Kia Sportage review
Stylish looks, a seven-year warranty and great-value price tag make the Kia Sportage a desirable crossover
Kia’s mid-sized Sportage crossover SUV has certainly struck a chord with car buyers, who are attracted by its combination of good looks, great value and seven-year warranty.
As a rival for the best-selling Nissan Qashqai, it competes well, offering decent practicality and very generous equipment levels, although it may not have quite the same feel-good quality inside that the best cars in this class offer. Nor is the Sportage the sharpest car in its class to drive.
The Kia’s core strength lies in a mix of spaciousness, style, practical features and low cost of ownership, on these criteria it ranks right up there with the best crossovers on the market.
Since its launch in 2010, the Kia Sportage has taken the crossover market by storm. This is a stylish SUV that takes the fight to the Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Qashqai. Thanks to its modern looks, generous equipment list and solid build quality, it’s one of the best cars in the Korean brand’s range. It’s also Kia’s most popular model in the UK.
There’s no doubt that, even five years since it was launched, the Sportage still cuts a dash in the mid-sized crossover class. It’s one of the first complete cars to be designed by Kia styling chief Peter Schreyer, and the elegant lines mean it really stands out. It’s arguably more interesting to look at than more premium rivals such as the BMW X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan, and it still looks good compared to the new Qashqai.
In 2014, the Kia Sportage was given a bit of a nip and tuck, adding a revised grille, new LED tail-lights and a ‘shark fin’ roof antenna to keep it looking sharp. The revisions also added even more equipment for no extra cost.
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The car is backed by an industry-leading seven-year warranty and, as with many rivals, it comes with the option of two- or four-wheel drive for go-anywhere capability. The Sportage is available with a 1.6-litre GDi petrol engine, 1.7-litre CRDi diesel or a 2.0-litre CRDi diesel, but none of them can match the latest equivalent engines fitted to rivals for emissions or economy.
If you opt for the Sportage in front-wheel drive entry-level diesel form, you’ll benefit from 54mpg fuel economy but that’s well behind the greenest versions of Mazda’s CX-5 and the Nissan Qashqai.
Whichever engine you choose, there are four trim levels (numbered 1 to 4), and cars with four-wheel drive add a ‘KX’ prefix. Its car-like driving dynamics are a bonus, but rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 have now overtaken the Sportage in the driving enjoyment stakes.
Perhaps the biggest plus point for the Sportage is that despite its extensive standard kit, it’s still affordable to buy – and thousands of pounds cheaper than the basic Ford Kuga. Head to the Kia website and you can often find some decent finance and lease deals, too.
Engines, performance and drive
Although the Kia Sportage's styling still looks bang up to date, the drive is now showing its age. A combination of hefty weight and soft suspension means it suffers from a lot of body roll and not huge amounts of grip. If you want a sporty drive from your SUV, you’re better off with a Mazda CX-5.
While the steering and chassis lack precision and agility, the Sportage has a softer, more composed ride than many rivals. The downside to the softness in the suspension is that it can make the Sportage feel a bit bouncy on rough roads and produces quite a bit of lean in corners. The manual gearbox has a rather notchy shift, too.
Decent forward visibility makes the Sportage a doddle to drive around town, although the small windows and thick roof pillars hamper all-round visibility. Thanks to a soundproofed windscreen and new suspension bushings, road noise levels are pleasantly subdued.
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If you’re planning on going off-road, the 2.0-litre diesel is available with intelligent four-wheel-drive. The system’s easy-to-use 4x4 lock switch helps with traction in slippery or difficult terrain.
You have a choice of three different engines, starting with an entry-level 1.6-litre petrol or 1.7-litre diesel, which drive the front wheels only. The 1.6 GDI petrol has 131bhp and feels fairly lively at low speeds, but becomes a bit breathless on the motorway. This 1.6 petrol unit feels the most refined of all the Sportage engines, but the diesels’ blend of performance and efficiency make them more desirable – and they are the ones we’d recommend.
While the 1.7 diesel has less power on paper (112bhp), its torque (or pulling power) is actually much stronger so it feels far more sprightly, especially at lower revs. It’s also better suited to long distance use than the 1.6 petrol.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine is available in two states of tune: 132bhp and 181bhp. If you need to do a lot of load-lugging or towing, these are the engine options to go for. And if you want a 4x4, it’ll have to be a 2.0 diesel – this is the only Sportage model to be offered with four-wheel drive.
It’s the same story if you want automatic: only 2.0-litre versions can be specified with auto. But we’d recommend the manual, as it suits the car better, is much smoother around town and cheaper to run.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
As you’d expect from Kia, the Sportage represents excellent value for money – even if it commands a slight premium over models of old.
Competitive prices, a long list of standard equipment and the manufacturer’s trademark seven-year/100,000-mile warranty all help to boost its considerable showroom appeal. Kia also offers a pre-paid servicing pack that covers all routine maintenance for three years.
If keeping running costs to a minimum is a priority for you, steer clear of 4x4 and automatic transmission models, as their economy is worse and their CO2 emissions higher than the equivalent front-wheel drive and manual models.
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Overall, the Sportage’s mpg and CO2 emissions are a bit of a let-down. The most efficient model is the front-wheel drive 1.7-litre CRDi diesel, which promises average fuel consumption of 54.3mpg and 135g/km emissions – decent but not quite as good as equivalent rivals from Mazda and Nissan.
The 2.0 CRDi (132bhp) isn’t far behind at 49.6mpg and 149g/km, but the 1.6 petrol (41.5mpg) and high-power 181bhp 2.0 CRDi auto (39.2mpg) are disappointing from a fuel economy point-of-view.
All three engine sizes available in the Sportage fall into a low insurance group of 10 – as long as you opt for a base-spec model, that is. This will help keep your premiums to a minimum. However, as trim levels get plusher, so insurance groups become higher, with many top-spec versions falling into group 19.
With its sharp looks and industry-leading warranty, the Sportage is in strong demand among used car buyers. As a result, residual values are surprisingly high and easily match those of popular rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai. Our experts predict that the Sportage will hold on to more than 50 per cent of its value after three years. Choose diesel for the best retained values.
Interior, design and technology
Kia’s design chief Peter Schreyer has built up a formidable reputation for creating good-looking cars. The Sportage – which shares its Cee’d-derived platform with the Hyundai ix35 – was one of Schreyer’s first full designs for the company. Even after five years on sale, it still looks distinctive, with a large grille and headlamps up front, and a low roofline and small window area.
Styling updates made in 2014 have left the Kia Sportage largely unchanged, with the only revisions being larger xenon headlights, a new grille design and revised tail-lamps. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the car manages to look chunky without being too imposing, and from some angles – especially the rear – its smart design isn’t as fussy as the Qashqai’s.
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Trim levels 3 and above add 18-inch alloy wheels, which fill the arches nicely, while black plastic wheel arch extensions, chrome trim and silver roof rails boost the rugged off-roader looks.
Inside, Kia has made revisions to help give the Sportage a lift. The original car had a lot of black plastic inside, but it now features matt grey trim on the dash and around the gearlever to break up the monotony. Plus, many of the plastics have been finished in what Kia calls soft nano paint, which feels rubbery to touch.
The other big change is a new instrument pod ahead of the driver. The speedo and rev counter are now positioned either side of a larger colour TFT trip computer display. However, the angle and curve of the glass can reflect the sun from some angles, which obscures the dials. The rest of the Sportage’s cabin is largely unchanged, which means it’s decently built, but it’s a little uninspiring due to its dark colours.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
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The 4.2-inch TFT LCD touchscreen on high-spec grades displays lots of useful information, including Parallel Park Assist and rear-view camera (where fitted). Versions with sat-nav have a huge 7-inch colour touchscreen with EU mapping, UK postcode recognition, traffic messaging and speed limit warnings. The Infinity premium audio system on higher grades boasts seven speakers and sounds fantastic.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
There’s just one Sportage bodystyle: a five-door SUV with five seats. Like most crossovers, the raised ride height means you step up to get into the Sportage. This can prove tricky for some people, but it provides you with a commanding view of the road. However, the narrow rear window can make reversing tricky. Just as well, then, that rear parking sensors are fitted as standard on all models except the entry-level 1 model.
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While the Sportage is relatively compact externally, it’s tall enough to provide decent space for people and luggage, making it a very practical car. Space is definitely more generous up front than behind, though. The driving position is comfortable, thanks to a steering wheel that adjusts up and down as well as in and out, and a driver’s seat that’s adjustable for height.
Inside the cabin, you get a decent-sized glove box, plus plenty of cubbies and big door bins.
In size terms, the Sportage is middle-of-the-table compared to rivals. At 4,440mm long, it’s shorter than the Ford Kuga (4,524mm) but it’s longer than the Nissan Qashqai (which measures 4,377mm long) and broader than both (at 1,855mm wide).
Leg room, head room & passenger space
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While rear-seat space is good, taller passengers will notice that headroom is a bit tight, especially if you go for a model fitted with a panoramic glass roof. The high floor does mean that there’s no transmission tunnel for middle-seat passengers to deal with, though, and foot space is reasonable here. You can even fit three adults across the back seat in reasonable comfort, and fitting child seats is easy using the seatbelts or Isofix.
Space up front, meanwhile, is very generous indeed, but the seats don’t offer as much support as some rivals’, which could cause a bit of backache on long runs.
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The Kia Sportage has a very large 564-litre boot, which is bigger than either the Nissan Qashqai or the Skoda Yeti. Its low loading lip also makes lifting luggage in and out easier than in many rivals. What’s more, leather straps attached to the 60/40 split rear seatbacks mean they’re easy to fold down. Do this and you have 1,353 litres of storage at your disposal, with a flat floor to make sliding objects in and out very easy.
Under the boot floor you’ll find extra storage space, which is great for stashing valuables out of sight. The Sportage also features a 12V power socket and storage bin on one side of the boot, while the other side holds the subwoofer for the stereo – although this doesn’t hurt boot space at all. Commendably, a full-size spare wheel is provided on all models.
All models have a maximum unbraked towing capacity of 750kg, while the braked figure ranges from 1,200kg, rising to 1,600kg for all-wheel drive models with automatic transmission, and 2,000kg for all-wheel drive manuals.
Reliability and Safety
Kia is clearly confident in the reliability of its Sportage: as with all Kia models, the Sportage range is covered by an industry-leading warranty that lasts seven years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first).
That’s backed up to a certain degree in the results of our 2014 Driver Power survey, where the pre-facelift Kia Sportage ranked 72nd out of 150 cars. In the 2015 survey, however, the Sportage had slipped to 122nd place out of 200.
It’s worth noting that the Sportage was recalled due to a potential fault with the seatbelt pretensioner. On the plus side, the only cars affected were built from October 2011 to November 2012, and it’s believed that no injuries have occurred as a result of the problem.
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In most other respects, the Kia has a solid range of safety features: six airbags, active head restraints, stability control, hill start assist, trailer stability assist and tyre-pressure monitoring are all standard. However, this is far from being a class-leading car in safety terms.
For instance, kit such as lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and low-speed collision avoidance aren’t available, even as options – many rivals have these as standard nowadays. Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the Sportage, so we can’t comment on its crash protection.
Overall build quality is very good, although it’s not difficult to find some cheap-feeling switches and hard plastic in the cabin.
Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty is among the very best in the industry. It’s fully transferable to new owners, too.
The service schedule for the Sportage is every 12 months or 20,000 miles, which means bills shouldn’t be too high. You can fix the cost of servicing thanks to a package that Kia offers for the Sportage: the first three services are covered for £329 including VAT (with a maximum mileage limit of 11,000 per year), or the first five services for £609. This represents very good value for money and is definitely worth taking up.