Kia Sportage – micro-hybrid after micro-facelifte

The fourth-generation Kia Sportage has undergone a facelift. The engines and transmission have been changed, and micro-hybrid technology has been added, which should bring lower fuel consumption and emissions. However, the design interventions are only minimal. We test the top GT-Line trim with the 2.0 CRDi engine and new 8-speed automatic.

Outside

The unremarkable but hearty exterior design didn’t need to be changed too much. The front end with its high-mounted lights makes the Sportage unmistakable and everyone will recognise it from afar. Even before the facelift, the GT-Line trim introduced a new element in the form of four small LED lights that served as fog lights and were dubbed “ice cubes” by the carmaker. After the new Ceed, the test model also incorporated them nicely into the headlights and they serve as daytime running lights. It’s also the main element by which you’ll recognise the facelifted Sportage.

There aren’t many other changes. The front bumper has been given a different shape, chrome trim has been added, turn indicators. On the outside, nothing has changed apart from the fuel filler cap, unless you count the new, beautifully shaped 19-inch wheels (with 245/45 R19 tyres). At the rear, a chrome trim has been added, and the shape and graphics of the tail lights have changed. I wanted to praise the nice exhaust tips, but the view from underneath unfortunately reveals that they are fake.

The facelift has helped the car and made the front end a little softer. I personally like the car from the side and especially from the rear, and I’d pick out the taillights in particular, which are unobtrusively connected by a light bar. Despite its compact dimensions, the car looks powerful, but not aggressive. The new blue paintwork gives the car a freshness and definitely suits it.

Inside

The interior has undergone even more minor changes. They are visible on the steering wheel, the air vents and some of the controls. The 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display has remained integrated in the dashboard, rather than becoming a free-standing ‘tablet’ in the manner of the smaller Ceed. It is positioned high enough and is readable even in direct sunlight.

I commend the asymmetrical centre console with a practical cut-out for the driver’s right foot. The multitude of buttons looks chaotic at first, but after a while I got used to it and appreciated this control. The steering wheel is nicely shaped and well crafted, including buttons with good response. It has a thicker-than-average rim and doesn’t obscure the view of the instrument panel. Well-read dials for the speedometer and tachometer are complemented by a 4.2″ color LCD display, showing a wealth of on-board computer data. An analogue display of coolant temperature and fuel tank level has not been forgotten either.

I like the interior door trim, but find the use of piano lacquer in exposed areas impractical. The doors are heavy and look massive, but I missed the sill overlay, which doesn’t help keep my pants clean when I get in the car. The high dashboard is made up of a mix of soft and hard plastics with a nice texture. The automatic gear selector has a practical but now somewhat unfashionable shape. I was pleased with the elaborate centre tunnel and also with the pleasant, if non-reclining, armrest. The all-leather seats, stitched with red thread, offer both heating and cooling and promise a comfortable sit behind the wheel.

Behind the Wheel

Getting into the car is comfortable thanks to the not-very-wide sills. The front seat cushions are wide and long, the backrests high enough. Overall, they provide reasonable comfort, but in my opinion fall short of the quality of the seats used in the larger Sorento. I would also welcome a height-adjustable lumbar support. The seating position is higher, but with the legs stretched forward in a sporty way. The pedal travel and placement is fine, but it took me a while to get used to the slightly greater distance between them. I appreciate the sufficiently sized and padded left footrest. Overall, I was happy with my seating position behind the wheel, thanks to the wide enough range of steering wheel adjustment.

I have no complaints about the ergonomics of the individual controls, except for the aforementioned multitude of buttons on the center console. I found their red backlighting distracting in the dark. The relatively close position of the automatic selector to the driver is also a matter of habit.

There’s plenty of leg, shoulder and headroom. I was happy with the aforementioned armrest, as well as the soft bolster in the doors. The view in all directions is unobstructed and aided by the large rear-view mirrors.

Infotainment is the same as in other models of the brand. The touchscreen has a quick response, large icons and offers a host of features in a user-friendly package. I appreciated the Android Auto/Apple Car Play support and thus Waze navigation, which I enjoyed using.

Riding

The ride in the new Sportage is very pleasant. The chassis provides ample comfort and support even in dynamic driving. The car completely ignores minor bumps, larger ones transfer to the interior only minimally. Relatively small tilts of the car sensationally allow the driver to go through the turn at a higher speed. Efforts to approach the limit, however, are thwarted by the non-switchable stabilisation system. Still, the car is fun to drive, especially on slippery surfaces, where the transfer of torque to the rear wheels can be felt in a gentle skid when exiting a corner under full throttle. The car’s considerable weight of 1672kg and a decently tuned multi-link rear axle ensures the rear wheels keep a fair grip even on uneven surfaces.

The car is powered by a sophisticated 1995cc diesel four-cylinder, with a maximum output of 136kW at 4,000rpm and 400Nm of torque between 1,750 and 2,750 The unit is mated to a 48-volt lithium-ion battery pack, which is housed in the rear of the car and reduces the boot capacity. The work of the recuperation during deceleration and the transfer of energy from the batteries to the system can be monitored on the on-board computer display. The Mild Hybrid should contribute to the dynamics of the engine and ensure its economical operation. Engine noise is decently suppressed and can only be heard when accelerating at higher revs.

The engine is mated to a new 8-speed transmission with a hydrodynamic converter. In a recently tested Sorento model paired with the more powerful 2.2 CRDi, I was pleased with its performance. However, cooperation with the engine in the Sportage tested was no longer quite ideal. While the shifting of the individual gears was always smooth and gentle, the gearbox was more often hesitant when accelerating. Moreover, at lower speeds, it allowed the revs to drop below 1200, to which the engine responded with a gurgling sound and subtle vibrations. Sport mode partially solved these problems by keeping the revs higher and thus helping the gearbox to make quicker decisions.

The power steering is set up quite stiffly. I was fine with it, except for the change in its resistance when passing over the centre axis. After a while I got used to it and stopped being aware of this “oddity”. I appreciate the directness of the steering and its decent steepness, as the revs between its extreme positions reach 2.5. Almost no manufacturer in the compact SUV class provides front-wheel feedback anymore, and Kia is no exception.

Aside from the small shortcomings, I was pleased with the ride in the redesigned Sportage. However, I was surprised by the average fuel consumption, which I achieved through normal brisk driving with a slight predominance of motorways. 9 l/100 km would have been too much in my opinion, even without the use of mild hybrid technology. The 55-litre extra tank means a range of just 600 km on a single fill-up. However, as this is a new car with low mileage, the expectation is that consumption will adjust to a more acceptable level over time.

I wasn’t surprised by the car’s excellent manoeuvrability in the city, thanks to its compact dimensions. Parking is aided by a camera system allowing a bird’s eye view of the car. The chassis handles road imperfections with aplomb and filters out even larger bumps decently. The high seating position and ample glazing help orientation in narrow streets. Consumption, of course, depends on the current traffic and can exceed 12 l/100 km.

I averaged 8.6 l/100 km in brisk driving on motorways. As with other Kia models, I was convinced of the high level of driving assist. In heavy snow, I appreciated the ability to disable the adaptive cruise control function. The lane-keeping assist can autonomously follow even steeper curves, but at the same time it interferes too violently with the steering, in my opinion. When driving at night, I was pleased with the performance of the LED front lights, but I was surprised by the need to manually adjust their height.

Highway driving while adhering to speed limits increased the tank drain to 10 litres. Easing off the pace on the expressway at 100 km/h reduced consumption to 7.7. I was pleasantly surprised by the car’s sound insulation from both chassis and aerodynamic noise. The stability of the car on the highway is exemplary even in strong crosswinds.

The 172 mm ground clearance and 19″ wheels put me off off-roading. However, the car handled a small snowy hill without protest.

Practical side, price

At my height of 185 cm, I sat “behind” myself comfortably, with about 5 cm of margin in front of my knees. There is plenty of headroom as well. The rear seats are comfortable, with high enough backs. I appreciated the ability to recline them.

The problem arose when trying to anchor the child seat to the back seat. The attempt was unsuccessful due to the deep placement of the IsoFix attachments and also the anatomical shaping of the backrests. The interior provides plenty of roomy and well-used storage compartments. In the Sportage with the mild-hybrid engine tested, you have to reckon with limited boot space, which is reduced to 439 litres. Nevertheless, it is well usable and provides a flat area when the rear seats are folded down.

The price of the model tested is €36,990 + €1,890 for the GT-Line Pack + €550 for the metallic paint. I find the total price of €39,430 too high, although it is reduced by €1,300 at the time of the test. The question is whether it wouldn’t be more profitable to save €3,300 and consider the version with the 1.6 T-GDi petrol engine. In a test of the Hyundai Tucson with this unit, I achieved only one litre more consumption on the same routes. Simple calculations suggest that the higher price of the diesel version will only match the petrol version after around 160,000 miles.

Verdict

Aside from the higher consumption of the mild-hybrid engine, I was happy with the car. It provides a combination of good driveability, a modern and well crafted interior and last but not least an interesting design. With an interest in a compact SUV, I would definitely shortlist it. However, I would probably lean towards the aforementioned 1.6 T-GDi petrol engine, which provides better dynamics, has a quicker gearbox and, considering the price difference, only negligibly higher consumption.