- Published 11 December 2019
- 7 minute read
- By Richard Aucock
The Sportage is Kia’s best-selling car in Britain – and by a huge margin. A frequent entrant in the top 10 new car bestsellers list, this is a family-sized five-seat SUV that has helped transform a fast-growing car company. First made famous by its standard-setting seven-year warranty, Kia is now firmly established as a mainstream car brand providing great value for money.
The Sportage competes for sales in the same class as the Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Tiguan and Seat Ateca. It outsells them all because Kia gives you more for your money, without cutting back on space or quality, or serving up a below-par drive. It is an extremely well-rounded machine with few weaknesses and it’s now widely regarded as Kia’s core car in the UK.
The latest Sportage was introduced in 2016. It replaced the ‘breakthrough’ previous Sportage, which went on sale in 2010 and really put Kia’s family SUV on the map. There were Sportage models built before 2010, but they were nowhere near as appealing. Mediocre sales bore this out.
Now well into its lifecycle, the current Sportage was given a mild update in 2018. It wasn’t broken, so there was nothing much that needed fixing. The full range of Sportage models still sells strongly, with lots of owners now on their second or third model in a row. This SUV’s charm shows little sign of fading, and living with one for a while proved to me just why it’s so appealing.
Looks, tech and design
The design of the latest Sportage seemed, at launch, surprisingly bold when compared with the clean lines of its predecessor. It has matured very well, though, and is still a fresh-faced and upmarket-looking machine today. Kia’s design team is overseen by the man responsible for the original Audi TT sports car, and the same sort of premium appeal can be found in the latest Sportage.
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At the front, high-mounted headlights give it an imposing nose, and the effect is enhanced in more sporting variants with big air intakes and built-in spoilers. All Sportages look distinctive on the road, thanks to their bright LED running lights, and more expensive variants have four-point LEDs that look uncannily like those on the (much pricier) Porsche Macan. Pure coincidence, I’m sure…
Kia offers a choice of punchy paint colours for the Sportage, including a bright blue that’s again similar to one used by Porsche, plus a bright red and crisp metallic white. With the big alloy wheels fitted to sporty-look GT-Line variants, it cuts quite a dash and I drew more than the odd admiring glance during my time with the car.
The Sportage has a Germanic feel inside, with lots of black plastics and piano black-style dashboard trim. It is sophisticated and well-made, and although plastics aren’t quite as plush as you’d enjoy in a Porsche, it still seems pretty substantial. Versions from mid-grade trim upwards get soft leather upholstery as standard.
A centrally-mounted colour touchscreen is fitted to every Sportage, with all but the most basic model featuring satellite-navigation. Lower-end grades have a 7.0-inch screen, but the 8.0-inch ‘glass panel’ screen is preferable. It looks good and is nice to use – and if you buy the range-topping Sportage, you even get a premium JBL sound system as standard. All models have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity built in.
I was lucky, and tested the range-topping Sportage GT-Line S. The amount of standard features on this version is incredible. My car had heated and air-conditioned front seats (the rear seats were heated as well), a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree parking camera and LED headlights that flicked the main beam on and off automatically. It even came with active radar-controlled cruise control and a wireless smartphone charging pad.
Space is plentiful and the front seats are mounted high, making the most of its commanding stance on the road. I heard no complaints even from adults in the back, as there’s lots of legroom and headroom. The rear seat-backs even recline, so passengers can lie back and relax while the driver does all the work. Like me, I’ll bet you’ll get no thanks for it…
With the rear seats in place, the boot capacity is 467 litres, and it’s a nice, flat, easy-access space further enhanced in top-grade GT-Line S guise with a ‘smart’ electric tailgate. Fold the seats down flat and the space expands to 1,467 litres, making the Sportage an ideal machine for those who regularly visit Ikea, the local tip, or enjoy cycling. You can get a bike in there without taking the wheels off. I checked.
The Sportage is a straightforward car to drive. Because the driver sits high, it’s easy to see out of and position on the road, and every model gets a colour reversing camera to make parking simple. This helps ease the jump for those trading up from a smaller family hatchback-type car. I liked the logical layout of the Kia’s controls and was impressed by its sturdy feel.
The cheapest Sportage has a 1.6-litre petrol engine, which doesn’t have a turbocharger. As a result you have to rev it quite a bit, and will have to change up and down gears on the move more than in more powerful models. That’s why my tip is to go for a turbocharged Sportage – either the 1.6 T-GDi petrol or 1.6 CRDi and 2.0 CRDi turbodiesels. Kia acknowledges this by offering only a small selection of petrol models, but a full range of diesels.
All Sportages have stop-start, so the engine automatically switches off when you’re waiting at the traffic lights, then restarts automatically. The range-topping 2.0 CRDi 182 also uses mild hybrid technology. It can't run as a pure electric car like a full hybrid but it does have a powerful 48v lithium-ion battery that boosts fuel efficiency and helps switch the engine off sooner as you come to a stop.
Cornering is OK for what it is – a family-friendly SUV – and it doesn’t require much effort to keep it on the straight and narrow through twisting roads. It rides bumps in a nice, cushioned way, although it’s worth pointing out that pricier versions with large, flashy alloy wheels are a bit less impressive in this respect. In a nod to muddy field SUV-style use, Kia fits a downhill brake control that stops you sliding down hillsides – not that many will actually go off-road. I couldn’t help but notice only the pricier versions are genuine 4x4s with all-wheel drive.
Cost and economy
Because the Sportage is a wider, taller SUV, it is not as fuel-efficient as a normal family hatchback car. The basic 1.6 petrol is claimed to return around 42 miles per gallon, but because you have to rev it, you will struggle to achieve this. The turbo 1.6 petrol is listed as averaging barely 37 miles to the gallon, which is why most Sportage buyers pick a diesel.
The lowest-powered 1.6 diesel should average just over 50 miles to the gallon, and the best-selling mid-grade versions should do around 47 miles per gallon. It drops a little if you pick a four-wheel drive version (they’re called AWD, instead of 2WD), and economy also falls further if you take GT-Line grade with its big 19-inch alloy wheels. The extra drag of the tyres really costs you.
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On the flip side, the Sportage is great value for money. Prices are similar to family hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, yet the Sportage is a genuine SUV – one with a generous amount of standard equipment even in entry-level ‘1’ guise. My tip is to start with the ‘2’ grade, given the ample amount of features it includes for the money, and aim for a GT-Line version if your budget can stretch that far.
The reliability of the Sportage is proven by its seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty. This is reassuring for those who want to keep their Kia for a long time. It helps give second-hand values a boost as well, and this is another factor behind the Sportage’s competitive monthly finance payments. On costs alone, it’s not hard to see why it sells so well.
British car buyers have really taken to the distinctive-looking and capable Kia Sportage. It lives up to the value brand’s roots by giving plenty of features for the money, and making sure prices are comparable with even the best-value alternatives.
But the Sportage offers so much more. It is a handsome and distinctive machine to look at, feels modern inside and seems to shrug off everything a growing family can throw at it. I didn’t find much to fault with how it drives, and the quality makes it seem like a car built to last.
Growing numbers of British family car buyers are now switching to SUVs. If you’re in the market for one of the best all-round packages that won’t break the bank, you could do a lot worse than start by checking out the Sportage. It’s a genuine Kia success story.
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