"The Kia Sportage is a good value, practical and smart competitor in the crossover market."
Named CarBuyer's first ever Car of the Year in 2011 and then awarded our 2012 Best 4x4 title, the Kia Sportage is an outstanding SUV that shows just how much Kia has improved as a manufacturer and a brand over the last few years. Its futuristic appearance was conceived by the man who designed the Audi TT and still stands out from rivals like the Skoda Yet and Nissan Qashqai. It's definitely a car for people who like to be noticed on the road. It comes in five specifications – 1, 2/KX-2, 3/KX-3, 3 Sat Nav and KX-4 – with KX simply signifying a four-wheel drive model. All cars come equipped with alloy wheels, tinted glass, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing front wipers and Bluetooth, USB and Aux connectivity as standard, so you get a lot for your money. The interior looks just as good as the exterior, too. A closer look does turn up some cheap plastic trim dotted around, but that's being really picky because it feels surprisingly alongside its rivals. Originally you could only get the Sportage with a single 134bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine with four-wheel drive, but now you can get four engines, plus front-wheel drive that in many ways makes it a better car for general everyday use. Like all Kias, it comes with an excellent seven-year warranty and Kia's brand profile improving all the time thanks to the style, equipment and value of its car.
The entry-level engine is a 1.6-litre petrol front-wheel drive model with a six-speed manual gearbox. This is followed by an all-wheel-drive 2.0-litre petrol with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox, a front-wheel-drive 1.7-litre diesel with a six-speed manual and an all-wheel-drive 2.0-litre diesel that is available as either a 134bhp or a 181bhp version with manual or automatic gearboxes. The 2.0-litre diesel works really well at low revs and is the engine we’d recommend as the smaller engines are a bit gutless at motorway speeds. While the two-wheel-drive models will be perfect for most people's use, the 4x4 versions are still easy to drive and come with a handy lock switch to help with the traction control if you need it. Visibility out the front is good but not so good out the back, with the small rear windows making reverse parking a little tricky. As a ‘best in show’ blend of the positives of a tall SUV and a family hatchback, the Sportage isn’t 100 per cent successful, with the Skoda Yeti having a more precise drive. Plus, the suspension is a bit soft and bounces you around on uneven roads.
As well as getting bounced around by the suspension, the diesel engine gets a little noisy, especially when you start it up from cold. But there is hardly any wind or road noise inside when you’re on the motorway, so it's a very calm and relaxing drive over long distances. The seats are generally comfy and supportive, but the bases are fairly flat so could be better. You can easily adjust the driver's position, with the steering wheel having both reach and rake adjustment. There's plenty of leg and headroom in the back for most adult passengers to get themselves relatively comfortable, too.
Kia continues to improve in this area, climbing up a further five places in the manufacturers rankings in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey to take the number seven spot ahead of Volvo. The Sportage itself took a tumble, however, dropping 27 places to rank 49th in the top 100 cars. It still ranked highly for reliability and practicality but was let down by some performance and handling issues. It's also a very safe car, securing the more and more common maximum five-star rating from the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. It comes with electronic stability control, ABS, ISOFIX child-seat points, front, side and curtain airbags, hill-hold assist, a roll-over sensor and headrests designed to prevent whiplash fitted as standard. Inside, there is the odd example of cheap-looking plastics, but on the whole the interior quality has improved no end on previous models. Don’t forget Kia's signature seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which shows just how confident it is in the reliability of its cars.
The Sportage has 564 litres of boot space with the back seats up, beating both the Skoda Yeti and the Qashqai, which expands to 1,353 litres when the 60/40 split-folding rear seats are folded down flat. That maximum capacity is actually smaller than most of its rivals, but the difference is fairly negligible. Plus, the boot is a bit high, but it's a convenient shape and has additional storage under the boot floor if you need an extra bit of space. When you do need to fold the seats flat, by the way, it's done by a handy push of a button. You get plenty of storage cubbies dotted around the interior, including a lidded storage box in the centre console, a big glove compartment, and door bins that are conveniently shaped to take bottles. The KX models are equipped with an easy-to-use 4x4 lock switch as part of an intelligent four-wheel-drive system that makes the Sportage very capable when you take it off-road.
Value for money
Kia has moved up the price range as it has improved its models’ quality, but its cars are still generally great value. They come loaded with lots of standard accessories – and with very little on the options list, you're unlikely to find that anything you really need is missing. All versions have air-con, alloy wheels and remote central locking. Spend a bit more on the range-topping models and you can add heated leather seats, tinted windows and a rear-view parking camera. The price range undercuts mainstream rivals, too – just don't expect as much wiggle room when making deals as you might get at a Vauxhall dealership. Kia's trademark seven-year warranty further sweetens the deal, as do good resale values in the used car market that match some premium rivals, including the Land Rover Freelander.
For an SUV, the Sportage is fairly efficient and kind to the environment. The 1.7-litre CRDi EcoDynamics diesel and 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol, fitted with Kia's stop-start technology, are the most economical choices. Both offer impressively low CO2 emissions and wallet-friendly economy – the diesel returning 54.3mpg and emitting 135g/km of CO2. The top-of-the-range 181bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine returns 46.3mpg and emits 158g/km of CO2, which is still reasonable for a crossover. However, opt for the automatic and those figures worsen, with emissions climbing to 189g/km. Servicing costs should undercut most key rivals and the warranty should prevent any big bills for seven years.