KIA SPORTAGE

COMES OF AGE, BUT GAME HAS MOVED ON, TOO

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FOUR’S a lucky charm for the Sportage.

Kia’s longest-running nameplate, the 1997 original was so bad it is surprising the badge isn’t forever tainted. The second (twinned with the 2004 Hyundai Tucson) was also way off the mark, while the third from 2010 remains stylistically striking, but suffered from dynamic and refinement shortfalls.

It is clear, though, that the Koreans are listening, because the longer and roomier Mk4, with its smart German lines, features a substantially stiffer structure that both cuts noise paths and provides a stronger base for improved suspension and steering systems.

Armed at last with precision, today’s Sportage handles with assurance, balance, and – this is a first for the series – fun, backed up by a newfound suspension isolation, which puts this medium SUV at the pointy end of a crowded class for comfort and quietness.

A contemporary and well-specified cabin presentation is another pleasing development, resulting in a friendly and inviting driving environment, aided by sufficient space, crisp dials, easily reached and deciphered switchgear, an intelligently positioned multimedia screen, ample ventilation, and thoughtful storage options.

Throw in a practical cargo area and an industryleading seven-year warranty, and the suave Sportage makes for a cost-effective and familyfriendly SUV with discernible enthusiast appeal.

But behind that gobsmacked grille beats a trio of fairly mundane powerplant choices. The base 2.0-litre petrol front-driver has a certain zingy sweetness down low, but it isn’t especially responsive or smooth as the revs rise. Moving on to the all-wheel-drive versions, the gutsier but coarser 2.4-litre direct-injection engine barely feels any stronger with around 110kg of extra mass to haul around, while the muscular 2.0-litre diesel languishes initially due to turbo lag, and isn’t as quiet or polished as some newergeneration rival units either. Somewhat pedestrian six-speed torque-converter auto transmissions do little to liven things up.

Why the related Tucson’s vibrant 1.6-litre fourpot turbo/dual-clutch drivetrain hasn’t found its way into the Aussie Sportage line-up is a mystery.

Even more perplexing is the lazy stability control tuning. Kia makes lots of noise over the amount of Australian road tuning it undertakes, but here reactions are slow, and then intrusive.

Some wandering tendencies in strong crosswinds were also noted.

Finally, for a newbie, limited AEB availability (it’s only offered in the most expensive spec) shows that the Korean mid-sizer still has some way to go before it can match the class best. The new Volkswagen Tiguan (also on COTY) offers this important safety technology on all variants, as does the outgoing Mazda CX-5.

There is no doubt the latest Sportage is the first truly decent one in the series’ 20-year run. Ushering in personality, value, comfort, refinement, handling, versatility, and peace of mind, it represents a real advance for Kia in this segment.

But while the base Si at under $30K is a likeable proposition, Sportage’s appeal starts unravelling further up the price scale – exactly where formidable foes like the latest Tiguan lurk.

SPECS BODY

Type 5-door wagon, 5 seats Boot capacity 466 litres Weight 1606 – 1716kg DRIVETRAIN Layout front engine (east-west), FWD/AWD Engines 1999cc 4cyl (114kW/192Nm) 2359cc 4cyl (135kW/237Nm) 1995cc 4cyl turbo-diesel (136kW/400Nm) Transmission 6-speed automatic CHASSIS Tyres 225/60R17 – 245/45R18 ADR81 fuel consumption 6.8 – 8.5L/100km CO2 emissions 178 – 199g/km Collision mitigation (Platinum spec only) Crash rating 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $28,990 – $45,990

ON THE QUIET

Styled at Kia’s European Design Centre in Frankfurt, with input from Korea and the US, the QL-series Sportage is said to deliver significantly less NVH thanks to a stiffer, stronger monocoque, improved aerodynamics, more dashboard insulation, more effective suspension isolating bushes, sound absorption material in the doors and wheelarches, modified seating material, thicker windscreen glass, redesigned transmission mounts, stiffer alloy wheels, and superior sunroof sealing.

“GOOD VALUE AT $28,990; MUCH LESS SO AT 46 GRAND”

TOBY HAGON

“ENTIRELY DECENT HANDLING FOR A MEDIUM SUV”

ALEX INWOOD