A fam­ily favourite tracks true

The Sportage, a main­stay in the compact SUV line-up, en­hances the fa­mil­iar for­mula

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - PETER BARN­WELL peter.barn­well@news.com.au

KIA has a rep­u­ta­tion to main­tain as the maker of the Sorento, the reign­ing Carsguide Car of the Year. With the fourth-gen­er­a­tion Sportage compact SUV there’s no need for con­cern be­cause it’s right up with its larger sib­ling as one of Korea’s best main­stream cars.

The pre­vi­ous Sportage was a favourite of ours for its styling, pow­er­trains, size, drive feel and value for money. It sold up a storm and is partly re­spon­si­ble for the boom­ing compact SUV seg­ment in Aus­tralia.

The new model fol­lows through on this, with im­proved pow­er­trains, more kit, in­creased in­te­rior room and plenty of driver as­sis­tance fea­tures nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with high-end Euro­pean ve­hi­cles.

In styling terms, the pro­file is fa­mil­iar but the face is new.

The three en­gines — 2.0 and 2.4-litre petrol and 2.0 turbo diesel — carry over with ex­ten­sive re­vi­sions to im­prove power and fuel ef­fi­ciency.

A six-speed auto is the sole trans­mis­sion, in line with buy­ers’ over­whelm­ing pref­er­ence in the pre­vi­ous model.

Six mod­els are avail­able start­ing with the Si at $28,990. Then come the Si diesel, the SLi in petrol and diesel, the Plat­inum 2.4 and the range­top­ping Plat­inum diesel at $45,990. Diesel vari­ants are all­wheel drive, as is the Plat­inum 2.4. The 2.0-litre petrol vari­ants are front-driv­ers.

The Sportage scored five stars in Euro­pean NCAP crash tests but hasn’t yet been tested in Aus­tralia. That should hap­pen next month and Kia has rea­son to feel a lit­tle ner­vous — its sis­ter car, the Hyundai Tuc­son, scored only four stars ini­tially, al­though that has re­cently been up­graded.

All mod­els get six airbags, re­vers­ing cam­era, rear park­ing sen­sors, hill start as­sist, auto headlights and im­proved pedes­trian safety. The Plat­inum pair adds more ad­vanced driver as­sis­tance and safety fea­tures.

The Sportage is much stronger than be­fore due to greater use of high-strength steel through­out the body and chas­sis.

Petrol ver­sions can run on reg­u­lar un­leaded and claim 7.9L-8.5L/100km. The diesel, now with up­graded electrics and a lighter cylin­der block, uses 6.8L/100km. Turbo ef­fi­ciency has been im­proved. As is the case with all mod­els, Kia has fet­tled the Sportage’s steer­ing, brakes, sus­pen­sion and tyres to suit lo­cal roads, en­hanc­ing driv­ing dy­nam­ics. Th­ese tweaks also de­liver a dis­cernible im­prove­ment in cabin noise sup­pres­sion.

The lower-spec Si mod­els have a de­cent amount of kit in­clud­ing Nor­mal, Sport and Eco drive modes, rake and reach steer­ing wheel ad­just­ment, elec­tric park brake, 17-inch al­loy wheels, re­verse park­ing sen­sors with dash dis­play, auto headlights, re­clin­ing rear seats, cruise con­trol, multi-func­tion trip com­puter, Blue­tooth phone and au­dio and a con­nec­tion box for USBs, jacks and power plugs.

The fea­ture list is longer on the SLi but only the Plat­inum gets au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing us­ing radar, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, blind spot de­tec­tion and lane change as­sist. None of the tech­nol­ogy is avail­able as an op­tion on cheaper mod­els.

The Plat­inum is also the only one to get an in­duc­tive phone charger in the cen­tre con­sole.

A GT ex­te­rior pack­age adds more ag­gres­sive styling .

ON THE ROAD

Be­hind the wheel, we im­me­di­ately no­tice the im­prove­ments to noise and vi­bra­tion sup­pres­sion. Throt­tle re­sponse is snap­pier too.

The Sportage has ag­ile han­dling for a compact SUV, dis­play­ing min­i­mal body roll through turns and no steer­ing back­lash on bumpy cor­ners. It’s not a sports car but can be driven with a mea­sure of in­tent in com­plete safety.

The in­te­rior is stylish and di­vided into two zones for con­trol and in­for­ma­tion, which works per­fectly. More in­te­rior room is ap­pre­ci­ated as is the large load space. All Sportages come with a full-size al­loy spare — big tick.

We aren’t sold on the new “tiger nose” face with sep­a­rated headlights. Looks a bit too cute for us but the rest of the pack­age is solid.

VER­DICT

Sportage is still top of the list if we had to buy a prac­ti­cal fam­ily ve­hi­cle with our own money. Love the seven-year un­lim­ited km war­ranty, seven-year capped-price ser­vic­ing and seven-year road­side as­sist.

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