretch things storage-wise. But long things, like the 6ft strip light I picked up for the workshop the other day can be lobbed in the back with no messing about. Rear seats are easy to work from the back of the car with a flick of a catch and a shove. Electric folding mirrors are useful for squeezing into an ancient multi-story I frequent, which was designed when the original Mini was current. Fuel consumption hovers around the high 30s at the moment which is a tad lower than the official 49.6mpg official figure, given that I don’t drive it like a hooligan. I’ll have to experiment with that as time goes on.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 1 running a Kia Sportage: the Sportage arrives to start work

The Sportage arrived the other day and it doesn’t look as though I’ll be needing a course of therapy after all. After a couple of drives and a good poke around my new accommodation I don’t think the switch from Cayman to 4x4 is going to be as bad as I thought. Not because they’re similar, obviously, but because they’re so completely different.

There’s nothing wrong with a car-life-laundry now and again and what the Sportage lacks in raw performance it makes up for in convenience, comfort and decent equipment levels. I found my kind of driving position easily (thought there might be a big compromise on that one) and the the rear seat backs just fold flat on the squab with no fancy catches to find and fiddle – though it’s a shame they don’t fold entirely flat. The six speed ‘box is light with a slop-free gate, and the brakes are strong, but unlike some others not over-sensitive with it.

The electric power steering feels overly light at first but that’s only at low speed. On the move it progressively loads up and at cruising speeds has a good, meaty feel. Kia reckons the EPS is worth a 3.5% improvement in fuel economy over a hydraulic rack so I wouldn’t want it any other way. The engine is a torquey beast and the little change-up light in the instrument display is addictive and encourages short shifting.

Generally, the Sportage is an intuitive package, a bit like an Apple Mac, and the manual has so far stayed put in the glove box. The cruise control has a separate steering wheel button to arm it and another for set and resume – a neat setup. It’s not adaptive but likely to get used a lot on motorways, more to keep the lid on fuel consumption than through laziness. That said, there’s some towing to be done as well so it’ll be interesting to see what some serious haulage does to the fuel consumption.

By Jesse Crosse

Month 1 running a Kia Sportage: speccing the Sportage proves easy

Over the last few years Kia has emerged from the ranks of the also-rans to become a manufacturer of great looking cars underpinned by sophisticated technology and backed by that famous seven-year warranty. Tempting designer Peter Schreyer to move across from VW in 2006 was a masterstroke, and the third-generation Sportage is a great example of how his pull-no-punches approach lifted something from embarrassingly dull to pretty striking.

As luck would have it, a Sportage being shortlisted for the CAR long-term fleet coincided with my occasional need to tow a classic rally car around. I had my doubts as the Sportage is regarded as a ‘crossover’ rather than a full-on trailer-hauling SUV, and at first I reckoned it was probably all mouth and no trousers. Hopefully I’m wrong about that, as the four-wheel drive and manual 'box-equipped KX-2 2.0 CRDi can pull two tonnes, as much as a Land Rover Freelander, so despite the pretty face it should fit the bill. The fact that it’s a crossover and should be more car-like to drive, as well as look at, might also help with the sizeable culture shock I’m about to confront – my daily driver for the last two years has been a Porsche Cayman S.

Kia Sportage long-term test carKia makes the job of speccing cars easy. Instead of the usual daunting options list, each model ‘is what it is’ to make the ordering process simpler. The KX-2 CRDi comes with a six-speed manual ‘box and costs £23,025. For that you get a basic audio system with iPod interface and Bluetooth phone connectivity with voice control, a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, part-leather trim, basic air-con, an electric one-touch panoramic sunroof and reversing sensors.

The 2.0 CRDi makes 134bhp and 236lb ft torque, less than the 150bhp and 309lb ft of the lowest spec Freelander 2 TD4 engine but on the plus side, the combined consumption figure is slightly better at 49.6mpg (compared to 45.6mpg). The 17-inch alloy wheels may not be the most fashionable but bode well for the ride quality, while on the down side the headlights on the ‘2’ level cars are halogen and not xenon.

Despite the ‘one size fits all’ approach, there are a couple of extras on our Sportage. The ‘Byte’ blue metallic paint we’ve chosen costs £475 and the crucial tow bar is £386.99, making a grand total of £23,886.99. Overall, it’s an awful lot of car for the money, especially when you consider that seven-year warranty is good for 100,000 miles and transferable to subsequent owners.

Given the plentiful supply of quick cars on the fleet I thought I might skulk off quietly to enjoy the Sportage for the duration but I think I’ve been sussed. Appreciative noises are already leaking from the CAR offices and I’ve a feeling the keys might be nicked sooner rather than later. 

By Jesse Crosse

By CAR's road test team

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