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Apart from its value-for-money pitch there wasn’t any­thing spe­cial about the Sportage when it first landed here in 1996 — it was the SUV you bought be­cause you couldn’t af­ford any­thing bet­ter. It has since come on in leaps and bounds.

In 2010 Kia launched the SL model, a ma­jor leap for­ward as it was longer, wider and lower than the out­go­ing KM se­ries. Fresh and con­tem­po­rary looks made the SL an al­to­gether more ap­peal­ing ve­hi­cle.

There were three mod­els in the range, which started with the front-wheel drive Si, above which were the all-wheel-drive SLi and top-line Plat­inum.

The Si came with a 2.0-litre four-cylin­der en­gine, which had to work hard to keep the wagon on the pace.

If you chose the SLi or Plat­inum, the en­gine op­tions were still four-cylin­ders — a 2.4-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre turbo diesel. With more grunt than the en­gine in the Si, the 2.4 was much more ca­pa­ble. The turbo diesel pro­vided an at­trac­tive blend of econ­omy and per­for­mance.

For trans­mis­sions, the Si had a five-speed man­ual as stan­dard and an op­tional six-speed auto. Buy­ers of the SLi or Plat­inum got the self-shifter.

The all-wheel-drive fit­ted to the SLi and Plat­inum was an on-de­mand setup. It op­er­ated in front-drive in most sit­u­a­tions but if con­di­tions called for it up to 40 per cent of the drive could be di­rected to the rear wheels.

On the road the Sportage was sta­ble and as­sured thanks to unique tun­ing of its sus­pen­sion and steer­ing to suit Aus­tralian roads.

Kia up­dated the Sportage in 2013 when it re­leased the Se­ries II. There were a few changes, mostly cos­metic, the main one be­ing the 2.4-litre petrol en­gine was dropped and the 2.0-litre be­came the sole petrol op­tion.

NOW

It wasn’t un­usual to hear own­ers com­plain­ing about the qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity of their Kia cars in the early days of the brand here, but it is to­day.

Few peo­ple have any­thing but high praise for their cars; those who do com­plain usu­ally only have very mi­nor is­sues to re­port.

While build qual­ity is im­pres­sive no car is im­mune to prob­lems and Kia re­called the SL se­ries in Jan­uary 2014 to rec­tify a prob­lem with the ten­sion­ing ca­ble in the seat belt pre-ten­sion­ers. It was feared the ca­ble could break when de­ployed and not be able to fully re­strain the oc­cu­pant in the event of a crash. The re­call af­fected just over 2900 ve­hi­cles built be­tween Au­gust 2011 and March 2012.

The rec­om­mended ser­vice in­ter­vals are 12 months/ 15,000km and it’s im­por­tant that the ser­vic­ing is done as Kia rec­om­mends. With that in mind check for a ser­vice record that shows the car of your choice has been prop­erly main­tained.

Check for un­der­body scrapes from off-road work. The Sportage is rea­son­ably ca­pa­ble off the black top but it’s not a bush-basher and any ve­hi­cle that has been used hard off-road should be re­jected.

OWN­ERS SAY

My 2014 Plat­inum turbo diesel has clocked only 8000km but there have been no is­sues what­so­ever to date. It has good per­for­mance if you want to go hard and the drive­abil­ity of­fers ac­cept­able com­fort. I use the full 4WD lock when it is wet and slip­pery and it eas­ily tows a loaded trailer to the tip. Fuel use is 9.5L/100km in city driv­ing but low 7s on the high­way. Best city per­for­mance comes by us­ing the man­ual gearshift as sixth gear seems too high for any­thing other than high­way speeds. My only com­plaint is that there are not enough pock­ets and places to store bits and pieces. As well, th­ese newer ve­hi­cles do not have the more con­ve­nient six-stacker CD or tape play­ers. As I am over 60, the height of en­try and exit suits me bet­ter. This is an ex­cel­lent high qual­ity medium SUV with paint, leather and gen­eral fin­ishes with­out blem­ish.

My 2011 Plat­inum AWD diesel is with­out doubt the best car I have owned. The en­gine is as smooth as silk and the pulling power is fan­tas­tic. There have been no war­ranty is­sues in 60,000km. Dealer ser­vic­ing was start­ing to get ex­pen­sive, but Kia now of­fer fixed-price ser­vic­ing which has evened out the cost. For me it’s re­li­able, low cost mo­tor­ing.

My 2012 Plat­inum diesel has cov­ered 62,000km and the only prob­lem has been the fail­ure of the sat­nav. A new de­vice has been in­stalled with no fur­ther prob­lems. I am ex­tremely happy with it and the ser­vice I’ve re­ceived. My best fuel con­sump­tion is 4.7L/100km. With only a 50L tank, I’ve driven from Mel­bourne to Bowral, NSW with­out stop­ping for fuel. It has power to burn for over­tak­ing, hills, loads etc. The orig­i­nal brake pads are not 50 per cent worn yet, same with the ro­tors. The chilled glove com­part­ment is a rip­per for keep­ing drinks cold. I do take it on fire trails etc and have had it bal­anc­ing on op­po­site wheels — two wheels com­pletely off the ground — and still been able to drive for­ward and back­wards to ex­tri­cate my­self.

I looked at all the SUVs in this class and none stacked up against the diesel auto Plat­inum. It has all the fea­tures I want, the mo­tor is strong, it tows my tin­nie eas­ily, and the fuel econ­omy is good. I’m glad I bought it.

I’m in my 70s and wanted a car that was easy Do you own or have you owned a Ford FG Fal­con XR6? Share your ex­pe­ri­ence with other Carsguide read­ers by send­ing your com­ments to Gra­ham Smith at [email protected]­pond .com or write to Carsguide, PO Box 4245, Syd­ney, NSW 2010 to get in and out of, had good econ­omy, was pow­er­ful, re­li­able, com­fort­able, and rea­son­able to look at. The Sportage ticked all of those boxes, and then some.

SMITHY SAYS

Highly ac­claimed by own­ers for re­li­a­bil­ity, drive­abil­ity, fu­el­ef­fi­ciency, com­fort and looks.

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