Johannesburg - When Kia introduced the all-new Sportage to South Africa almost exactly a year ago, it eased us into the compact SUV range with a selection of only five models to choose from. But, less than a year on, the Koreans opened up the tap and extended the offering to include a huge spread of 12 variants with five individual engines and six separate trim levels.

One of the newcomers is on test here, a 1.7-litre CRDI in Ignite Plus specification, serving as an entry to mid-level model in terms of price and specification, but also making turbodiesel power available for much less outlay than the next one up - a 2.0 CRDI EX with automatic transmission.

This manual only 1.7 comes in at R406 995, a hefty 81 grand less than its bigger capacity sibling. With 85kW and 280Nm driving the front wheels it’s quite a bit less perky than the 130kW/400Nm 2.0, but you’ll have to trust us… it’s in no way underendowed. In fact, the 1.7 CRDI is probably our pick of the whole Sportage bunch.

It’s an eager little thing, with almost zero turbolag and a free-spinning nature that’s almost more petrol-like in performance. Its 4500rpm rev limiter is a telltale sign that it fills up at the dark side of the pumps, but as the needle sweeps to this relatively low redline it pours the torque on in a way that makes it extremely easy to drive.

No need to stir that manual lever in search of power, just choose one of its six forward gears and ride the wave across each ratio’s broad speed range.

Our week-long test involved mostly urban commutes where it returned an average fuel consumption of 7.7 litres per 100km. That’s some way off Kia’s ambitious 4.9 litres per 100km claim, but we’re confident it’d at least get into the sixes with less stop-and-go freeway driving.

This new Ignite Plus trim level is pretty much identical to the baseline Ignite, but adds front fog lights, a self-dimming rear-view mirror and 17 inch alloys. Still, it’s reasonably well specced for a base model, with electric windows, LED running lights, steering controls, rear parking sensors and a six-speaker radio with Bluetooth, USB, Aux and CD/MP3 inputs.

Higher-level SX and GT-Line Sportages are certainly more wow inside with multiple colour displays, navigation, heated leather upholstery, wireless phone chargers and panoramic roofs, but this one’s simplicity might be preferable for buyers who don’t need all the razzmatazz.

Fair enough, it’s a bit bland with black-on-black cloth seats and plain plastic dashboard materials, but on the flipside it’s also quite refreshing to find such straightforward controls. Two basic radio knobs for volume and tuning are all but extinct in today’s cars, and the same goes for the the climate control with three dials for fan speed, temperature and direction.

Those bigger wheels may make for a slightly firmer ride than the base Ignite (which rolls on 16” rims), but it’s still a comfortable cruiser overall and it deals with pockmarked urban roads just fine. Its 225/60 rubber can be considered low profile, but they’re certainly more cushiony than the top GT-Line Sportage’s 45 profile 19” tyres.

VERDICT

A reasonably frugal, easy to drive and simple to live with compact SUV. The Sportage 1.7 CRDI might not be the flashiest of its breed, but it offers pretty good value. Especially in the turbodiesel category.

FACTS

Kia Sportage 1.7 CRDi Ignite Plus

Engine:1.7-litre, 4-cyl turbodiesel
Gearbox:6-speed manual
Power:85kW @ 4000rpm
Torque:280Nm @ 1250-2750rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):11.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed):176km/h
Boot space:466 litres
Price:R406 995
Warranty:5-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan:5-year/90 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Hyundai Tucson 1.7 CRDi Executive85kW / 280NmR454 900
Renault Kadjar1.5dCi81kW / 260NmR394 900
VW Tiguan 2.0 TDI Comfortline81kW / 250NmR479 900

Drive360

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