BUYERS GUIDE - SOFT-ROADERS
The Kia Sportage won the J.D. Power Germany Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study, in the hard-fought ‘Compact SUV’ category. The Sportage scored 83.6-percent driver satisfaction.
The original Sportage was a ladder-framed part-time 4WD wagon that had low-range gearing, similar to the Suzuki Vitara. Since then, Kia softened the Sportage, making it more car like, with monocoque bodywork and all-independent suspension.
On-road the Sportage was a much more modern vehicle than its predecessor, but its off-road ability is compromised by comparison. However, the bulk of SUV buyers these days demand on-road manners ahead of off-road ability.
Our Sportage evaluation machine was a diesel-powered Platinum model, with six-speed auto transmission and all the bells and whistles. The two-litre diesel was a weapon, with 135kW and 392Nm on tap that propelled the compact, two-tonnes gross mass-rated Sportage to illegal speeds very rapidly.
The only issues we had with this potent donk were its relative thirst – averaging 8.5L/100km on and off road – and slight lag when floored in a top-gear overtaking manoeuvre. The fuel consumption could be a problem for outback tourers, because the tank capacity is only 58 litres.
Ride quality and handling on smooth bitumen were first class, but the Sportage wasn’t so composed on rough bitumen and lightly corrugated gravel roads, where the suspension thumped audibly. However, shift quality was superb.
Interestingly, the 2016 model had body and suspension changes to improve noise, vibration and harshness.
The front sub-frame was bush-mounted, rather than being bolted directly to the body shell; an intermediate shaft was added to the front end, resulting in equal length half-shafts and a new mounting bracket for the transmission reduced resonance.
Other changes from the Sportage we tested were mainly cosmetic and there were also improvements to the sound system. The layered dashboard design was replaced by a smooth-top moulding.
The Sportage was rated to tow 1600kg, with up to 200kg on the towball, allowing it to pull a camper trailer or light caravan. Performance with a trailer behind wasn’t a problem, with nearly 400Nm available in the 1800-2500rpm band.
Wheel sizes were 16-, 17- and 18-inch, depending on specification level, but all variants could accept a 16-inch wheel, so even our Platinum test vehicle, with its 235/55R18 non-bush-friendly tyres, could be ordered with 215/70R16s with much taller sidewalls and better suited to bush driving.
Ground clearance under the east-west engine and transmission was only 167mm, so a slightly taller set of tyres would help. A metal bash plate would be a better option than the standard plastic item.
Unlike many of its competitors that have pretend-spares, run-flats or a tyre inflation kit, the Kia Sportage came with a road wheel and a proper spare tyre.
The Sportage was best used as a four-seater, with occasional five-seat capacity and rear seat legroom was fine for adults, even with the front seats slid backwards.
Cargo space was generous and there was room in the spare wheel well for additional tool storage.
Fit and finish were superb and matched that of vehicles costing twice the Kia’s $35-$42,000 RRPs.