Road test: Kia Sportage Series II enjoys best of both worlds
WHEN I was last in Slovakia, more than a decade ago, the country was still getting used to the idea of being independent of the former Czechoslovakia and starting to flex its muscles without communist interference.
We had made the five-hour train journey from Prague amid slightly dubious circumstances, keen to see the country that gave us the opposite ends of the spectrum in artist Andy Warhol and model Adriana Karembeu who made the Wonderbra famous, and were soon tucking in to bowls of soup with goats cheese dumplings washed down with lots of good local beer.
A few days later on our way to a paragliding course we passed through the small city of Zilina, nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Tatra mountains. The town square was small with beautiful old buildings many with the turrets associated with childhood fairy tales.
Things have changed a little though and today Zilina is an important industrial centre, in large part due to the arrival of Kia. The Korean manufacturer is by far the most important employer in the region employing more than 4000 people with the plant producing some 350,000 cars a year.
One of the cars produced in that factory for the Australian market is the Series II Sportage, among Kia's most popular vehicles.
Kia Australia public relations general manager Kevin Hepworth says that moving the Sportage production to Slovakia means supply can be consistent which is a relief for dealers and a boon for buyers.
The main differences with the Series II is the price drop which ranges from $500 to $1500 depending on the model and the discontinuation of the 2.5-litre petrol engines.
The mid-spec SLi and top of the range Platinum will now have to make do with 2.0-litre petrol or diesel powerplants.
The stylish double-stich seat design grabs your eye when you first examine the interior of this second series Sportage. It is obvious that care has been taken here for a general freshen up as well as the introduction of more soft-touch surfaces.
Backseat passengers have little to complain about in this area too with their pew less upright and quite comfortable.
While legroom is generous back there too, the sloping roof can make it a squeeze for tall occupants.
There have been few changes to instruments, dials and buttons with the ergonomic layout facilitating easy access to all the required gadgetry.
Despite some improvements, much of the dash has that plasticky feel as do the door embellishments but this is hardly a deal breaker.
The boot holds its own with the rest of this class, 740 litres will all seats in place growing to a rather more than useful 1547 litres when you lower the 60:40 split back seat.
On the road
The Sportage offers a comfortable, pleasant ride - not a blood pumping thrill but powerful and very acceptable. Our diesel test car lagged a bit from stationary but soon picked up momentum and at speed there was an air of quiet confidence.
It is well balanced, easy to steer and still finds the legs with five adults on board.
The Sportage can be a little noisy but not intrusively so and it is apparent that the suspension and chassis has been adapted for our conditions.
Our off-roading was pretty gentle but it came through with aplomb adding to its versatility. Of course it is never going to be a bush basher but with a 1600kg towing capacity will do well during a camping trip and the odd foray down the beach.
What do you get?
Kia usually has a generous hand with inclusions and the Sportage keeps all the standards we have come to expect, adding a few more touches to whet the appetite.
Our SLi boasted 17-inch alloys, auto headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, an excellent audio system with Bluetooth, iPod and USB auxiliary inputs, reverse camera and rear sensors, static cornering lights, auto dimming rear view mirror and heated folding wing mirrors among other niceties.
Safety is five-star and includes six airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, traction control, hill start assist and seatbelt pretensioners.
The main competition in this tight segment includes the biggest selling Mazda CX-5 ($39,470), along with the Toyota RAV4 ($37,990), Hyundai ix35 ($34,990), Mitsubishi ASX ($31,990), Volkswagen Tiguan ($38,480) and Ford Kuga ($39,240).
The Sportage Series II ticks a number of boxes for young families and couples as well as singles of most ages. It is versatile, looks good, drives well, is suitably priced and has good storage options.
Of course there are some issues like large A-pillars that hinder visibility, some road noise and a sometimes stiff ride but all in all there are far more advantages. While we thought the diesel was definitely the better performer it will be interesting to see whether buyers are willing to hand over an extra $3500.
Official combined figures list the diesel at 7.2 litres per 100km and while we exceeded that by close to two litres during urban forays we used as little as 5.0 litres/100km on some long highway drives.
You do have the option to switch to ECO mode which does save on fuel.
Kia also offers a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing over that same period.
This new Sportage looks pretty much the same except for changes to the reflector cluster and rear bumper.
Its sporty lines, slick tucks, trademark Kia grille and proud stance add to its appeal.
What matters most
What we liked: Good looks, comfortable ride, drop in price.
What we'd like to see: Reverse camera as standard, auto-tailgate option in cheaper models.
Warranty and servicing: Kia offers an unlimited kilometre warranty with five-year/75,000km fixed-price servicing. Average price of $432 annually.
Model: Kia Sportage SLi.
Details: Five-door active four-wheel drive medium SUV.
Engine: 2.0-litre, in-line four cylinder diesel generating maximum power of 135kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 392Nm between 1800rpm-2500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.2 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line (plus on-roads): $35,490 (SLi petrol $31,990).