A strong turbo-diesel engine, four-wheel drive and entry-level specification gives the Kia Sportage crossover a surprisingly tough and appealing character.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four, 135kW/392Nm, 6-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, Combined economy 7.2 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4440mm long, 1635mm high, luggage capacity 564-1353 litres, fuel tank 55 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels on 225/60 tyres.
We like: Cruisy powertrain, great all-weather traction, sharp looks.
We don’t like: Looks undernourished on small wheels, tiny reversing camera in rearvision mirror.
How it rates: 7/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? We’ve tested the Kia Sportage here before, but in a very forward-thinking specification: luxury equipment with two-wheel drive, reflecting changing tastes in the mid-size crossover segment.
That’s all very well, but Kia still makes a more old-school Sportage and here it is: the entry-level LX, with a turbo-diesel engine and full-time four-wheel drive.
Indeed, the LX 4x4 tested here is almost exactly the same price as the top-specification EX 4x2 we drove earlier in the year. It’s certainly fuel for thought.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The Kia/Hyundai 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine that powers this Sportage is a good one: smooth and lots of pulling power, with 392Nm; or put another way, almost twice as much torque as the petrol model.
It makes for a very relaxed powertrain, which is just as well because the six-speed automatic transmission is calibrated for maximum fuel economy under normal conditions, changing up early and hanging onto tall ratios as long as it can.
Still, a steady throttle is the way to cover ground quickly in this car. The chassis is competent but steers with a little less assurance than the more upmarket Sportage models, because the LX rides on smaller 17-inch alloys and higher profile tyres. But it does ride better.
The on-demand all-wheel drive system reacts quickly to slippage and offers good traction in wet or low-friction conditions. You can also lock the system into a 50/50 torque split at the touch of a button for light off-road duties, although the Sportage is by no mean a serious rock-hopper.
Many older Kias had over-enthusiastic and intrusive stability control systems. The latest generation models are much more sophisticated, although the Sportage’s electronics did stop play quite abruptly a couple of times during brisk driving on wet roads.
One plus when opting for the entry-level model is that you don’t get the FlexSteer system, which allows you to choose between different weights for the electric power steering. It’s an unnecessary novelty and the LX’s unsullied steering is preferable.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The LX’s cabin follows Kia corporate style, which means distinctive styling and ergonomic good sense. We really think this brand still beats parent company Hyundai for interior design.
The LX cabin is more functional-looking than the upmarket Sportage models, lacking the likes of a touch-screen and leather upholstery. But it’s classy nevertheless and the recent upgrade has brought some new materials, including a so-called ‘soft nano paint’ on the fascia.
The high waistline looks very stylish but does limit visibility out of the rear seats. The back chairs fold but don’t give you a completely flat load floor – although the lip at the rear through the tailgate is usefully low. The point being that the Sportage is perhaps as much about exterior style as it is about interior utility.
SHOULD I BUY ONE? The LX diesel is a bit of a sleeper. On the surface, you might think your $44k is better spent on a luxury Sportage with two-wheel drive.
But this model is full of appeal for the thinking buyer. The turbo-diesel powertrain is excellent, the all-wheel drive system is truly useful on-road as well as off and the cloth seats provide more support than the leather chairs of the Limited.
In short, the least-popular Sportage configuration might well be the best. Sure, it’s a little short on luxury: but if you’re looking at the Limited 4x2 you should certainly drive this model to get a sense of what you might be missing out on in other areas.
- Air conditioning: Manual
- Audio: CD, iPod compatible
- Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/Yes
- Blind spot warning: No
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Cruise control: Yes
- Driver footrest: Yes
- Head-up display: No
- Heated/ventilated seats: No
- Keyless entry/start: No
- Lane guidance: No
- Leather upholstery: No
- Parking radar: Rear only
- Power boot or tailgate: No
- Power seat adjustment/memory: No
- Remote audio controls: Yes
- Satellite navigation: No
- Seat height adjustment: Yes
- Self-parking technology: No
- Split/folding rear seats: 60/40
- Steering reach adjustment: Yes
- Stop-start: No
- Trip computer: Yes
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