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Thursday / 20 June 2024
HomeFeaturesEntry-level Kia Sportage review – The best SUVs are no longer German

Entry-level Kia Sportage review – The best SUVs are no longer German

Kia launched the Sportage LX in South Africa in November last year positioned as the new entry-level model to the range.

This title feels more like a formality than a relegation to a lower caste. The LX doesn’t look entry-level, it doesn’t drive so, and its interior can trade punches all day long with the segment’s heavy hitters.

A week with the most affordable Sportage on the market showed me why Kia’s daring marketing campaign that has adorned billboards around the country for months rings true: The best SUVs are no longer German.

Entry-level by name, not by nature

A more noteworthy attribute of the LX is that it is one of only two Sportage derivatives equipped with the new turbo-diesel powertrain introduced to our market in May last year.

The 1.6-litre mill is no pack leader when it comes to pure output, producing 100kW and 320Nm which is directed to the front axle via a seven-speed automatic gearbox, however, it doesn’t fall short in any major aspect.

It’s quick to respond to pedal presses and provided acceptable acceleration performance on Gauteng’s busy roads where speed limits are merely light-hearted suggestions and the flow of traffic mostly dictates how fast you should go.

I would be remiss not to mention that there were a few alarming instances where it felt like the vehicle lost engine power for a second or two before regaining it once again and continuing without a hitch.

This generally happened at slow speeds so it could be chalked up to turbo lag, but it should be something to look out for if you’re test driving a diesel Sportage for a potential purchase.

As usual, apart from the low-down torque, the diesel’s biggest drawcard is its efficiency. I finished around two-thirds of the tank covering 636km and saw an average economy of 6.3l/100km over this distance.

In comparison, when I drove the petrol-powered Sportage back in 2022, it returned a reading of around 9.0l/100km whilst not offering much more grunt.

From behind the wheel the mid-size Kia is surprisingly responsive and stable on the tarmac, while simultaneously achieving stellar ride comfort over bumps and ruts on a lengthy dirt road leading to the dam, which is probably the most extreme off-roading most of its patrons will ever do.

Both the base and top-spec Sportage also provide Eco, Normal, Sport, and Smart drive programmes – I left the LX on Smart for most of the time which automatically selects the most appropriate input setup based on current conditions and had no complaints about sluggish acceleration, unwieldy handling, or heightened thirstiness.

The Kia’s cabin is well-considered in its execution with the automaker doing good to add and forgo certain features to keep the LX’s price competitive while not skimping its customers.

Buyers can expect a large display on the dash housing a 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 4-inch multi-info LCD driver’s display, an artificial leather multifunction steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a high-quality reverse camera, rear parking sensors, and rain-sensing wipers.

Build quality is impressive and I was a big fan of the aeronautically-inspired cockpit design with the angular aircon vents and curved dashboard display, as well as the attractive silver finishes dotted around the compartment.

At first, I expected the touch-sensitive control panel below the central screen with its dual nature – being the main point of interaction for both airconditioning and multimedia – would be a hassle to use, but it turned out to be quite the opposite.

It did facilitate a few misclicks on bumpier roads that had me inadvertently switch on the window defogger or change the radio station, but as far as haptic buttons go, it is up there with the better of them.

In modern times most of these nice-to-haves are already expected on a R660,000 SUV, hence, where the Kia earns its stripes is with its generous assortment of advanced driver assistance systems.

With no option boxes ticked or extra money spent, the base Sportage comes with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, lane-follow assist, and front collision avoidance assist with pedestrian and cyclist detection – all useful abilities you’ll rarely find in an “entry-level” vehicle regardless of the badge on its nose.

The LX’s 17-inch rims are also the smallest in the range but handsome nonetheless and will result in fewer curb rashes than the 19-inchers found on the upper-spec variants, and it has the same automatic LED headlights and daytime running lights that lend the front of this generation of the Sportage its unmistakable look.

Switching focus to practicality, both the front and rear rows of the Kia afford ample leg and shoulder room, so much so that at nearly two metres tall I did not have to adjust my seating position when someone of above-average height got in behind me.

The second row of seating sports reclining backrests, too, allowing your passengers to kick back and relax with cool air in their face and their devices on charge courtesy of rear-seat aircon vents and USB-C plugs installed in the sides of the front seats.

With clever packing you’ll also be able to fit two golf bags in the 571-litre boot with room to spare, but it’s rather shallow, so if you’re transporting anything like, for example, a sizeable travel suitcase, you may not be able to close the parcel cover.

The best SUVs are no longer German

During my time with the Kia I spent a few hours in a premium SUV from one of the country’s favourite German nameplates that was just around double the price of the Korean.

What struck me the most; there was very little in terms of ride quality and handling that separated the two vehicles – certainly not enough to justify the vast difference in cost.

Similarly, unless you like a flashier look, the LX seems to be the pick of the litter in the Sportage series.

The petrol engine is a solid option but not leaps and bounds ahead of the diesel, the cosmetic upgrades like bigger wheels and glossy bumpers don’t make it look that much different, and the enhanced features like adaptive cruise control and a fully-digital instrument cluster won’t add much to the quality of life with the SUV.

The Sportage LX is a bargain buy in the mid-size SUV segment, it’s as simple as that.


Kia Sportage LX


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