It had taken just a few kilometres for me to realise that Kia's Sportage diesel was going to live up to all expectation.
Industry commentators have been heaping praise on the newcomer and all those who I have spoken to about the model were enthusiastic. Take into account that I evaluated the petrol engine version in these columns mid-way through last year, the diesel variant has been slow to find its way to New Zealand given worldwide demand.
The Sportage is a result of the joint programme Hyundai and Kia share in South Korea. It is based on the Tucson platform, and between the two models there isn't a great deal of difference, the concept is the same and the looks of the two mid-size SUVs similar. That being the case, the purchase of either would come down to brand loyalty and/or price, the latter in both instances keen.
There are five models in the Sportage range, with three engine options, there's a four-cylinder 2-litre petrol variant at $30,950, the 2.7-litre lists at $37,700 while the four-cylinder 2-litre diesel sits at $32,245. Automatic transmission options on the two four-cylinder variants add $1400.
The Sportage is a state-of-art model, especially in terms of looks. It is fresh, clean with modern styling cues and an interior that is uncluttered and comfortable.
It is the quintessential five-seater with good space and a load carrying area that can account for 667 litres (1886 litres with rear seats folded flat).
For its price the Sportage is also well specced. It gets climate control, remote central locking with alarm and immobiliser, leather-wrapped steering wheel on tilt-adjustable column, seat height adjustment, cruise control, fully electric operating systems, logical and high quality single-CD audio, variable intermittent wipers and trip computer.
Diesel buyers will find the latter most interesting; during my testing time it recorded instantaneous fuel usage readout of 7.5 litres per 100km (2200rpm engine speed at 100kmh), while my test average of 9.7l/100km was worthy of mention. These figures translate to 38mpg and 29mpg. And that doesn't come at a performance cost. The diesel model is just marginally slower to 100kmh than its petrol counterpart at 12sec, while through the mid-range, 80kmh to 120kmh the times are much the same at 8sec.
Kia rate the diesel at 83kW (4000rpm) and, as you would suspect, it has a solid band of torque from 1800rpm to 2500rpm representing 245Nm. It is an intercooled and turbocharged engine which not only gives solid performance, it is also one of the quietest engines in this category.
Yes, there is a bit of a rattle and clatter when cold, but it quickly smoothes out to a hush under load and a whisper at highway speed.
The ratios of the five-speed manual box extract well engine power, there is a long gap between second and third but there's more than enough torque to plug the gap; once the turbo starts boosting forward momentum is ushered in willingly.
Sitting in the "soft-roader" category the Sportage has a permanently engaged four-wheel-drive system, there's no low ratio system but there is a push-button diff lock for formidable terrain. Kia have given the Sportage a 195mm ground clearance which is quite satisfactory, and with approach and departure angles of around 29deg it can be placed off-road with reasonable confidence.
I took the test car though a succession of mid-Canterbury dirt roads and was impressed with the ride comfort in the rough and balance of the car in general. It has positive steering and directional control, no matter the surface, sealed or unsealed. Understeer feels like it is inevitable but it is negated by a stability control system which is aligned to the ABS sensors, part of a good safety package which includes six air bags and five overshoulder seat belts.
Interestingly, the Sportage weighs in a bit heavier than I thought it would at 1683kg, but that doesn't seem to affect its handling nor performance. It doesn't feel bulky and its nimble nature, especially off-road, makes travel desirable. Kia describe the Sportage as the power to surprise and it certainly will surprise buyers who will not only get a brilliant all rounder, they will also get a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Diesel owners will also get enviable fuel economy.
One of my work colleagues is in the market for a diesel SUV. As boat owners they see the value in having four-wheel-drive to get the trailer in and out of slippery boat ramps. I've been keeping her posted as to my thoughts on the Sportage/Tucson variants and hope that that is the direction in which they head.
Price: Kia Sportage, $32,245.
Dimensions: Length, 4350mm; width, 1800mm; height, 1695mm.
Configuration: Four-cylinder transverse, four-wheel-drive, 1991cc, 83kW/4000rpm, 245Nm/1800rpm-2500rpm, five-speed manual, 1683kg.
Performance: 0-100kmh, 12sec.