Now even bet­ter suited to Oz, even if the petrol en­gine isn’t

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - TONY O’KANE

PROB­LEMS are few and far be­tween for the Sportage, but Kia ad­mits there’s one con­cern­ing is­sue with its mid-size SUV: it’s not pop­u­lar enough with men. Ergo, it’s ap­plied a sub­tle facelift to its two-year-old Sportage in a bid to im­part some mas­cu­line charm. Air dams en­large, bumper con­tours be­come sharper and wheel de­signs get more ex­tro­verted, but there are no sheet­metal al­ter­ations. To the lay­man, the dif­fer­ences will be pretty hard to spot. Do they re­sult in a more gen­der-neu­tral look? Well, we’re not so sure that the pre-up­date Sportage was overtly fem­i­nine to be­gin with.

Good thing there are more mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ences un­der the skin. In the cabin there’s a new in­fo­tain­ment pack­age with one of the slick­est, fas­tre­act­ing touch­screens in the seg­ment. Mea­sur­ing 7.0-inches across in the base Si grade and grow­ing to 8.0-inches in all other vari­ants, the menus are in­tu­itive to nav­i­gate and re­sponses to fin­ger­tip in­puts are as lag-free as a smart­phone. There’s no in­te­grated sat-nav on the Si, but the stan­dard in­clu­sion of An­droid Auto and Ap­ple Carplay across the range is a neat work­around for that.

An elec­tric park brake is added from SLI grade and up, bring­ing with it a less clut­tered cen­tre con­sole, but the rest of the in­te­rior is vir­tu­ally un­touched. Same comfy front seats, spa­cious (al­beit flat-cush­ioned) rear seats, same gen­er­ous 466-litre seats-up cargo ca­pac­ity.

The 2.0-litre diesel op­tion gains an eight-speed au­to­matic that brings a 0.4L/100km re­duc­tion in com­bined fuel con­sump­tion (now 6.4L/100km), how­ever the two petrol op­tions – a 114kw 2.0-litre and 135kw 2.4-litre, both atmo – are un­changed, as are their sixspeed au­to­mat­ics.

And that’s a shame, be­cause our main crit­i­cism of the Sportage line-up con­cerns the lack of re­fine­ment and econ­omy from the range’s main­stay en­gine, the 2.0-litre petrol. Its cor­po­rate cousin, the Hyundai Tuc­son, has moved to a di­rect-in­jected 2.0L with more power and torque, but the Sportage con­tin­ues to plug away with the out­dated unit.

Thank­fully, the chas­sis has moved for­ward with this up­date. Kia Aus­tralia has had another crack at a lo­calised sus­pen­sion tune, and man­aged to im­part an im­pres­sive level of com­pli­ance to the Sportage’s al­ready-com­pe­tent un­der­pin­nings with­out sac­ri­fic­ing its sharp han­dling. In fact, with a slightly faster rack ra­tio than be­fore, the MY18 Sportage is a gen­uine joy to throw down a twisty road.

The up­dated Sportage might look like ‘busi­ness as usual’ from the out­side, but it’s a dif­fer­ent story from the driver’s seat.

Model Kia Sportage SLI petrol En­gine 1999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Max power 114W @ 6200rpm Max torque 192Nm @ 4000rpm Trans­mis­sion 6-speed au­to­matic Weight 1532kg 0-100km/h 10.4 sec­onds Econ­omy 7.9L/100km Price $36,790 On sale Now

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