This improved fourth generation Kia's Sportage is an affordable mid-sized SUV that delivers even more of what buyers are looking for in this segment. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.
Ten Second Review
How did the Kia Sportage quietly develop from also-ran to front runner in the budget SUV stakes? By offering more of what people want, that's how. This improved fourth generation car now delivers mild hybrid diesel technology across most of the range, plus gets an efficient entry-level diesel engine too, along with smart looks, plenty of safety kit and decent media connectivity. The motto here seems to be 'If it aint broke, try even harder to fix it'.
It might be easy to believe that the market for compact and mid-sized SUVs hasn't essentially changed all that much in the last ten years, but it's now radically different and the biggest beneficiary of these changes has been Kia, and more specifically its Sportage. Consider this. Just over ten years ago, you could pick up a brand new entry level Land Rover Freelander for under £16,000. Even as I'm typing this, I'm double checking to see if that's correct. It is. Nowadays the Freelander's Discovery Sport replacement would probably set you back well over £30,000. That's a massive increase. Yet the Office of National Statistics tells us that the average annual wage over the same period rose by 37%.
What it all means is that a huge amount of buyers are being priced out of the SUV market. That's something that Kia not only recognised, but also put itself in prime position to capitalise on with its impressive fourth generation Sportage. This revised version of that car gets a smarter look inside and out and a range of technologies to improve comfort, convenience, connectivity and safety. If you're buying a mid-sized SUV or a Qashqai-like Crossover model in this segment, it's well worth a look.
This improved fourth generation model carries over many of the mechanicals of its predecessor, but adds some new technology too. As before, buyers get a choice of both front and four wheel drive models. And engines? Well the petrol range is made up of a normally aspirated 1.6-litre GDI 130bhp unit and a much pokier T-GDI turbo 174bhp powerplant. Go for the T-GDI variant and you get the option of the brand's seven-speed 7DCT dual-clutch automatic gearbox, also offered elsewhere in the range. Most Sportage buyers though, want a diesel, so they'll be pleased to hear that Kia has now extended its mild hybrid lightly electrified technology to cover the top 134bhp version of its 1.6 CRDi 'U3' diesel unit (the lesser 114bhp version of this engine continues as before).
The top 2.0-litre CRDi powerplant was the first of the brand's diesel units to get the company's mild hybrid diesel powertrain. The system supplements acceleration with power from a compact 0.44 kWh 48-volt lithium-ion battery, and extends engine 'off time' with a Mild-Hybrid Starter-Generator (MHSG) unit. The MHSG is connected by belt to the engine's crankshaft, and switches seamlessly between 'motor' and 'generator' modes. In 'motor' mode the battery is discharged under acceleration, providing power assistance to the engine, to reduce engine load and emissions. Under deceleration - when braking, or coasting towards a junction or downhill - the MHSG switches to 'generator' mode, recuperating energy from the crankshaft to recharge the battery on-the-go.
Design and Build
Kia has lightly updated this MK4 Sportage model's looks in recent times. At the front, there's a redesigned front bumper with smarter fog lamp housings, plus an evolved version of the brand's 'tiger-nose' grille. Sleeker full-LED headlamps with four-point LED daytime running lights also feature. At the rear, the slim combination lamps feature a more distinctive C-shaped LED light signature. The reversing lamp is integrated into a restyled rear bumper with longer reflectors positioned below and is finished with a flash of chrome across its base. In profile, the upgraded model is available with more stylish 16, 17 and 19-inch alloy wheel designs, and some versions have the sill trim finished in chrome.
Inside, minor upgrades over the original version of this design include a redesigned steering wheel, a revised driver instrument cluster and smarter ventilation controls. The infotainment systems in the Sportage have been upgraded. Depending on trim, there is either a 7.0-inch touchscreen or a new 'frameless' 8.0-inch system, each with DAB digital radio. All satellite navigation systems include Kia's Connected Services powered by TomTom as standard, offering a wide range of driving-oriented information. As before, the cabin is decently spacious, with plenty of headroom front and rear. At the back, the seats recline for greater long distance comfort. Out back, boot space is rated at 503-litres.
Market and Model
Prices are much as they were before, starting at around £20,500 and rising to around £35,000. There's a choice of '1', '2', '4', 'GT-Line' and 'GT-Line S' trim levels. An AWD 4x4 system is either optional or standard on most models, as is Kia's 7-speed 7DCT auto transmission.
All models come well equipped. Even the grade '1' variants come with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, a DAB radio, Bluetooth with voice recognition, automatic light control, a reversing camera system and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. In addition, there's Trailer Stability Assist (TSA), Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC), Downhill Brake Control (DBC) and cruise control.
All models from grade '2' spec have a Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) to alert a tired driver who may be about to stray into the path of a vehicle approaching from behind. Plus High Beam Assist (HBA) to switch between full and dipped beam automatically when there are other vehicles in their vicinity on unlit roads. And a Speed Limit Information Function (SLIF) within the instrument cluster.
Cost of Ownership
The big news here is in the extension of 48V mild hybrid technology to the base 1.6 CRDi diesel. That's meant a 2WD variant with that engine can return up to 62.9mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and a NEDC-rated CO2 reading of 120g/km. For the AWD version, the figures are 57.8mpg and 131g/km. For the 182bhp 2.0 CRDi 48V mild hybrid auto model, the figures are 48.8mpg and 150g/km. Whatever mild hybrid diesel you select in the range, the technology's clever. The engine is assisted by a compact starter-generator unit belt-connected to the crankshaft. Power for the 48V Ecodynamics+ system comes from a small lithium ion battery mounted beneath the boot floor and the 13bhp electrical boost it facilitates boosts the Sportage's total output under acceleration. When you lift off the throttle to coast, or use the brakes, the starter becomes a generator, recharging the battery with energy that you'd otherwise lose in the form of heat. Kia claims that this technology improves efficiency by up to 4%. All Sportage models, like all Kias, get the brand's impressive 7-year warranty.
Have the updates made to this improved fourth generation Kia Sportage been sufficient to keep buyers loyal? It's true that they could have been more far-reaching, but there's just enough here to keep existing customers happy, we think.
That's important as Kia is fortunate enough to have quite a few of these people in the UK, thanks to the impressive sales success achieved by earlier generation versions of this car. This enhanced MK4 model offers these folk a little more technology and, as before, they'll like the generous equipment levels and long warranty. Ultimately, it's a car you sit in and wonder just how so many rivals can really be worth around £5,000 more. That says it all really.