Arguably the best-known Kia model on the South African market, the latest Sportage ups the ante for the popular Korean off-roader. The 2,0-litre 4x4 model, in particular, offers good value.
By Peter Palm, CAR road test engineer
Kia has a significant advantage with its newly released Sportage. The fact that the name has been well-known in South Africa since the original model’s introduction in 1997 means that most knowledgeable petrol heads are familiar with this model. The old version was a good looker and nothing has changed here. Styling nuances from the Honda CRV (up-front) and Subaru Forester (rear-end) can be noticed, while the plastic side cladding includes wheel-arch flares to provide the all-important “macho” effect.
Whereas the overall length is less than that of the rival CRV, the wheelbase is actually longer at 2 630 mm. This translates into a surprisingly spacious interior with generous legroom all-round. A full range is on offer, including 4x2, 4x4, manual and automatic gearboxes and a choice of three engines.
The 2,0-litre engine is very smooth and quiet, so much so that it is easy to nudge the rev limiter without realising it. The downside of this free-revving 104 kW plant is that, despite the benefit of continuously variable valve timing, there is not much low down torque, the maximum figure of 184 N.m achieved at 4 500 r/min.
On steep off-road terrain similar to the short but serious route laid out during the launch, some clutch slipping may be necessary. The V6, on the other hand (128 kW with 246 N.m at 4 000 r/min as found in the Magentis as well as the Hyundai Sonata and Tiburon) is only available with a four-speed automatic gearbox and the combination of increased low-down torque and a torque converter meant that the same steep ascent was a piece of cake, even with the standard Bridgestone Turanza tyres.
The automatic ‘box can be specified on all models at an additional cost of R15 000 and may prove to be quite popular. Unfortunately, the third variant, the 2,0-litre CRDi turbodiesel was not yet available at date of launch. This engine is also used in the recently introduced Cerato range and offers 83 kW at 4 000 r/min with 250 N.m of torque at 2 000 r/min.
The four-wheel drive versions use an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch to divert torque from the usual front-wheel drive mode to the rear, should the front wheels start to slip. A facia-mounted button can also be used to lock the clutch to provide a 50:50 split. Above a speed of 30 km/h the control unit starts restoring drive to the front wheels and at 40 km/h the drive will be 100 per cent front until the speed drops again to a slow pace.
To add to the off-road capabilities, traction control (on 4x4 models only) makes use of the ABS sensors to brake wheels that are spinning as a result of losing contact with the ground. Despite all of this, the Sportage is still basically a soft-roader due to the omission of a low-range gearbox. But major rivals such as the Nissan X-trail, Honda CRV and Land-Rover Freelander are all in the same boat, as is sister company Hyundai with its Tucson. This model uses identical powertrains and features but differs in the styling stakes.
The ride on tar is on the soft side but when travelling at a respectable lick on gravel roads, this proved the better set-up as bumps and potholes were soaked up without adversely affecting comfort levels. The steering has a light to medium weighting and uses hydraulic power assistance, not electric. No rattles were noticed and sound insulation from the road was impressive.
The car has many features as standard, so to reduce the risk of boring readers, we will keep it brief: 16-inch alloy wheels including spare, dual airbags, climate control, electric mirrors and windows, remote central locking, auto door-lock, cruise control, built-in CD/radio, front and rear fog lights, flip-up tailgate glass for loading smaller items, centre console storage compartment, sunglasses holder, drink holders, rear window wash/wipe, ABS and EBD, leather upholstery, height/tilt adjustable driver’s seat and dual exhaust outlets on the V6. The facia is made from hard plastic but has a good finish to it, and instruments and controls look reasonably up-market except for the fake aluminium finish surrounding the sound system and air vents.
A simple but handy addition to the interior is retractable hooks next to the glove compartment and behind the rear seat backrests. These can be used to hang shopping packets avoiding the contents from being strewn about. A non-slip mat and cargo net complete the scene in the rear. Another noteworthy feature is the 60:40 split rear seats that fold forward in one movement, with the squab automatically dropping to provide a flat load bay.
A rear screen is retractable both rearwards to the tailgate and forwards to the seats which are rake adjustable. Also noteworthy is a standard 4-year/100 000 km maintenance plan, a first for the company. This is combined with a 3-year/100 000 km warranty and 3-year roadside assistance.
So where does the Sportage fit into the pecking order? Well, comparing the smaller-engined models’ prices with other SUVs in the price guide reveal some interesting facts… For example, the price of the 2,0 litre 4x4 Sportage is similar to a Nissan X-trail 2,0 and Toyota Rav4 1,8. Both these have only 4x2 drive.
The Mahindra Scorpio may have low range, more seats and a torquey turbodiesel, but it has no airbags, ABS, or standard maintenance plan. There are other rivals, but perhaps the one to watch out for would be the Subaru Forester, which does have low range, permanent four-wheel drive and a 2,5 litre engine with 112 kW at a price of R244 950. Decisions, decisions, decisions!
2,0 4x2 R199 995
2,0 4x2 auto R224 995
2,0 4x4 R224 995
2,0 4x4 auto R239 995
2,0 CRDi 4x4 R249 995
2.0 CRDi 4x4 auto R259 995
2,7 V6 4x4 auto R249 995
Original article from Car