Kia Sportage SUV - Engines, drive & performance (2016-2021)

The Kia Sportage offers a good balance between fun and comfort

Carbuyer Rating

3.6 out of 5

Engines, drive & performance Rating

3.0 out of 5

As a reasonably tall crossover SUV, the Sportage is never going to be the most entertaining car in the world to drive, but compared to its rivals, it’s perfectly competent.

Most versions ride nicely and the steering is positive and direct, while there’s plenty of grip, too. The manual gearbox in our test car was precise and easy to use, while body lean is well controlled in the corners. Most of the time, the car with the four-wheel drive behaves like it's front-wheel drive, but it can send up to 40% of its power to the rear wheels if it detects the front is losing grip.

However, it’s still very much a comfort-orientated driving experience and not quite as sharp as rivals such as the Mazda CX-5, Ford Kuga and SEAT Ateca. It beats all three for ride smoothness – motorway surface imperfections and urban potholes are absorbed effectively and few shocks are transmitted to passengers. The large wheels and extra weight of the mild-hybrid technology in the range-topper detracts from this, however, making the ride somewhat bouncier.

Kia Sportage diesel engines

The flagship Sportage diesel engine is a clever one; it's a 1.6-litre turbodiesel using a 48-volt starter motor that can also give acceleration a small boost. This setup is known as 'mild hybrid' and aims to reduce engine workload and consequently improve fuel economy and lower emissions slightly.

The electric 'starter-generator' unit is meant to allow the engine to temporarily switch off over a much broader speed range, cutting the engine from around 10mph when you're pulling up to a halt and then restarting as soon as power is required. It's inobtrusive in action but during our test it didn't cut in quite as often as we were expecting.

The front-wheel-drive version is quickest when equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, managing 0-60mph in 10.8 seconds. Speccing the seven-speed automatic gearbox increases the 0-60mph time to 11.4 seconds, with the heavier four-wheel-drive model taking 11.6 seconds. Every diesel Sportage is capable of a top speed of 112mph.

The pulling power of the diesel engine means it offers flexible performance, giving you the ability to overtake while at most points in the rev range. At motorway speeds, the engine is quiet and feels relaxed, making the Sportage an easygoing cruiser. 

Petrol engines

Even though the petrol models are unlikely to be as popular as the diesel versions, they’re worth considering if you don’t drive a huge number of miles each year. The 174bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine is impressively smooth and quiet, but unfortunately, despite what the figures suggest, it doesn’t actually feel all that quick.

When fitted with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and front-wheel drive, it's the quickest model in the range on paper. It’ll get from 0-60mph in 8.6 seconds and go on to a top speed of 127mph. When equipped with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, 0-60mph takes 8.9 seconds.

There’s one other 1.6-litre petrol engine but with no turbocharger. It produces 130bhp, gets from 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds and has a top speed of 113mph.

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