Johannesburg – In the nearly two decades that it’s been in South Africa, Kia has made the transition from a cheap-and-cheerful brand in the early days to a well-priced alternative to the establishment.
As its designs improved from generically dreary to Peter Schreyer-designed head turners, so too did build quality make impressive leaps. Kia became known for offering nearly the same sophistication and refinement as its more established peers, but at a better price.
Now the Korean brand has made a bold new step by going toe-to-toe with the ‘establishment’ on every level, including what you’ll pay.
The new fourth-generation Sportage SUV is larger, larnier and notably more expensive than generation three. Its price tags now match or exceed previously more expensive rivals such as the Toyota Rav4 and VW Tiguan, and they’re even edging closer to premium contenders such as the Audi Q3.
The two-litre turbodiesel Sportage SX all-wheel-drive version on test here will set you back R567 995, versus the R503 995 you paid for the previous model. That’s a big price hike considering the 130kW and 392Nm engine outputs are barely changed (the torque figure has grown slightly to 400Nm but power stays the same).
But Kia is counting on the Sportage’s other improvements to entice a bigger slice from your car-buying budget. Its new-generation SUV has matured into a more sophisticated vehicle all-round, improved in tactile quality, refinement, and driver appeal.
Most noticeable is its plusher and more spacious interior, and improved soundproofing. The Sportage’s width and height remain the same but it’s been stretched by 40mm to expand cabin space to really family-sized levels. Full-sized adults get oodles of legroom in the rear, along with backrests that can be adjusted to several positions of angle, and the floor’s been lowered to add more headroom too.
The spacious boot includes a full-sized spare wheel (a rarity these days) and the Sportage passes the mountain-bike test when the rear seats are flipped down: you can fit a full-sized bicycle in there without having to remove one of its wheels.
The interior’s been spruced up to a higher level of perceived quality, right down to the classy soft-touch dashboard with its stitched leather-look skin. It’s a great effort and gives the cabin an upmarket feel.
The same goes for the vehicle’s overall refinement, with exceptional suppression of noise, vibration and harshness when driven.
In this up-specced SX derivative the comforts are plentiful, as they should be at the price. There’s an 18cm colour touchscreen with navigation and, a reverse camera, smart key (it stays in your pocket and you push a dashboard button to start the car), the full gamut of phone and music connectivity, electrically adjustable front seats, heated front and outer rear seats, cruise control, and an electrically-operated tailgate.
You also get rain-sensing wipers, dark-sensing headlights, and leather seats.
The touchscreen interface is generally intuitive to use, and unlike some carmakers Kia hasn’t buried everything into electronic sub-menus; you still get old-fashioned, easy-to-use buttons for adjusting basic functions such as audio volume and ventilation settings.
High levels of safety
A more affordable Sportage EX two wheel-drive diesel version is available for R487 995, minus some of the toys. At the bottom of the range is a two-litre front wheel-drive petrol at R370 000.
All versions are equipped with high levels of safety and Sportage scored a maximum five stars in EuroNcap crash tests. Six airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, and hill-start assist make up the standard safety fare in every model.
The two-litre turbodiesel hauls it all along quite effortlessly. It’s a very gutsy engine that, apart from a spot of turbo lag right at the beginning, pulls very strongly through its rev range. With quoted performance figures of 0-100km/h in 9.5 seconds and a 201km/h top speed it’s a reasonably fast car, and it’s as smooth as Tracy Chapman’s voice.
There are normal, sport and eco modes that alter the six-speed auto’s gear changing patterns. After driving it mostly in Sport the vehicle averaged a semi-decent 8.3 litres per 100km.
A lot of suspension tweaking has gone into making the new Sportage out-handle its predecessor and it certainly feels at home in the corners – more nimble and car-like than most SUVs.
The ride is on the firm side, however, making this a more road-based SUV. Those low-profile 245/45 19 inch tyres aren’t very suited to harsh off-roading, even though the Sportage is trail-capable due to its respectable 182mm ride height and selectable all wheel-drive system, along with downhill brake control (but no differential lock or low range).
In one leap the Sportage has moved from being one of the most affordable vehicles in its segment to one of the most expensive. It’s a much-improved vehicle and this more grown-up Sportage is the classiest Kia yet, but whether the market’s ready for those price tags remains to be seen.
NEW SPORTAGE VS ITS RIVALS
Sportage 2.0 diesel SX AWD (130kW/400Nm) – R568 000
Mazda CX-5 (129kW/420Nm) – R533 400
Audi Q3 (135kW/380Nm) – R597 000
Ford Kuga (132kW/400Nm) – R490 000
Toyota Rav4 (110kW/340Nm) – R547 000
Sportage price includes a five-year, unlimited distance warranty, a five-year or 90 000km service plan and five years' unlimited distance roadside assistance.
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