BASES ARE COV­ERED

Nippy per­for­mance and solid value stand out in Kia’s $30K starter SUV

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page - BILL McKINNON

When I started test­ing cars for a liv­ing, in the 1980s, it was pos­si­ble for one per­son to drive ev­ery new model that hit the show­rooms. I could drive a dif­fer­ent car ev­ery day now and still not have enough time, or stamina, to do that. There are a lot more brands on the mar­ket and the rise and rise of the SUV has ef­fec­tively dou­bled the num­ber of ve­hi­cles within each brand’s port­fo­lio.

Then there’s the boom in one-ton­ners and ev­ery sec­ond day a breath­less press re­lease an­nounces yet an­other shiny new world-beater. Of­ten, though, they’re not re­ally new.

Kia’s fourth gen­er­a­tion Sportage, launched in 2016, has just had a “prod­uct en­hance­ment” to keep it, so says the press blurb, “fresh and relevant”. That’s code for “the com­pe­ti­tion has lifted its game, so we have to re­spond”.

VALUE

If you don’t have stan­dard au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing in your car or SUV these days, why would any­body want to buy it? Kia has now made AEB, pre­vi­ously avail­able only on the top spec GT Line, stan­dard across the Sportage range. There’s a catch — it works only from 10-80km/h.

Lane keep as­sist, which gives you au­di­ble and vis­ual warn­ings if you stray on to the lane mark­ings, and gen­tly prods the steer­ing back to­wards the cen­tre of the lane, is also stan­dard.

At base model 2.0-litre petrol Si level, Sportage still falls short of ri­val Mazda’s stan­dard safety spec in the CX-5 Maxx, which has AEB, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross traf­fic alert with auto brak­ing. Skoda’s new Karoq also has more driver as­sist safety tech, in­clud­ing adap­tive cruise con­trol.

As with par­ent brand Hyundai, Kia’s in­fo­tain­ment is de­signed to work with your smart­phone via Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto. Only with these do you get voice con­trol func­tion­al­ity; with­out the apps, you do ev­ery­thing the old fash­ioned way, via new high res­o­lu­tion touch­screens and a row of but­tons un­der­neath. Nav­i­ga­tion is not in­cluded on Si.

Other up­dates in­clude an eight-speed au­to­matic for 2.0-litre turbo diesel ver­sions, tweaked sus­pen­sion to im­prove ride com­fort, more pro­gres­sive steer­ing, LED head­lights on the GT Line, dual-zone air­con and the oblig­a­tory nose job/ tail-lights/al­loy wheels cos­metic tri­fecta to cre­ate the all-im­por­tant il­lu­sion of new­ness.

The Si, tested here, car­ries over the 114kW 2.0-litre petrol en­gine with six-speed auto and front-wheel drive. At $29,990, its main ri­vals are its Hyundai Tuc­son Go twin un­der the skin, the CX-5 Maxx, Nis­san X-Trail ST and Toy­ota RAV4 GX.

COM­FORT

Kias are ro­bust and well-built. The Sportage’s cabin is big on cheap plas­tics at base spec but fit and fin­ish are excellent. The stark, bul­bous dash is dat­ing fast, though.

The driver’s seat is rea­son­ably com­fort­able, with good lum­bar sup­port and am­ple ad­justa­bil­ity. Stor­age in­cludes a size­able cen­tre con­sole box; a cou­ple of 12V out­lets and a USB socket take care of your de­vices.

Rear pas­sen­gers also get USB and 12V out­lets. A firm bench, ad­justable back­rest, air vents and plenty of legroom make the sec­ond row a pleas­ant place for adults but high win­dow sills may make it claus­tro­pho­bic for young kids.

The Sportage’s ride/han­dling com­pro­mise is one of the best in the class — Kia claims to have im­proved sus­pen­sion com­pli­ance but I couldn’t pick it. By class stan­dards, the ride re­mains firm but com­fort­able and ab­sorbent on all sur­faces and wind and road noise lev­els are low.

SAFETY

The Sportage scores five stars but rear cross traf­fic alert and adap­tive cruise are only on the GT, which costs $44,790 for the 2.4-litre petrol or $47,690 for the 2.0-litre turbo diesel.

DRIV­ING

On the road, the Si puts in an im­pres­sive per­for­mance for a base model. Proof that low power and torque num­bers don’t al­ways mean slow progress, the 2.0-litre/auto com­bi­na­tion is sur­pris­ingly nippy and there is quite strong pulling power lower in the rev range.

It’s also smoother and qui­eter than your typ­i­cal four-cylin­der and the six-speed auto works with un­ob­tru­sive ef­fi­ciency.

Eco, Nor­mal and Sport modes are pro­vided; Eco can re­turn 6L-7L/100km on the high­way and 9L-11L in town, on reg­u­lar un­leaded.

At speed, the Sportage has a tight, tidy Euro SUV feel thanks to sus­pen­sion tun­ing from lo­cal en­gi­neers who know how to do de­cent han­dling. At base model front wheel drive level, the Sportage punches on par with more ex­pen­sive ma­chin­ery.

Don’t try to pre­tend you’re in a Porsche and it’s en­joy­able to drive, with tac­tile, sharp steer­ing (in Sport mode) and dis­ci­plined road­hold­ing on choppy bi­tu­men.

HEART SAYS

It’s one of the best-look­ing SUVs and, while I’d re­ally like some­thing with Eu­ro­pean badge, this does a bet­ter im­per­son­ation of Con­ti­nen­tal ca­chet than any­thing else at the price.

HEAD SAYS

Kia makes high-qual­ity cars and backs them with the best war­ranty in the busi­ness. I have no need for all the bells, whis­tles and bling of the more ex­pen­sive mod­els. This one drives just fine.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES MAZDA CX-5 MAXX FROM $30,690

Beau­ti­fully built but the fru­gal 2.0 is gut­less. Six-speed auto/front-drive. Class lead­ing safety spec. Strong re­sale val­ues. Five-year war­ranty.

SKODA KAROQ FROM $32,290

Karoq runs VW’s 110kW 1.5-litre turbo/sev­en­speed dual-clutch auto/front-drive. Great fuel econ­omy plus the best in­te­rior and in­fo­tain­ment in the class.

ROAD TEST

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