Johannesburg - If crossovers are still flying under your radar, the new Sportage could be the vehicle to change that. While the previous version launched in 2010 had already made strides in both quality and style departments over its rather dumpy predecessor, and was indeed a major player in the highly competitive small SUV segment, the new fourth-generation model has moved the game even further, adding a healthy dose of tech to the mix – especially in higher spec versions like the flagship GT-Line on test here.
Of course, all the new glitz, glamour and flashy extras have had an effect on pricing too, with this version coming in at just five bucks under the R600 000 mark. Except for the fanciest Honda CR-V, the Sportage GT-Line is the most expensive in its class, out-pricing any Kuga, Qashqai, RAV4, or Tiguan. It’s even 80 grand dearer than the priciest Hyundai Tucson 4WD Elite – a vehicle it shares its platform, drivetrain and many features with.
Up front is a 1.6 turbopetrol engine with 130kW and 265Nm, and though it’s shy of the 150kW Veloster Turbo with a nearly identical engine, it’s peppy enough to run with its most powerful rivals. Kia claims a relatively quick 9.1 seconds for 0-100 and a top speed of 201km/h. It’s a fairly refined unit with minimal lag at low revs, and is a quiet revver up until the 5000rpm mark when it starts to sound a bit huffy, puffy and overworked.
Dual-clutch gearbox technology is a welcome addition to Korean sister brands Kia and Hyundai, and for the most part the new seven-speeder used here performs well. Shifts are smooth under regular conditions and ratios are nicely spaced, but it is indecisive at times. Sudden throttle inputs can sometimes catch the transmission off guard with stuttery up-and-down changes until it finds a gear its happy with. If VW’s DSGs are 10s, this scores a solid eight. It’s darn good but not the best.
All-wheel-drive is a nice inclusion, and can come in handy for some mild adventuring, but it’s still a rather basic system geared more toward peace of mind in crummy weather than genuine offroading. As usual it’s a front biased drivetrain in most situations with the ability to send some power rearward for added traction in slippery conditions. There’s also a selectable hill descent control system and lockable centre differential which works at slow speeds only.
The new Sportage is longer than the previous model with some of the extra length stitched into the wheelbase. This not only makes the interior more spacious, but also helps with improved ride quality. My time with the GT-Line saw all types of roads and it’s as rock steady on fast freeways as it is on loose gravel. An independent rear suspension soaks up rough surfaces very well, and even with the lowest possible profile 19-inch tyres the ride issorted.
The GT-Line’s overflowing with gadgets and on top of the usual cruise control, parking sensors, electric tailgate, steering controls, keyless entry and rain-sensing wipers, there are also some unexpected niceties like cooled (and heated) seats and a wireless phone charging pad.
Safety is covered with six airbags, ABS with EBD brakes and blind spot monitors in the mirrors, but it was the rear cross traffic alert that saved my bacon when I nearly reversed into the path of a speedy GTI after a Christmas shopping expedition at the mall.
At the new Sportage’s media launch last year the folks at Kia were mighty proud that colour touchscreens with navigation are now on their menu, and rightfully so considering they’re available in even the most basic budget hatches today. Kia’s 7-inch unit is slick in operation, and its layers of menus are easy to understand but it’s not without some flaws. It takes a good few seconds to boot up after each startup, and agreeing to its safety disclosure every time is an annoyance. You’ll also need to manually select paired Bluetooth devices every time, as it frustratingly defaults to radio, and its colour functionality is wasted with black and white displays in audio modes.
The cabin’s a classy place with loads of black surfaces in shiny, matte, textured and pretty much every other imaginable finish. Our test car came with optional two-tone black and grey leather upholstery, but I’d advise sticking with all black if kids and/or dogs are regular passengers. It’s also cheaper and, in my opinion, a bit more elegant in appearance.
Is Kia smoking its socks, or is the 600K it commands a realistic price point? It comes down to the age old question of size and features versus brand consciousness and premium badges.
Yes, you can pick up Audi, BMW and Mercedes models of similar genre for less, but they’re all smaller and certainly less well kitted. Weigh up the GT-Line’s hefty basket of goodies, a punchy turbo motor, dual-clutch gearbox and all-wheel drive, and it makes a decent case for itself.
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Kia Sportage GT-Line - 1.6 turbo, 130kW/265Nm - 7-spd auto, AWD – R599 995
Ford Kuga Titanium - 2.0 turbo, 177kW/340Nm - 6-spd auto, AWD – R507 900
Honda CR-V Exclusive - 2.4, 140kW/240Nm - 5-spd auto, AWD – R608 400
Hyundai Tucson Elite - 1.6 turbo, 130kW/265Nm - 7-spd auto, AWD – R519 900
Nissan Qashqai Acenta - 1.6, 120kW/240Nm - 6-spd manual, FWD – R421 900
Toyota Rav4 VX - 2.5, 132kW/233Nm - 6-spd auto, AWD – R515 600
VW Tiguan Highline R-Line - 2.0 turbo, 162kW/350Nm - 7-spd auto, AWD – R560 200