Base is at the apex

Pack­ing pleas­ant sur­prises, Kia’s SUV is on par with the best mid-siz­ers

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - BUSH & BEACH - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­

IN last week’s Carsguide story on new car qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity, we re­vealed that the peck­ing or­der is based largely on coun­try of ori­gin.

The best Ja­panese mak­ers have had a laser-like fo­cus on qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity since they be­gan ex­port­ing in the 1960s. Brands such as Lexus, Toy­ota and Honda con­tinue to top the qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity charts in sur­veys of own­ers.

South Korea’s ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers, though, are clos­ing in. Since the 1980s Hyundai and its sub­sidiary Kia have mod­elled their en­gi­neer­ing and pro­duc­tion on proven, tightly reg­u­lated Ja­panese sys­tems, be­cause the cars th­ese de­liver are con­sis­tently tight, re­li­able and durable.

The new Kia Sportage is a prime ex­am­ple. Even in the base Si, it’s ap­par­ent even be­fore you turn the key that it’s equal in qual­ity to the best mid-size SUVs from Ja­pan: Mazda’s CX5 and the Subaru Forester.

Kia also has the long­est war­ranty in the busi­ness: seven years/un­lim­ited kilo­me­tres.

That’s called back­ing your prod­uct.

Most Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers would go broke in­side a week if they had to hon­our such a war­ranty. Three years’ cov­er­age is av­er­age for a Euro brand — and when it’s over and you’re on your own, you ought to be very afraid.


Sportage Si, priced at $28,990, is a twin un­der the skin with the Hyundai Tuc­son Ac­tive.

Sev­eral years ago Kia head­hunted some of Ger­many’s finest de­sign (and en­gi­neer­ing) tal­ent, no­tably from Audi, with a simple brief: “Make our cars look like yours.”

So the Sportage has chunky Euro-style sheet­metal, a wheel at each cor­ner stance and a bold, ag­gres­sive front end.

The Kia’s cabin is al­most an Audi clone, al­beit circa 2006 and done down to a price. The Vor­sprung durch Tech­nik cues are ob­vi­ous: dark, mono­chrome decor, sprin­kles of fake al­loy, for­mal and ef­fi­cient con­trol lay­out, min­i­mal bling and soft­touch, tex­tured plas­tics.

We are talk­ing here about a $29K base model and in this con­text the Kia’s fit, fin­ish and ma­te­ri­als qual­ity are ex­cel­lent. It feels more pre­mium than its price and was to­tally free of squeaks, chirps and rat­tles over 1000km of test­ing.


More spa­cious than a hatch­back, the Sportage is just as easy to drive and still suf­fi­ciently com­pact to cut it in guerilla city traf­fic.

The dash is a bru­tal, in­el­e­gant lump with a low-rent mono­tone touch­screen a bit out of reach. You of­ten need to stab an icon a few times for a re­sult.

Three friendly adults can fit across the rear seat, with plenty of head­room and legroom; vents, 12V out­let, USB port and a mod­icum of stor­age also make it a work­able kid zone. High win­dow sills may im­pede the view for young chil­dren.

Its large boot can eas­ily ex­pand to 1.7 me­tres of floor length with­out com­pro­mis­ing front seat travel.

Per­for­mance num­bers for the Si are fee­ble on pa­per but the long-stroke 2.0-litre base en­gine is sur­pris­ingly smooth, quiet and tractable around town — more so than ri­vals with 2.0-litre atmo base en­gines, in­clud­ing Mazda’s CX-5.

Its cause is helped by the ef­fi­ciently geared stan­dard sixspeed au­to­matic, which has Eco, Nor­mal and Sport modes. Eco is fine around town, where you can go close to sin­gle-fig­ure thirst with a gen­tle right foot.

Kia’s lo­cal sus­pen­sion tuner can at times sac­ri­fice too much ride com­fort for faux sporty dy­nam­ics, as in the Op­tima sedan. Here, with tall SUV rub­ber on 17-inch al­loys, the ride, though still firm, is ac­cept­ably com­pli­ant and com­fort­able.


The 114kW 2.0-litre should strug­gle with 1.6 tonnes of SUV but in­stead de­liv­ers im­pres­sively easy and re­fined high­way haul­ing.

On hills, the six-speed gets busy but shifts are smooth and well-timed. Cruise con­trol al­lows too much set speed vari­a­tion. Ex­pect 6.0L7.0L/100km on the open road.

The Sportage Si is a ba­sic, front-wheel drive SUV, so sporty it ain’t. How­ever, con­sid­er­able en­gi­neer­ing in­tegrity shows through at speed, no­tably in its tight, rigid body, finely tuned sus­pen­sion, se­cure road­hold­ing on our goat tracks and a flat, rel­a­tively neu­tral at­ti­tude in cor­ners.

Steer­ing is light, pre­cise and con­sis­tently weighted, with Sport mode adding syn­thetic heft. Brakes are OK and Hankook tyres have rea­son­able grip.

If you want to go off road, there are hill de­scent con­trol and a full-size spare. Given clear­ance of just 172mm, this is the wrong SUV for an ad­ven­ture.


The Sportage now ar­gues for best in class sta­tus with the CX-5 and Forester. In Si spec, it’s a qual­ity SUV with many more pleas­ant sur­prises than you usu­ally find in a base model. Fac­tor in that killer war­ranty and it’s a win­ner.

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