Johannesburg - Half a million bucks. That’s, unfortunately, what you have to pay for a really good SUV these days when you’re talking C or D segment players.

Sure, there are entry-level derivatives available of most SUVs these days that come in under R500 000, but the really good ones are sitting at around half a bar.

Tech-laden, luxurious, fast, and economical. These are some of the key necessities of an SUV today. It must offer all these things, for five people and their luggage.

Enter the Sportage.

Launched in 1993 and spanning four generations since, the KIA Sportage is one of the most successful models in the brand’s history.

In fact, in 2018, the year of its 25th anniversary, KIA Motors celebrated Sportage sales topping 5 million units across the globe.

Revisions for 2019

Looking to remain a go-to choice for small families and adventurers, the Sportage is now even more striking thanks to a nip-and-tuck to its exterior for the 2019 model year.

Up front, it retains amphibian-look headlamps that incorporate unique LED Daytime Running Lights. But it does sport a slightly revised, more prominent ‘tiger nose’ grille. A new front bumper design also gives it a more butch, menacing look, with a more prominent housing for the front fog lamps.

At the rear, the vehicle gains a revised bumper that emphasises its width, giving it a sportier stance and the rear tail lights retain their original shape - with a connecting strip between the lights, but they now feature a new signature light-up trail.

Other visual enhancements include a new selection of alloy wheel designs in 16-, 17- or 19-inch sizes (model dependent), as well as a range of new colour options.

The test car rode on 19s, which actually did not deter from the ride comfort, while adding a feeling of sportiness at the same time.

Packed with goodies

KIA has retained Ignite specification grades as an entry point into the Sportage range, but have boosted the overall grade to include a raft of standard items that include air-conditioning (manual), automatic headlamp control, electric side mirrors with integrated indicator lamps, a centre console armrest with integrated storage box, Bluetooth connectivity, a radio with six speakers, electrically-operated windows front and rear, rear park distance control and high-performance dampers.

New auto box

KIA sent us the 2.0 CRDI version that produces 131kW of power, and a healthy 400Nm of torque between 1750rpm and 2750rpm. The engine is now mated exclusively to a new eight-speed automatic transmission in the Ignite Plus.

The transmission boasts 143 newly-patented technologies and delivers a slick-shifting, more decisive drive.

We thoroughly enjoyed the drive, and the smooth nature of the shifts, and the grunt that’s available to make it a sublime cruiser and effortless overtaker.

Safety sorted

The Sportage range features a full complement of safety and driver assistance systems, including ABS brakes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), six airbags and ISOFIX child seat anchors as standard.

You also get Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Hill-start Assist (HAC), and Downhill Brake Control (DBC). All models also feature Park Distance Control at the rear.

Verdict

Driving the Sportage for week highlighted some pretty good points. It’s no longer a ‘cheapie’ and it drives as well as more expensive SUVs on sale today.

Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent, parking it is a breeze, and getting around the city is light and easy.

Driving Modes allow you to experience a bit of sportiness, and the overall feel is one of solidness, with a hunkered to the road feel.

I’ve always preferred a Honda CR-V or the Subaru Forester in this segment, but the Sportage has proven itself to be quite a good alternative to these models; at good price points too.

All Sportages come with KIA’s unlimited kilometre, five-year warranty, as well as a standard five-year/90 000km service plan and five years of roadside assistance.

The Ignite Plus with the diesel engine and new autobox, and two-wheel drive, is the one to go for, priced to sell at R461 995. You can splash out a bit more and got for the 4x4 version, but if you don’t spend time in snow or mud, the 2WD model is ideal.

Drive360