Kia's Sportage has always stacked up well in entry-level 2WD diesel guise. Jonathan Crouch wonders whether the improved fourth generation verson still does.
Ten Second Review
Kia continues to make inroads into the lucrative SUV crossover market with this good looking Sportage model. This improved fourth generation version arguably makes most sense in its most affordable 2WD guises, most notably with this new 'U3'-series 1.6-litre CRDi diesel engine. Let's put that variant to the test.
Kia's Sportage was once a bit player in the mid-sized SUV Crossover market. The first generation car was the sort of thing you might have bought if you lived on a remote smallholding where nobody would see what you drove. The second generation model was a rebadged Hyundai Tucson that moved things on significantly but wasn't in any way polished. Then though, we got the MK3 Sportage, a car which had the glitz to mix it with the best crossover SUVs out there while selling at prices they found hard to match. In 2015, the fourth generation model picked up where that car left off, but one of the few things that wasn't changed was the entry-level 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine.
As part of the improvements announced in mid-2018 though, Kia took the opportunity to introduce its latest 'U3'-series 1.6-litre diesel unit to the line-up. As with the old 1.7-litre powerplant, it's only offered with front wheel drive, but that's what most customers want anyway. In this form, the idea of a stylish Cossover that is capable of regularly delivering over 55mpg, while returning a tax-friendly CO2 reading of around 130g/km might well be tempting to plenty of people in this segment. Let's put this car to the test.
Mindful of market requirements, let's ignore how this Sportage fares in the mud because it's just not relevant. Just how not relevant is supported by the fact that Kia offers the Sportage with this engine in two-wheel drive guise only. These cars are usually used as suburban school run specials that have enough about them to take in the odd family holiday to Disneyland Paris or similar.
This Sportage is a little different to the class norm. Whereas cars like the Ford Kuga or the Nissan Qashqai have been engineered to offer a very taut, car-like driving experience, this is an altogether softer-sprung thing. OK, so it's not as 'flingable', but for the sort of urban driving and motorway cruises its target customers will use it for, the Sportage feels a more relaxed comfortable thing.
The 1.6 CRDi variant we look at here is powered by a new 'U3'-series 114bhp 1.6-litre turbodiesel that will get it to 62mph in a reasonable enough 11.4 seconds, but the engine does its best work between 1250 and 2750rpm, where it feels lazily elastic and more muscular than the peak power figure would suggest thanks to the meaty 280Nm of torque. It's deceptively brisk if you can keep the engine in the heart of the torque range, the languid throttle response belying how much shove there really is. As well as this 1.6-litre diesel, Kia also offers a 2.0-litre diesel that uses 'mild hybrid' electrified technology, plus there are 1.6 normally aspirated and turbocharged petrol engines.
Design and Build
The front end of this improved MK4 model Sportage is the biggest change over the outgoing model, thanks to 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 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
Though Sportage prices start at around £20,500, you have to stretch to nearly £22,000 to get a diesel variant, this 1.6-litre CRDi model being the least expensive back pump-fuelled version you can have. This improved fourth generation Sportage is looking to nick sales from the likes of Skoda's Karok and Nissan's Qashqai, plus of course its Korean design stablemate, the Hyundai Tucson. Plusher versions may also attract buyers looking at slightly pricier cars like Ford's Kuga, Mazda's CX-5 and even Toyota's RAV4.
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
If you're looking to save a bob or two - as most Kia owners traditionally have been - front-wheel-drive Sportage models like this 1.6-litre CRDi variant are the ones most likely to appeal. For an up-front spend of around £1,300 over the entry-level 1.6-litre GDi petrol model, this 1.6-litre CRDi diesel improves your combined cycle fuel consumption figure from 39.8mpg to 57.6mpg and your CO2 figure from 162g/km to 130g/km, so that's a decent improvement.
Like the rest of the Kia range, the Sportage is sold with the excellent seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty. It is fully transferable should the car be sold before the time or mileage limits have been reached. Fixed cost servicing also brings additional peace of mind via the Kia Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing package, offering retail customers inflation-proof servicing for the first three or five years.
As long as you're not expecting an off-roader in the traditional sense of the word, it's hard to see how the Kia Sportage would disappoint. It's well built, rides smoothly, now offers a much nicer interior and - the clincher for many - it still looks good.
Ultimately, this improved fourth generation version merely builds on the strong foundation its predecessor established - but then that's no bad thing. That car was just right for its intended market - as this one is, especially in this frugal 1.6-litre CRDi diesel 2WD guise. With Kias of the past, you used to need a spreadsheet to explain the rationale behind your buying decision. Now all you need is a photo.