Review: Kia’s entry-level Sportage

It’s no secret that the market for SUVs has boomed the last decade or so. It’s grown so much and so fast, in fact, that it can be a bit daunting keeping up with what the market has to offer. But unlike some of the ‘newbies’ claiming their slice of the SUV pie, Kia has been at the forefront of manufacturers that produce SUVs. Most notably with their Sportage.

Now in its fourth generation, the Sportage has been around since 1993 and has over the years matured into what it is today. It’s a bigger vehicle than the 1993 model and though the two can’t be compared, it’s always refreshing to see how far a vehicle, or in this case the Sportage, has come.

Late 2018 Kia refreshed its local Sportage line-up and with it came a number of changes; not just with technologies and features, but also the range as a whole. One of those changes were the introduction of a new entry-level model, the 1.6 Ignite automatic, that should act as entry point for new buyers into the Kia Sportage fold.

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Engine, weight, economy

As is the case with most entry-level vehicles these days, the engine is not subjected to any form of turbocharging. Good ol’ air is fed into the engine and is power produced in a natural manner. This is not always a bad thing, but the advantages of a turbo- or supercharger has been proven over and over again.

The 1.6-litre engine in the Sportage develops 97kW and 161Nm. It’s not too shabby, but when you facture in a weight of 1568kg it has to haul around, then it starts to become a bit of an issue. The low torque figure means that the engine wants to be worked before it gets on the go, and that’s before you bring the six-speed automatic gearbox into the equation. It’s a very unresponsive unit, to say the least, when you leave it to its own devices; which can be frustrating. But cog the gears over manually and it fares a lot better. There is still some sluggishness when planting the throttle, but it’s far less delayed than having it in full auto mode.

Truth be told, this should have a negative influence on fuel consumption, but Kia’s claim of 7.7 L/100km is not far off the mark. On a 200km trip the Sportage managed to return 7.5 L/100km (with a tailwind), but on the return leg, the same 200km, that figure rose to over 9.0 L (facing the wind). It was evidently clear how the SUV struggled against the wind and more times than not it fought valiantly to escape fourth gear with cruise control set on 120km/h. Around the city, even when driving as sedately as possible, the fuel consumption had seen better days.

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But the ride, though!

For all the gripes one has with the engine and gearbox, it is all quickly forgotten once behind the wheel. It’s not a tiresome experience and even when the drivetrain evokes frustration, the ride quality encourages calmness. The way Kia’s managed to endow its SUV with such a compliant ride can’t be denied. It’s almost like driving your dreams and the SUV follows your steering commands promptly and swiftly.

Especially the feedback from the steering wheel… Gosh, Kia’s hit the nail right on the head. It’s a secure feel and there is enough weight to know how much steering input is needed at any given moment. If ride quality was the only factor to consider when buying a new SUV, I think the Sportage would be at the top of many people’s list.

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Inside the cabin

The interior is a place where occupants need to feel safe and secure, and also be comfortable enough over long distances. While this Sportage does see to these aforementioned needs, it has the very basics from the Kia parts bin. The infotainment system, for instance, is one of those old school units and are there no fancy knobs and dials to spice things up. Bluetooth does come standard, as does a USB port, and electric windows are part of the fold.

The seats have to be adjusted manually, though, and to have the backrest flat one needs to turn a knob next to the seat. Very old school. The rear seats, however, fold flat in a jiffy and it will increase loading capacity from 466L to 1455L. This lever that’s fixed on the rear seats for folding purposes would have worked wonders on the front seats, too!

Gallery: Kia Sportage 1.6 Ignite auto

Personally, I found a liking to the Sportage’s interior. Sure, the more expensive models in the range will see a far improved offering over this model, but this kinda brings you back to the essence of ‘just having a car/SUV/vehicle’. No fancy tricks and gimmicks, except for what you need to make your drive enjoyable.

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Summary

It’s easy to get carried away by what the market has to offer, that we sometimes overlook what’s at the bottom end of the spectrum. And a vehicle like the Sportage, that’s been around for 25 years, is an example that there is life to be had away from the ordinary. This 1.6 Ignite auto could do with a turbo bolted onto its engine, but it still manages to offer an engaging drive for all the right reasons.

It is neither boring nor predictable and it has a certain flair to it, but prospective buyers need to know what they’re in for. If a strong engine and upmarket interior are selling points, this specific model would not suffice. But if a good ride quality and simple yet effective cabin rock your boat, you can’t go wrong.

Price: R389 995