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2021 Kia Sportage SX FWD review

Is the price-savvy tier of Kia’s medium-sized family hauler still worth a long look nearing the twilight of its fourth generation?

4 days ago
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Curt Dupriez
Journalist
PROS
  • Spacious, practical cabin
  • Decent equipment list
  • Solid, fuss-free on-road experience
CONS
  • Not the most advanced powertrain
  • Starting to feel its age in a fast-moving segment
  • Misses out on some key features

Not everyone was sold on the cut of the Kia Sportage’s jib when the current generation lobbed back in 2016. Its distinctive style without garish ostentation set it apart from the medium-SUV homogeny and has, for five years now, served it quite some popularity.

Throughout, the family hauler has remained a solid, reasonably contemporary, and enduringly likeable option, and certainly a key statement of how and why Korea is increasingly getting its mojo on.

Thing is, masked prototypes of an all-new successor to today’s fourth-generation have been outed and it’s set for a more formal debut this year. The obvious questions are: is today’s version worth a spot on your short list? And if so, is it enticing enough with fresher metal on the not too distant horizon?

In short, the answers are: yes and maybe.

Here on test is the one-from-base Sportage SX – formerly Si Premium, that copped a SeXier moniker in 2019 – in petrol automatic guise that looks to lift itself from the poverty-pack doldrums in some areas while keeping a firm lid on pricing. It’s a popular choice in the range, then.

It’s the version you might call on for price-dropped value in its advancing age – indeed, at the time of reviewing it’s the sole variant of 10 that’s sitting on Kia’s offer website page.

Gracefully ageing styling outside and in, packing a strong whiff of solidity and refinement, not glaringly outdated and packaged quite smartly indeed, today’s Sportage remains relevant and seemingly nowhere near its use-by date. And of course, there’s Kia’s well-established seven-year warranty that has served both buyers and the Korean importer’s brand well.

That the SUV hasn’t set a tyre anywhere near the run-out phase yet suggests pricing mightn’t currently be as sharp as it might become. Does it remain a compelling buy in the face of fresher competition when there’s still a something of a wait for the new model?

How much does the Kia Sportage SX FWD cost?

The petrol automatic front-driven version of the mid-tier SX variant is currently listed for $33,090 plus on-road costs according to Kia’s website, a $800 rise since the range got a mild update in early 2020. That said, the sharp drive-away offer for a cleanskin version at the time of writing is just $200 more at $33,290.

It’s a $2500 step down to the base S auto and a significant $7000 jump up to the SX+ auto on list price, with a further $7000 again for the tree-topping GT-Line. And that’s just the petrol auto versions. Of the 10-variant-strong range, diesel commands a premium over petrol versions, while you can opt our SX tester as a six-speed manual for $1000 less than auto spec.

Pricing across the motoring landscape was a bit of a moving target in 2020 and into 2021, so check the public website for the most current drive-away pricing.

Our test car’s Fiery Red paintwork adds $520, as do all five premium colours outside of the regular no-cost Clear White finish.

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price one of these up on the official website to determine drive away pricing. It’s also worth keeping an eye on the Kia offers page to see if there are any deals on at the moment.

What do you get?

While the SX petrol auto’s pricing sits well into the lower half of the wider Sportage range’s fiscal sprawl, its equipment upgrades over the basic S version are significant – if not necessarily plentiful – in lifting the grade into proper mid-range territory. 

What do you get for the uptick? The SX fits 18-inch wheels (over 17s), a larger 8.0-inch infotainment system with proprietary sat-nav (over 7.0 inches), eight-speaker JBL Premium sound, and gains front parking sensors to supplement the rears. All worthy of the $2500 extra compared to the base S just in feel-good factor, we reckon.    

Elsewhere, the SX gets auto halogen headlights, LED daytime-running lights, power-folding and heated mirrors, along with rain-sensing wipers outside.

The cabin features a leather multifunction wheel, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, cruise control, a guided reversing camera, driver’s one-touch window, a full-size spare wheel and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. 

The cloth trim, mechanical seat adjustment and handbrake, and key barrel start all smack of not unreasonable spec to a price. You have to move further up the range to get leather trim and electric seat functionality, exterior LED main lighting, active cruise control, inductive phone charging and the like.  

A fairly solid features list, then, covering key needs and wants for a mid-sized cost-conscious SUV.

You can see a side by side comparison of all the various options and inclusions across the various trim levels by downloading the official brochure or visiting the official specifications page.

Is the Kia Sportage SX FWD safe?

The entire Sportage range is covered by a five-star ANCAP rating assessed locally and awarded 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 front, front side and curtain airbags, autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, and lane-keeping assistance. 

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. That said, the SX grade here does include features such high-beam assist, downhill brake control and hill-start assistance.

You can find more details and highlights on all the safety features on the official Kia Sportage website.

What is the Kia Sportage SX FWD like on the inside?

Overall, this downmarket SX grade of interior trim presents well enough in general ambience, the large bluff dash fascia, the judicious use of dark grey surfaces, satin details and generally simple and clear display hardware conspiring to create quite a dignified vibe.

It feels solid, a touch sporty, and unfussy enough to remain pleasing. Its design does feel somewhat mature though it just avoids appearing dated.

Some extra colour contrast might breathe a bit of life into the cabin, as can be opted (unsurprisingly) in the leather-dipped, higher-spec variants. Kia has chosen red lighting for its sea of buttons, making them a bit hard to read and navigate in the dark compared with clearer white or blue alternatives.

There are lifts in obvious places – the waxy leather wheel and shifter trim, neat switchgear, and touchscreen sharpness – to counter some of the cost consciousness, particularly the strong preference for hard surfaces and cheap looking plastics beyond the depth of the centre console and in the lower door cards. There’s no start button: it’s the old turn-key start-up method.

The larger 8.0-inch infotainment system cuts few corners. What the proprietary sat-nav lacks in slickness it makes up for in legible clarity, DAB+ is a good (if expected) inclusion, CarPlay operates as expected, and the JBL-branded audio is downright lush. The reversing camera, too, offers crisp, quality viewing.

The front seats are decent, with more than a hint of sportiness to balance out their comfy and supportive nature. There’s ample long-haul comfort here. The trim is ornate cloth though the material itself is more hardwearing than it is sumptuous – no foul, particularly if you’ve got kids that tend to get messy.

Rear-seat room is generous by every measure, aided by the tilt-adjustable 40:60 rear seatback.

Air vents, 12-volt, and USB power is provided to mirror the dual 12V/USB combination in the first row and from bottle holders in the doors to cupholders in the foldable arm rest the Sportage has rear accommodation appointment very well covered. The huge door apertures, too, offer easy entry and egress. Nice work, Kia.

The boot space sports a high floor though, mostly to facilitate the location beneath of the full-sized spare wheel. At 466 litres it’s certainly not the largest luggage space in segment with the rear seats in play or once they’re stowed, which liberates a quite useable 1455 litres.

If you’re looking for more information on all the interior features and technology, you can find pictures and more detail on the official Kia Sportage website.

What’s under the bonnet?

Kudos to Kia for offering such an array of powertrain choices compared with the slim pickings of some rivals. There’s no hybrid power to speak of (the next-gen should change this, though), but you can opt for 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre petrol fours, a 2.0-litre diesel, and a choice of manual or auto, and two- or four-wheel drive, across the broad Sportage territory. 

This goes a long way to explaining a sizeable pricing spread.  

The SX makes do with the basics: the lower-grade 2.0-litre atmo petrol four good for 114kW and 192Nm – the latter at a high 4000rpm – paired with front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic rather than the eight-speed shifter offered in the oilers.

Output wise, the 2.0-litre four is starting to look a bit on the lean side for a segment increasingly adopting torque-laden turbocharging. The upshot is that natural aspiration tends to be bombproof for reliability and it happily runs on cheaper 91RON in its 64-litre fuel tank.

Stumping the considerable premium for the 2.4-litre GT-Line rewards with an extra 21kW and 45Nm, as well as the added surety of all-wheel drive, though some shoppers mightn’t consider this necessary.

The range-wide diesel, for its part, cranks out 136kW – a sole kilowatt higher than the 2.4L petrol – and a formidable 400Nm. If effortless performance is what you want, the diesel is worth more than cursory consideration. 

In the form as tested, the Sportage SX petrol auto returns a claimed 7.9L/100km combined, which is 0.6L more frugal than the 2.4 petrol (8.5L) but a fair bit shy of the 2.0L diesel (6.4L).

Urban consumption, though, is way up at 10.9L/100km claimed and it’s around this mark where our test car tended to sit throughout our week of assessment.

If you’re looking for details on different engines offered, you can find a side by side comparison of these within the official brochure, or visit the Kia Sportage specifications page.

How does the Kia Sportage SX FWD drive?

While it’s far from a rocket, the 2.0-litre front-driver gets along fine, with decent throttle response and off-the-mark pep. One-up and around town it doesn’t really fall into a hole, though loading the SX with occupants or asking for sudden acceleration on the roll is met with merely acceptable enthusiasm.

Activating Sport sharpens throttle response a fair step, but really dig in and the engine gets very raucous quite quickly. That said, realistically, the powertrain is perfectly fine. Driven moderately it’s adequately quiet, the six-speed auto shifts and responds quite fluidly, and it’s acceptably refined.  

We did report of excessive wind noise in our test of the GT-Line though the SX didn’t prove terribly prone to ambient annoyance. There’s a bit of suspension noise over bumps and the sound deadening isn’t exactly luxury car-like but for an SUV asking this sort of coin it’s a nicely resolved package.

Driving

Well resolved

Adequate performance and competent dynamics make the Sportage a solid all-rounder

There’s a certain pliancy to the primary ride, which rounds out some of the road ache a little thanks in part to the considerable 55-series tyre sidewalls. Hit a square-edge speed bump with gusto and you’ll know it though, all things considered, the suspension compliance is fairly disciplined and the Sportage doesn’t present any conspicuous ride comfort shortcomings. 

The SX doesn’t really drum up much driver communication. The steering is a little distant and slightly aloof. It’s pleasingly light but not all that direct. This seems more to do with the need for a bit of a steering alignment in our test version rather than anything inherent in the breed. 

Like the GT-Line version, the humbler SX feels planted and stable enough, both surefooted and nimble enough for a mid-sized family hauler without being wooly or bloated. In short, it’s pleasing enough to drive, with a nice ride and handling balance underpinning the on-road experience. 

Kia fits a rather excellent reversing camera with a large clear view and adaptive guidelines, and despite the high bonnet line that won’t find huge favour with shorter drivers it’s an easy vehicle to judge and to park.

If you’re interested in getting behind the wheel of one of these, you can book a test drive via the Kia website. Alternatively you can speak with your local Kia dealer to arrange one.

How much does the Kia Sportage SX FWD cost to run?

Kia offers a commendable seven-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty as well as a capped-priced servicing program for that duration.

You also get up to eight years of roadside assistance – from its basic one-year of coverage – if you stick with Kia dealers for servicing.

Servicing intervals a fairly typical 12 months or 15,000 kilometres, whichever occurs first, with an average per year outlay of $401, which is starting to get up there compared with some rivals.

CarExpert’s take on the Kia Sportage SX FWD

Five years in and the Sportage mightn’t resonate as much as a style statement than once did, but it remains certifiably good in all the same areas which has helped maintain its relevance. That said, time is ticking and while it remains contemporary enough, the fast-moving and hotly-contested segment it plays in will demand a successor takes the reins sooner rather than later.

Is this current version enticing enough? Well, of the current crop, this SX version packs a solid enough combination of goodness and vibe for what’s an appropriate price point.

Given the current drive-away offer has actually gone up in the past 12 months, in line with the industry’s general price creep of late, it remains well-priced if not quite a smoking bargain, shrewd haggling notwithstanding.

Against an armada of segment rivals – only some of which are properly enticing – the Sportage is certainly worth consideration in this SX petrol form at the sort of coin it wants for.

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OVERALL RATING7.8
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 7.8
Ride Comfort 7.7
Safety 7.9
Fit for Purpose 8.2
Handling Dynamics 7.5
Interior Practicality and Space 8.2
Fuel Efficiency 7.5
Value for Money 7.8
Performance 7.2
Technology Infotainment 8.2
A$33,090 MRLP
7.9L
114kW
182g
5 ★
View full specifications