Kia Sportage: Function over form

The new Kia Sportage has a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel.
Kia Sportage 2.0.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The new Kia Sportage has a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel.
The new Kia Sportage has a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The new Kia Sportage may not look elegant but it boasts premium features not associated with cars in its price bracket

Styling-wise, Kia has been making waves under the guidance of design maestro Peter Schreyer.

The former Audi designer, best known for coming up with the first TT Coupe, has been churning out winners for Kia since joining the Korean manufacturer 10 years ago.

The Forte, Optima and previous Sportage were some of his finest works.

The new Sportage, however, is a step backwards in the looks department. It is bulbous and a little blob-like when compared with its edgy and elegant predecessor.

But that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you happen to find cars such as the previous Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 attractive. The Sportage has a hint of both cars, even if its standalone radiator grille makes it look like a sheepish Pokemon.

Look beyond its questionable design though, and you will find improvements in practically everything else.

  • SPECS / KIA SPORTAGE 2.0

  • Price: $124,999 with COE

    Engine: 1,999cc 16-valve inline-4

    Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual override

    Power: 155hp at 6,200rpm

    Torque: 192Nm at 4,000rpm

    0-100kmh: 11.1 seconds

    Top speed: 181kmh

    Fuel consumption: 7.9 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Cycle & Carriage Kia

For starters, there is a lot more space. The new car is 40mm longer, with 30mm of that going to the wheelbase. This translates to a bigger passenger compartment, especially in the rear, where the floor has been lowered by 40mm.

The boot is also bigger, with a storage volume of 503 litres, up from 465. Access to the boot has also improved because of a wider opening and a lower loading height.

The cabin is slightly quieter, something which you might appreciate more fully if the engine was a little less harsh. It does not help that the normally aspirated 2-litre power plant needs to be revved to about 4,000rpm now and then.

Kia has reduced the output of the engine for better efficiency. On paper, the new car consumes 7.9 litres of fuel for every 100km - about 9 per cent better than before - despite the car having gained 3 per cent in body weight.

But in the real world, the car averages 9.8 litres/100km, which is still not too shoddy for a biggish 2-litre SUV. In any case, the fuel tank is larger now, so you can go longer between refuelling.

The car is also better-equipped than before. Features which you would normally not associate with something in its price bracket include 18-inch wheels, heated and self-folding wing mirrors, leather- wrapped multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, dual-zone automatic aircon with ioniser, front and rear power outlets plus USB port, six airbags and tyre-pressure monitor.

The Sportage drives like a SUV, with bobbing movements that are obvious in the cabin whenever its wheels meet undulations or when the car recovers from turning a corner.

Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, what is the point of buying an SUV if it drives just like a sedan?

The car offers good visibility with its relatively high seating position. It is a fairly versatile family carrier best enjoyed in a leisurely frame of mind.

And even though it is quite capable of going into fast corners, the resultant body roll and high revs required for exit dissuade you from such shenanigans.

It is far better to just sit back and appreciate the car's impressive build quality, the premium materials used to line the cabin, its superior sound system and its overall refinement.

Cupholders for instance, are rubber-lined to reduce rattle. Seatbelt harnesses are lined with felt for the same reason.

Not bad at all for a car priced 15 to 25 per cent lower than its Japanese rivals. So what if it is not as handsome as before?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Function over form'. Print Edition | Subscribe