WHAT IS IT?
Kia’s midsize SUV, and a commercially crucial model for the Korean automaker that it says boasts impressively broad appeal.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
With so many new entrants lobbing into the Aussie market since the current-generation Sportage first launched back in 2016, Kia has gifted the Sportage a facelift. Beyond some new body plastics there are also meaningful upgrades to the suspension, driveline and in-cabin fit-out, all of which have a positive impact on the Sportage’s appeal.
Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Touareg, Peugeot 3008, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4.
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THE WHEELS VERDICT
This is a case of incremental improvements done right. The changes are subtle from the outside but provide genuine lifts in liveability and driveability once you hop behind the wheel. The only downside is some upward movement in pricing.
PLUS: Suspension compliance, solid handling, slick infotainment upgrade
MINUS: Price hikes, limp petrol 2.0-litre, AWD petrol option is expensive
THE WHEELS REVIEW
PROBLEMS with the outgoing Sportage were few and far between, but Kia admits there was one concerning issue with its mid-size SUV: it wasn’t popular enough with men.
Ergo, it’s applied one of the most subtle facelifts to its two year-old Sportage in a bid to impart some masculine charm. Air dams enlarge, bumper contours become sharper and wheel designs get more extroverted, but there are no sheetmetal alterations. To the layman, the differences will be pretty hard to spot. Do they result in a more gender-neutral look? To be honest, the pre-update Sportage wasn’t overtly feminine to begin with.
Good thing there are more meaningful differences under the skin. In the cabin there’s a new infotainment package with one of the slickest, nicest-feeling, and fast-reacting touchscreens in the segment. Measuring 7.0-inch across in the base Si grade and growing to 8.0-inch in all other variants, the menus are intuitive to navigate and responses to fingertip inputs are virtually smartphone-like, with barely any lag. There’s no integrated sat-nav on the Si, but the standard inclusion of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay across the range is a neat workaround for that.
An electric park brake is added from SLi grade and up, bringing with it a reshaped and less cluttered centre console, but the rest of the interior is virtually untouched. Same comfy front seats, spacious (albeit flat-cushioned) rear seats, same generous 466-litre seats-up cargo capacity.
The 2.0-litre diesel option gains an eight-speed automatic that brings a 0.4L/100km reduction in combined fuel consumption (taking the oil-burner down to 6.4L/100km), however the two petrol options – a 114kW 2.0-litre and 135kW 2.4-litre, both atmo – are unchanged, and so are their six-speed automatics.
And that’s a little bit of a shame, because our main criticism of the Sportage line-up concerns the lack of refinement and economy in the range’s mainstay motor, the 2.0-litre petrol. Its corporate cousin the Hyundai Tucson has moved to a direct-injected 2.0L with more power and torque, but the Sportage continues to live in the past.
Thankfully, the chassis has moved forward with this update. Kia Australia has had another crack at a localised suspension tune, and managed to impart an impressive level of compliance to the Sportage’s already-competent underpinnings without sacrificing its sharp handling. In fact, with a slightly faster rack ratio than before, the MY18 Sportage is genuinely enjoyable to throw down a twisty road.
If there’s one blot on the updated Sportage’s scorecard, it’s in the column marked ‘pricing’. AEB is now standard on all variants and so is lane-keep assist, but tweaks to the car’s spec levels see four-figure price rises across the board. The biggest mover is the SLi diesel, which jumps $2500, while even the base Si rises by $1000. It’s still a sharp buy, but just not as much of a bargain as it used to be.
The updated Sportage might look like ‘business as usual’ from the outside, but it’s a different story from the driver’s seat, the experience of which goes a long way toward justifying a higher price of entry.
Model: 2018 Kia Sportage SLi petrol
Engine: 1999cc 4cyl , dohc, 16v
Max Power: 114kW @ 6200rpm
Max Torque: 192Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 10.4 seconds
On sale: Now