VALUE IS ITS VIRTUE

The Sportage update brings ex­pected tweaks … and prices worth ex­plor­ing

The Gympie Times - - MOTORING - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Here’s how fast the com­pe­ti­tion is mov­ing in Aus­tralia’s boom­ing SUV seg­ment. The Kia Sportage has just had a ma­jor makeover — even though the styling changes are sub­tle — and it’s barely two years old.

Among the up­dates are added safety tech­nol­ogy that can pre­vent a crash, such as au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing and lane­keep­ing as­sis­tance, and high-res­o­lu­tion touch­screens across the range.

To bet­ter han­dle bumps and bends, the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing have been given a tune-up.

And top of the range ver­sions gain lux­u­rycar tech such as radar cruise con­trol, LED head­lights, elec­tric park brake and pre­mium au­dio with dig­i­tal ra­dio, among other mod-cons.

Be­yond these, the most im­por­tant thing to know for those in the mar­ket to buy one is how to dis­sect the pric­ing so you don’t pay too much.

In the case of the model year 2019 Sportage, only the Si-Pre­mium, the most pop­u­lar grade, comes with a per­ma­nent drive-away dis­count on Kia’s web­site.

Car brands must pub­lish drive-away prices. Some are dis­counted heav­ily, a lit­tle or not at all.

Car com­pa­nies are no longer al­lowed to ad­ver­tise only the rec­om­mended re­tail price (RRP) be­cause it can be mis­lead­ing — adding regis­tra­tion and dealer de­liv­ery fees in­creases the fi­nal drive-away price.

The deal on the Si-Pre­mium works like this: the rec­om­mended re­tail is $32,290 plus on-road costs, so full price should be $34,990 drive-away or more. How­ever, Kia has listed it on­line at $31,990 drive-away from the get-go.

Con­fus­ingly, other grades of the Sportage don’t au­to­mat­i­cally get the same dis­count. The flag­ship diesel, with RRP of $47,690, in­creases to $50,500 or more drive-away.

We asked Kia Aus­tralia ex­ec­u­tives whether it was fair for cus­tomers to aim for the RRP as a drive-away price on other Sportage model grades. The an­swer: yes.

Why aren’t all Sportages listed with a sharp drive-away deal on the “build and price” on­line cal­cu­la­tor? To give Kia an op­por­tu­nity to squeeze a lit­tle more profit out of the other grades, a tac­tic used by other brands.

If this ex­pla­na­tion seems con­vo­luted, it’s for a good rea­son: the $3000-odd dif­fer­ence between the full re­tail and the likely trans­ac­tion price sig­nif­i­cantly af­fects the value equa­tion.

At full freight, the Sportage is on par with ri­vals. At the price that cus­tomers in the know will end up pay­ing, it’s one of the bar­gains in the seg­ment.

ON THE ROAD

The changes to the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing are sub­tle but worth­while. On wind­ing coun­try roads, it feels more se­cure in corners and bet­ter com­posed over bumps.

Around town, it feels mid­dle-of-the-road to drive. It’s not out­stand­ing but nor is it at the bot­tom of the class. Most buy­ers will get in and feel at home. If we were picky, I’d say the steer­ing still could do with a lit­tle more fi­ness­ing than has been done with this update.

I’d also en­cour­age Kia to ask head of­fice to not send Nexen tyres our way. We know this Sportage and its peers aren’t try­ing to han­dle like a Fer­rari but, in rel­a­tive terms, the Nex­ens are OK in the dry and not-so-great in the wet.

Other ex­am­ples of this type of Nexen tyre we’ve tested in the wet feel far less grippy than they ought to.

The Sportage also comes with Kumho or Hankook tyres, which are much more sure­footed in the wet or dry. How­ever, it’s a lottery as to what brand your car is de­liv­ered with.

The petrol 2.0-litre (114kW/192Nm) front­drive and 2.4-litre (137kW/237Nm) all-wheel drive carry over with smooth-shift­ing six-speed au­to­mat­ics.

The 2.0 turbo diesel (136kW/400Nm) with all-wheel drive, which ac­counts for one-third of sales, gets a per­for­mance and econ­omy boost with an eight-speed auto.

The diesel it­self is still rel­a­tively noisy, as diesels cus­tom­ar­ily are, but it has plenty of oomph at low speeds and de­liv­ers su­per-fru­gal econ­omy on the free­way.

The all-wheel drive ver­sions of the Sportage — petrol or diesel — would suit those who cover dirt trails or make reg­u­lar vis­its to the snow.

How­ever, for mainly city and sub­ur­ban driv­ing, a 2.0 front-driver has the ad­van­tage of sharper start­ing prices — and run­ning costs that won’t break the bank.

VER­DICT

The up­dated Sportage would make my top three (of 24) if shop­ping for a mid-size SUV.

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