"The Kia Sportage is a good value, practical and smart competitor in the crossover market."
The Kia Sportage was the first car to ever be named CarBuyer's Car of the Year, back in 2011. It was also then awarded the CarBuyer 2012 title of Best 4x4. There's just no denying that the Sportage is a truly outstanding SUV that represents everything that Kia has worked towards in terms of improving both its physical product and its brand perception among the public at large.
The Sportage's almost futuristic exterior is the creation of the man who also designed the iconic Audi TT and it still stands out from the SUV crowd, set apart from key rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti. It's certainly not a car for the shy at heart, because it will definitely turn heads when you’re driving around town. It comes in five specifications – 1, 2/KX-2, 3/KX-3, 3 Sat Nav and KX-4 – with KX simply showing that it's a four-wheel drive model.
All models come fitted with alloy wheels, tinted glass, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing front windscreen wipers and Bluetooth, USB and aux-in connectivity as standard equipment, so you do get a lot for your money, no matter which car you buy. And the interior does manage to live up the exterior's quality, too. If you do look closer, though, you will uncover some cheap plastic trim used here and there, but that really is being very picky indeed, because it feels surprisingly high quality alongside its rivals. The Sportage was originally only available with a single 134bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine with four-wheel drive, but now you get to choose from four engines, plus a front-wheel drive option that in many ways makes it a better car for general daily use. And like all Kias, it comes with an excellent seven-year warranty. Plus, let's not forget that Kia's improving brand profile will help when you come to sell it on – and you live safe in the knowledge that that improvement comes from the style, equipment and value of the car.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Kia is pretty good generally in this regard, and the Sportage is really quite efficient and friendly to the environment for a big SUV. The 1.7-litre CRDi EcoDynamics diesel and 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol, both fitted with Kia's stop-start technology, are easily the most economical choices if you’re watching the pennies. 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 even manages to return 46.3mpg and emit 158g/km of CO2, which is still pretty respectable for a crossover. However, if you choose the automatic model, those figures worsen significantly, with emissions climbing to 189g/km. Having said that, servicing costs should still undercut most key rivals and the warranty should keep any big bills for at bay for the first seven years.
Interior & comfort
There's no denying that you do get bounced around quite a bit by the Sportage's soft suspension, but that does at least mean that you don’t get any bump-related jolts, so it may be a case of a lesser of two evils. However, the diesel engine gets quite noisy, especially when you’re starting the engine it up from cold – but at least there's hardly any wind or road noise audible to speak of inside the car when you’re on the motorway, so the Sportage remains a pretty calm and relaxing place to be over long distances. This is helped by the comfortable seats, which are supportive and firm enough to counteract some of that bounciness, even if the bases are pretty flat so could be improved. The driving position is easily adjustable, both the seat and the wheel – for reach and rake – while there's a lot of head and legroom in the back for just about any adult passenger to be comfortable – even the tall ones.
Practicality & boot space
With the standard-fit 60/40 split-fold rear seats in place, the Sportage offers 564 litres of space in the boot, which trumps both the Nissan Qashqai and the Skoda Yeti for storage capacity. Fold down the back seats and that expands further to 1,353 litres, which is actually a little smaller than most of its main competitors, but, in truth, the difference is pretty negligible. However, the boot is positioned a bit high, which can make loading tricky – but, fortunately, it is a very convenient shape and provides extra storage beneath the boot floor if you really do need that extra bit of space or need to hide your valuables away from prying eyes. Also, folding the seats down flat is very easy, happening at the simple push of a button. There are also lots of storage options inside the car, with cubbies and lidded boxes dotted about, including a big box in the centre console, deep door bins that are shaped to easily store a larger bottle, and a large glove compartment. If you go for a KX model, you’ll also get the easy-to-use 4x4 lock switch, which comes as part of the intelligent four-wheel-drive system that makes the Sportage really capable when you do take it off-road.
Reliability & safety
Kia has climbed a further five places in the 2013 Driver Power manufacturers rankings, entering the hallowed top 10 to sneak into seventh position in front of renowned customer satisfier Volvo. It's hard to imagine anyone now having an excuse for looking at Kia as anything other than a leading producer of quality cars. The Sportage itself did stumble a bit, though, falling by 27 positions to land at number 49 in the list of the top 100 cars. You can’t fault it for safety, either, with the Sportage managing to secure the now seemingly compulsory maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. This is because every model comes fitted with electronic stability control (ESP), anti-lock brakes (ABS), ISOFIX child-seat points, front, side and curtain airbags, hill-hold assist, a roll-over sensor and anti-whiplash headrests designed to protect occupants necks as standard safety equipment. And if you factor in Kia's signature seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, you can see just how confident Kia is in the durability of its cars.
Engines, drive & performance
Right off the bat, we’d recommend the 2.0-litre diesel engine because of its handy power in the low-revs range. The range actually starts with a 1.6-litre petrol front-wheel drive model with a six-speed manual gearbox. But the smaller engines prove to be somewhat lacking in any real guts when being driven at motorway speeds. Next up is a four-wheel-drive 2.0-litre petrol model fitted with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox, then followed by a front-wheel-drive 1.7-litre diesel with a six-speed manual gearbox, and a four-wheel-drive 2.0-litre diesel that comes as either a 134bhp or a 181bhp version with manual or automatic gearboxes. We think that the two-wheel-drive models with more than good enough for most buyer's everyday use, but the 4x4 versions do offer a hand lock switch to help further improve the traction control if you need it. The view out of the front of the car is good, but the view out of the back is through a tiny rear window that makes reverse parking a lot harder than it really should be. As a ‘best in show’ combination of the strengths of a tall SUV and the ease-of-use of a family hatchback, the Sportage isn’t as successful as Kia would hope, with the Skoda Yeti actually proving to have more of a precision drive. Plus, the suspension is a bit soft and bounces you around on the UK's rough roads.
Price, value for money & options
The price of Kias getting better and better is, well, the price. The improvement in quality has understandably gone hand-in-hand with an increase in purchase cost – but the Sportage still represents really great value thanks to the high level of standard equipment and accessories included, even on the base entry-level models. In fact, it's so loaded with technology that there's very little left on the options list because you’re not very likely to find something that's missing. All models come fitted with air-conditioning, alloy wheels and remote central locking as standard. Shell out some more cash to head higher up the range and you can add heated leather seats, tinted windows and a rear-view parking camera to that list. The Sportage still manages to undercut its main rivals, as well – but you won’t be able to haggle with the dealer as much because they won’t be expecting the same kind of deal making as you’d find on a Vauxhall dealership. Kia's trademark seven-year warranty further sweetens whatever deal you do get in place, as do resale values in the used car market that stay strong and actually match some premium rivals, including the Land Rover Freelander.