– Exterior styling
– Good legroom in the back
– Fairly comfortable ride
– Interior hard plastics
– Average headroom in the back
– Fairly dull drive
Kia Motors, Hyundai’s brother from another mother, has been pretty busy over the last couple of years. Their new models are winning accolades for design on a regular basis, and combined with killer prices, their sales have been on the rise, even during the worst recession in decades. Their sales hero in the UAE is the new-for-2011 Kia Sportage. It is undoubtedly the most attractive crossover in its class, but is its beauty only skin-deep?
Externally, Kia pulls off a premium style that looks better than the Audi Q5 or the Mercedes-Benz GLK, with a low roofline, chiseled details and 17-inch wheels. Of course, ours was a lower-end model, so getting a higher-specced version adds LED driving lights and even larger wheels.
But stepping into the interior will bring you back down to Earth with a thud. The entire interior is well-built, but consists of shiny hard-plastics, right down to the armrests. The monotone grey interior in our tester was only broken by a slab of metal-look hard plastic on the dash and small bits of chrome trim here and there. We suggest you opt for a higher model, so you will at least get padded door inserts and even leatherette upholstery.
That low roofline also means that headroom is limited for tall rear passengers, although we average-sized folks were fine. The cloth-clad front seats offer moderate side-bolstering. Legroom is excellent, even in the back. The rear bench is not adjustable in any way, but can be folded down. Boot space is a only bit more than that of a hatchback, expected since the Sportage is intentionally shorter than most other compact crossovers. Inside, there are exposed cup-holders, door pockets and other useful cubbies.
Our not-so-loaded tester came with power windows and mirrors, passable CD/MP3 stereo with USB/AUX ports, fog lamps, cruise control, keyless entry and only one airbag. But the Sportage can be outfitted with, among many things, keyless start, rear camera, panoramic glass roof, dual-zone auto a/c, active headrests, stability control, better stereo and a whole other airbag, if you go for the full-options model. The manual a/c in our LX model initially seemed average during our April test, but does well, given some time. However, there are no rear a/c vents. The rear-centre passenger also gets a simple lap-belt while the other seating positions get proper three-point seat-belts.
We drove the 2.4-litre 4-cylinder version. The motor is good for 176 hp at 6000 rpm and 227 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm, mated to a smooth 6-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive. It isn’t quick by any means, but it is adequate for daily driving, burning petrol at an estimated 12 litres/100 km. We clocked a 0-100 kph time of 10.9 seconds with our brand-new tester, leaving the manually-shiftable gearbox in auto mode. There wasn’t much scope for tyre-screeching drama here.
There is no real drama around the corners either. The suspension tuning is good, with mild body roll at moderate speeds on long curves, with no bounciness once it straightens out. Grip is limited from the 225/60 tyres, and the Sportage simply understeers safely when they go over the limit. Like most compact crossovers, the Sportage handles like a car, but not a sporty car. The light steering lacks feedback, and the disc brakes are merely average, with the rear snaking a bit on hard stops.
The Sportage boasts an all-wheel-drive system, but it basically works in front-wheel-drive mode until it detects slipping wheels. There is no low-range gearing. So even while there is a 50:50 centre-diff lock button, it is best to stick to flat beach areas and gravel routes.
Otherwise, as intended, the ride quality is very smooth on most surfaces, and is fairly quiet too. The rear window is small, but the mirrors are big, and even without parking sensors, it is an easy vehicle to park.
And that’s what makes the Kia Sportage a hit on the sales charts, even more so than its looks. Most buyers in the crossover segment are simply looking for a comfortable ride to drive to the office and back, while enjoying the perceived safety of a raised ride height. While that safety bit is an illusion, the comfort bit hits the mark perfectly.
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