WHEN you look at the third-generation Kia Sportage 4×2 diesel variant, there is no doubt that it exudes a robust visual presence. Aside from the aesthetics, it is also engaging to drive with its balance of sportiness, form and functionality.
The fascia radiates with Kia’s signature tiger-nose front grille, which complements the projector-type headlights that stretch to the fenders. It is evidence of Kia styling chief Peter Schreyer’s design approach, which is unique to every modern Kia vehicle. The body lines and contours, which form an elegant aura, also add to the aerodynamics, with the lower rear roofline extending to the tail gate. Black trim surrounding the underneath panels supplements the solid styling.
Yet, there’s a different story once you’re inside the five-seater cabin. Although the interior layout is modern and ergonomic, the materials used lean toward practical, rather than elegance. True to its functional purpose, switches and controls are straight-forward and within reach of the driver. It may not have the usual modern bells and whistles, but there are several essential amenities and interior-design cues. The combination of the sunken cup holders in the center console and elevated arm rest prevents any distraction when operating the short shifter. You wouldn’t miss a glimpse of the enlarged and well-illuminated analog gauges that are perfectly visible through the chunky and grippy steering wheel. Seats are wrapped in fabric, giving a perfect hug. Rear passengers will enjoy the ample legroom and available aircon vent for a more comfortable ride. Despite lacking an automatic climate-control system, the manually activated blower and thermostat proved to be capable of wrapping the occupants in a blanket of coldness. For a moment, one wouldn’t think it runs with diesel, since there is minimal noise inside the cabin apart from the tire-tread echoes.
The powertrain is the Sportage’s most compelling feature. Given the engine’s performance, it seems capable of going head-to-head with popular Japanese SUVs, which sport bigger displacements. With the 2.0-liter CRDI turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine, driving was amazingly fun. You don’t need a dynamometer to validate the declared figures once you get to drive the Sportage. With maximum torque available within the low-end range, acceleration was instantaneous, so forceful, in fact, that it demonstrated swift overtaking and made every ascent almost irrelevant. On steep climbs, this writer almost forgot about the fact that the vehicle was a front driver; it left no hesitation when summoned to scramble. Once you reached the midrange, it produced a distinct grunt before unleashing more boost. Transferring power to the front wheels is a six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode. It exhibited seamless operation and stayed within low-engine speeds in the final drive—a fuel-efficiency feature. Shifting was almost executed in real-time with the manual mode, allowing the engine to stay within the power band during passing and supporting the engine braking when needed.
As for the suspension, the test unit showed adaptability on different terrains. It may be a little bouncy on bad pavement but it’s surprisingly stable and smooth on level roads, even with random variations. The 17-inch alloy wheels, wrapped with 225/60 series tires, handled rubble without any rebound. On turns and curves, there were no excessive body roll and twists from the relatively stiff dampers. And together with the responsive electronic steering, handling and control were impressive. There’s more than enough stopping power with the large diameter four-wheel disc brakes. The Antilock Braking System performed well on hard braking, maintaining steering direction.
This writer sees the Kia Sportage as a countryside dweller with the versatility to drive around urban areas. It is great for traversing highways or in extreme road conditions, given its unyielding execution. On the other hand, its practical interior is ideal for out-of-town trips without the worries of soiling the upholstery. The minimalist switches and controls allow you to focus and enjoy the driving dynamics.