Cast your mind back a couple of decades and you may remember that Kia vehicles were cheap and, well, pretty nasty in almost all respects. Good thing the South Korean car manufacturer has come a long way since, then.
Kia, alongside sister company Hyundai, has established itself as a serious competitor to leading rivals from Japan such as Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Subaru. Cars like the Stinger and i30 N have excited enthusiasts and the reliability of the two brands’ models has encouraged the most discerned of buyers to start looking at Kia seriously.
With this knowledge, I headed into a week with a 2019 Kia Sportage Si Premium diesel with high expectations, eager to see if it would live up to the praise being heaped it. It did – and then some.
The Sportage, currently in its fourth-generation, has been around since 1993 and in its latest form, proved itself as a superb all-round compact SUV; but more on that, later.
Modern family needs met
For Carscoops’ latest test, we tested out the Sportage in mid-range guise and with the available 2.0-liter diesel. This engine produces a total of 136 kW (182 hp) at 4000 rpm and an impressive 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque between 1750 and 2750 rpm. An eight-speed automatic transmission is all that’s available with the diesel and comes paired with a permanent all-wheel drive system which includes a center locking differential and Hill Descent Control. Kia quotes an average fuel consumption of 6.4L/100 km (36.7 MPG) and 8.0L/100 km (29.4 MPG) on the city cycle. We couldn’t match those figures, but were not far off either.
Sitting in the drivers’ seat, you’re welcomed by a familiar steering wheel featured on other Kia models. It is a great shape and offers nice feedback through the various toggles to control things like the sound system’s volume. In the center of the dashboard sits an 8-inch color touchscreen with an easy-to-comrehend interface. Found below the infotainment system are a number of physical buttons for the audio system and the climate control. Everything is well laid out and all the buttons provide nice feedback, although the overall design is a little uninspiring.
As the Sportage Si Premium diesel we tested sits below the SLi and GT Line in the range, it does lack some features which would be nice to have. For example, the seats feature cloth trim as opposed to leather and the front ones are not power adjustable and lack the 2-way lumbar support of more premium versions. The car does come with split fold 60:40 rear seats, an easy-to-operate cruise control system, and a 3.5-inch central gauge cluster screen which plays a nice tune and shows a graphic whenever you hop inside.
Buyers will be pleased to know that all versions come fitted with Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, while our test car also had the same JBL Premium eight-speaker audio system as the SLi and GT line models. Cargo space sits at 466 liters with the rear seats in their upright position and increases to 1,455 liters with them folded down.
Nice engine, but the ‘box needs work
Ordinarily, we would recommend a petrol engine, but in this case, the diesel does a fine job. It is quiet and refined and its 400 Nm of torque can be put to good use when you feel the need to accelerate hard, sending the Sportage down the road with decent pace. While the engine is nice, the same can’t be said about the eight-speed auto ‘box, though.
When accelerating, the transmission is fine and, in manual mode, shifts through the gears smoothly, exaclty as one would expect. However, it struggles when the cruise control is enabled and when you are coasting down a hill.
On the highway and with cruise control enabled, the transmission frequently changes gears unnecessarily to maintain speed. I didn’t find this too annoying as I didn’t test the vehicle for more than 20-minutes at a time on motorways with cruise control. For longer journeys, it could get on your nerves.
What I found more infuriating was how the transmission behaved when going down hills. It doesn’t matter whether you are braking down a hill or simply coasting, the transmission will suddenly drop down a gear or two, turning the otherwise quiet engine into one which emits a rather fowl noise at higher revs. When the transmission changed down a gear, evidently to try and maintain the vehicle’s speed, I would quickly shift into manual mode and re-engage the higher gear. Five seconds later, the gearbox would once again change down, forcing me to repeat the process. The only way to alleviate the issue is to switch over to manual mode before you start any type of descent.
I avoid looking at other reviews and owner testimonies of cars before driving a new car so I can approach it without any preconceptions. While writing this article, however, I thought I would see what others thought of the Sportage with the eight-speed auto. Lo and behold, many others have the same complaints.
The on-road prowess of the Sportage diesel is redeemed, somewhat, on other fronts. For starters, the cruise control is incredibly easy to operate. All you need to do is press the button on the steering wheel with your right thumb and toggle the switch below to set the speed. You can do it in the blink of an eye (literally). In addition, the vehicle’s Lane Keeping Assist system works well with other safety technologies including autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning. Our tester lacked Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, features which are standard on the GT Line model. Keyless entry and push-button start are also missing on the Si Premium.
A proposition that’s really hard to ignore
In Australia, the Kia Sportage is sold with the company’s class-leading seven-year warranty and capped-price servicing for the first seven years. Total service costs sit at $,580 over this period, or for the first 105,000 km, whichever comes first. The Si Premium diesel has a recommended retail price of $35,390, but the addition of a premium Sparking Silver paint option saw the price of our tester climb to $35,910.
For families on a budget, the Sportage Si Premium diesel is an excellent option. It offers some safety features which similarly-priced rivals, such as the Renault Koleos Life, don’t, and is very easy use to use and interact with. With a better transmission, it would be near-on perfect for the money.