Cast a casual eye around Kia Sportage content on the website before you and clearly there’s a vastly more futuristic remake approaching on the near horizon, earmarked for later this year. So why would you consider the current version that’s the subject of this test?
Well, there’s still a lot to like about the infinitely more familiar generation that kicked about since 2016. As noted in my SX petrol review, its distinctive styling did Kia’s mid-size SUV – and indeed its wider brand image – more favour than foul, helping to foist the Korean marque’s esteem a little higher in the eyes of observers and ardent customer-owners alike.
Was a good thing, is still a good thing. Just not for much longer given its due replacement.
So where’s the sweet spot to aim for in the current generation given that, before too long, the whole range will head in run-out likely bringing sharpened pricing?
It could well be our test subject, the 2021 Kia Sportage S Diesel AWD. It amalgamates the lustiest engine and most desirable transmission (eight-speed auto) with mixed-surface-friendly all-wheel drive and a fat-trimmed package that delivers a low-frills but potentially capable machine at a nice (enough) price.
Let’s find out if it’s still worth your attention before the shiny, more futuristic next-gen model sends the current crop to pasture.
The basic S grade of the Sportage diesel AWD format wants for $36,890 plus on-road costs. Or, $39,890 drive-away using Kia’s website configurator sans options.
That’s $5400 pricier than petrol front-driver S automatic ($31,490). Sticking with the diesel AWD format, the next rung up is the SX Diesel AWD at $38,990 list, before jump up to $44,190 (SX+) and $48,990 (GT-Line) to round out the choice of four Sportage oilers.
All of them are equipped with eight-speed automatic transmissions – you’ll need to look towards the petrol 2.0L (S or SX) for a manual option, which saves two grand in base S form. Want petrol AWD? The sole offering in this configuration is the GT-Line at $46,090 plus on-roads.
Where the S Diesel AWD start to look mighty enticing is when cross-shopping against cousin Hyundai, where its brand-spanking new-gen Tucson wants $45,000 for a look in (Elite) and tops out at $52,000 (Highlander) in diesel AWD form. Volkswagen’s Tiguan 147TDI Elegance is, at $52,290 list, also right up there.
Elsewhere, Mazda’s CX-5 Maxx Sport all-paw oiler asks for $42,490, the ageing Mitsubishi Outlander LS is $41,490 while the price-buster of the segment is the Nissan X-Trail TS at $37,465. Toyota’s immensely popular RAV4 isn’t offered with a diesel.
The Sportage S comes in a choice of standard white and five cost optional premium colours, such as our tester’s Sparkling Silver, which adds $520.
Right here is where the S trim looks a bit, ahem, economical. Or so you’d presume.
The S is the only Sportage riding on 17-inch wheels – all other variants are 18s and 19s – though they are alloys and you get a fifth as a full-sized spare.
Halogen projector headlights, LED daytime running lights and rear parking sensors are all standard fare, but a bit of a bonus are the power-folding mirrors, reversing camera with dynamic guidelines and dusk-sensing headlight functionality with high-beam assist, all nice inclusions in a spec that still demands you turn a key in a barrel for start-up.
Inside, the S gets cloth trim, mechanical seat adjustment, a mechanical handbrake and single-zone non-regulating air-con. A basic 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system fits Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, which is handy given there’s no digital radio reception or proprietary sat-nav.
Passive cruise control is fitted and there are dual USB-A and a trio of 12-volt outlets spread throughout the two seating rows.
Nothing too flash then, but there’s enough kit in its features bag to avoid looking too slim and certainly a few niceties here and there for its cost-consciousness.
The entire Sportage range is covered by a five-star ANCAP rating assessed locally back in 2016. Testing occurred before AEB and lane support was introduced across the range in 2018 as noted in the current and updated ANCAP report.
The SUV scored 13.62 out of 16 for frontal impact and a full 16 out of 16 for side impact. Whiplash protection returned a Good result while pedestrian protection was deemed Acceptable.
That said, not all variants feature identical safety kit, though everything gets frontal, front side and curtain airbags, autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning and lane-keep assist.
You need to step well up to the flagship GT-Line to get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights and adaptive cruise control, though.
Korean motoring cabin design is moving forward at a fit rate if in-house rival Hyundai Tucson’s latest cockpit is anything to go by, and the contrast with the ageing Sportage couldn’t be more striking.
That said, the Kia’s existing styling was fresh and strong enough on arrival that it still makes a decent impression now five years on.
The neat wheel, splashes of satin silver and gloss black highlights, and that signature bluff dash fascia still maintain a neat and dignified look that’s pleasingly solid and unfussy.
It is, however, just far too monochromatic and frankly there’s little reason why cut-price motoring can’t benefit from a bit more colour use, or at least a little more shade variation for better impact for little added manufacturing outlay.
As is its time-honoured whim, Kia loves red lighting for its buttons and control, which is touch those of us with poorer sight struggle to read in the dark compared white or blue alternatives.
It favours a lot of hard plastics, particularly lower in the cabin space where it’s less conspicuous, but it’s well presented in your general line of sight and there’s a nice honest ambience about the accommodation. The plastic door arm rests, though, do smack of cost cutting.
The front seats are quite comfy, with plenty of seat base height adjustment available and there’s a neat ‘sport’ vibe about the seat positioning and control layout.
The small 7.0-inch infotainment system is no pillar of technical slickness but Bluetooth pairs quickly and Apple CarPlay functions without a hitch, so the unit is a fine enough format to let your device do the heavy lifting. The reversing camera is large and the adaptive guidelines very handy, though the quality of the camera display itself is grainy.
It’s amply roomy in row two where it’s nice and airy despite the high-set window line. Air vents as well as single 12-volt and USB ports are commendable inclusions strangely absent from a good many cost-conscious passenger cars, as are the bottle holders in the doors and cup holders in the fold-down arm rest.
The boot converts from a handy 466 litres to a handy 1455 litres, with a high-set floor to accommodate the full-sized alloy spare underneath.
A detachable parcel shelf can also be slotted into the floor for storage or as a luggage stop of sorts.
The Sportage is, beyond anything else, quite a smartly packaged SUV that doesn’t cheapen its role as a family hauler by cutting too many corners where it matters.
The $5200 question is what comes with the extra splurge not offered on the petrol version.
Outputs, for a start. With 136kW at 4000rpm it’s one kilowatt more powerful than even the high-grade 2.4L petrol and 22kW up on the S petrol’s 2.0L engine.
But torque is the bigger benefit, a fulsome 400Nm at 1750-2750rpm from the oiler against far more modest 197Nm (2.0L) and 237Nm (2.4L) for the spark ignition units.
The sole diesel tune is offered right across all four Sportage variants – it’s no less potent in base S form – and they’re all tied to an eight-speed conventional automatic rather than the six-speed auto paired to the petrol engines. There’s also a standard differential lock for the AWD system.
Then there are the consumption benefits. The diesel advertises 6.4L/100km combined, against 7.9L and 8.5L for the 2.0L and 2.4L petrol engines respectively.
As claimed, the oiler rises to 8.0L/100km around town and 5.4L/100km on the highway. On test, we saw a lot of sevens with the onboard computer occasionally reaching up into the eights.
Worth a mention is that, at 1736kg, the diesel AWD versions of Sportage are significantly heavier than the petrol AWD (by 94kg) and petrol FWD (204kg).
That said, you do get a superior braked towing rating of 1900kg (against 1600kg for the petrol FWD and 1500kg for the petrol AWD).
Having a heady amount of torque on tap befits the Sportage package. If there’s a hint of throttle hesitation off the mark, it’s only apparent when you’re really looking for it but in general response is clean and immediate (enough), the engine piling on its tractive effort quickly if progressively.
Once you’re in the thick of the torque, thrust is such that you really don’t have to lean into the engine hard or force lots of rpm. The upshot is a surprisingly rattle-free diesel that only really starts to get raucous with maximum throttle that’s rarely called for or necessary.
The eight-speed auto is polite and slick, too, slipping through ratios neatly without much sense of excessive mucking about. As a powertrain, it’s refined, flexible and quiet enough not to realistically deter from the diesel format and is simply more rounded and satisfying than the cheaper 2.0L petrol alternative.
The rest of the on-road experience is quite decent if unremarkable. The steering is light and hardly the last word in clarity, and it lacks a little of the clean handling edge of Sportage variants with larger wheels and low-profile tyres.
The upshot of the thick 60-series tyres is there’s a shade more cushioning and compliance, most noticeable when you negotiate sharp-edged speed humps and potholes. In the ride and handling balance stakes, the S grade favours more of the former than the latter and that’ll be just fine with a good many buyers this mid-size SUV hopes to attract.
It’s a decent enough machine on the open road, low on wind noise and little fuss from the tyres. It does, though, have some faint float and isn’t quite as planted on the tarmac as some segment alternatives. No big foul.
The active lane keeping and self-steering smarts do become quite aggressive and there’s a clear threshold once they activate themselves on the move. They weigh in a little too quickly around town and you’re constantly holding the off button on the wheel to deactivate them – separately with different button prods – and the system could benefit from lifting the speed threshold at which they engage.
It’s no off-roader, but the AWD lock feature is hand for well-graded slippery stuff or if the sense of adventure finds you in a bit of an off-roading pickle. It’s smart enough maintain engagement at low-speed and divert back to AWD Auto once the road or trail speed rises above 30km/h.
The limit of multi-terrain capabilities, though, are on the road-spec tyre more than, say, ground clearance. It wouldn’t take much mud to block the treads. That said, the diesel AWD take on Kia’s mid-SUV is the absolute no-brainer for regional buyers who habitually traverse a beaten track or three.
Kia offers a commendable seven-year, unlimited-kilometre factory warranty as well as a capped-priced servicing program for the same duration.
Servicing intervals a fairly typical 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, whichever occurs first.
Visits will set you back between $367 and $817, averaging out to $530 per year for the capped priced offer across seven years. That’s pretty steep given the 2.0L FWD versions are around $400 per annum to service.
Is the $5200 upcharge for the diesel version of the S worth it? For those needing multi-surface flexibility, most certainly, though the boost in the quality of the around-town driving experience makes it a compelling proposition.
Our advice is, don’t commit to the petrol S version without test driving the diesel to see what you might be missing out on. As a standalone proposition the Sportage S Diesel AWD stacks up pretty well in that it looks pricey until you see how much its opposition asks for.
Today’s ageing and soon-to-be-retired Sportage mightn’t look and feel as fresh as it once did, but it’s still a solid and likeable machine.
Further, while the S trim doesn’t exactly lay the fruit on thick, it doesn’t feel like a poverty pack or stripped of equipment either. It plays the honest to goodness, unpretentious and price-savvy diesel AWD role quite convincingly, if that’s where your tastes land.
However, there’s that vastly more forward-thinking replacement on the relatively near horizon. Tempting, right? One thing to consider is that, if the brand-spanking Hyundai Tucson is any genuine measure, the next-gen Sportage could well be in for a price hike to go with its more flavoursome looks and undoubtedly improved fit-out.
As for our test subject, we suggest driving a hard bargain now or holding off for potential run-out offers later in 2021.
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