Long-term test (Introduction): Kia Sportage 1,7 CRDi Ignite Plus
Keen on reclaiming lost ground in the local compact-SUV playing field, Kia’s recently expanded Sportage range introduced not only a new turbodiesel engine, but also a new specification level aimed at filling the relatively substantial pricing gap between the entry-level and graciously specced models in the portfolio. It was both the intrinsic qualities of this new powertrain, together with the relative back-to-basics charm associated with Kia’s new Ignite Plus specification level, that appealed to us when we were deciding which Sportage to add to our long-term fleet. This vehicle is finished in stylish Dark Gun Metal paintwork and Ignite Plus models are distinguished from entry-level Ignite offerings by the standard fitment of 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as front foglamps. The inclusion of this lighting neatly complements the characterful nose treatment of the latest Sportage.
Of the finishes not considered for this specification level, the absence of leather upholstery has, to date, not been missed, the standard cloth-covered pews offering both impressive all-round comfort and support. That said, I am carefully monitoring how well this material stands up to the inevitable punishment that lies ahead at the hands of my two young children.
A bugbear with the Ignite Plus specification and, indeed, any vehicle at this price point is the fitment of a plastic steering wheel. At a time when even city cars are offering leather tillers, the feeling of plastic in your hands cheapens this package somewhat. Other nice-to-have touches I’m deciding if I’ll miss in a vehicle this size are a reverse camera (sensors are, however, standard), as well as the ability to electrically fold the side mirrors.
Where the inclusion of a more sophisticated touchscreen-based infotainment system would have been welcome (if only for the option to add satellite navigation), I am enjoying the simplicity of the Bluetooth-equipped default audio system. Similarly, it has been no chore manually adjusting the air-conditioning system, while I appreciate the fact that the Sportage offers air vents for rear passengers.
Impressive comfort aside, undoubtedly a highlight of this package is the combination of a refined and capable 1,7-litre CRDi engine and slick six-speed manual gearbox. I’ve enjoyed being able to effortlessly maintain forward momentum while short-shifting through the gears to enjoy the abundance of torque. Accordingly, this level of flexibility also eases the task of negotiating start/stop traffic.
After 1 month
Mileage now: 1 168 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 6,98 L/100 km
We like: brilliant drivetrain; overall comfort
We dislike: plastic steering wheel
Long-term test (Update 1): Kia Sportage 1,7 CRDi Ignite Plus
While I’m racking up the mileage on my Sportage a little quicker than anticipated, the combination of a sumptuous ride and impressively refined 1,7-litre turbodiesel drivetrain has made the accumulation of kilometres a pleasure.
With the most recent mileage recorded over the duration of the December holiday period, I was grateful for both the generous amount of interior space offered by the distinct-looking, fourth-generation Sportage, as well as the versatility associated with vehicles of this ilk. That said, I appreciated the fact that it’s so much easier to manoeuvre small children into their assigned seats within a raised-bodied vehicle fitted with wide opening rear doors. A handy inclusion on my Ignite Plus is a non-slip rubber mat in the luggage compartment.
While an obvious advantage of this is the secure transportation of items of various sizes, a further benefit is that it makes trips home from the beach, complete with wet swimming gear, towels and toys, less of a chore.
If there’s been one small frustration with my Sportage to date, it’s been the intermittent workings of the key fob. The metal element is designed to fold away neatly when not required, yet my key’s ability to spring back to life when needed continues to be a hit and miss affair. A visit to my local dealership that included some nifty Leatherman work by one of the sales assistants proved to be a temporary solution.
A petty complaint it may be but, considering this is the only area where the brilliantly packaged Sportage isn’t excelling to date, it makes it a greater frustration that it might otherwise be.
After 4 months
Mileage now: 9 097 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 6,81 L/100 km
We like: impressive overall comfort; refined drivetrain
We dislike: minor key fob flaw
Long-term test (Update 2): Kia Sportage 1,7 CRDi Ignite Plus
As is the prerogative of manufacturers seeking to highlight as many brand-associated features as possible in their press fleets, many of the test vehicles that pass through our garage arrive laden with expensive optional specification items. There are pros and cons to this practice, though, as – aside from adding an, at times, eye-watering premium onto the asking price of some models – it also helps us filter out items we’d struggle to recommend to anyone about to configure their own purchase.
The past seven months spent with the Ignite Plus-specified Kia Sportage 1,7 CRDi has given a similar perspective in terms of what items of convenience I like, and what I could comfortably do without were I in the market for a similarly sized vehicle.
While I ultimately prefer the cloth upholstery fitted to Ignite Plus models compared with a subjectively more premium leather arrangement, I have no problem with manually adjusting the air-conditioning. I also appreciate the (still attractive) smaller wheels/plumper tyres combination, where more expensive models sacrifice ride comfort for kerb appeal.
There are ultimately only three small areas where I feel Kia could potentially improve on a package that is quickly establishing itself as my favourite long-term vehicle to date.
The most expensive update would likely be a keyless-entry system that would make approaching the vehicle with two small children in tow much easier. Then, while I have come to savour the simplicity of Kia’s older infotainment system, a more modern setup which includes caller ID in its Bluetooth function would prove useful.
Lastly, cue an eye roll from Kia South Africa’s marketing department as I once again bemoan the fitment at this price point of a plastic steering wheel.
After 7 months
Mileage now: 13 787 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 6,84 L/100 km
We like: continues to prove itself against pricier rivals
We dislike: rivals offer a leather-covered steering wheel
Long-term test (Update 3): Kia Sportage 1,7 CRDi Ignite Plus
As the Sportage’s odo neared the 15 000 km mark, I thought I’d find out when the vehicle’s first service was due. The first Kia dealership I called told me that diesel-powered Sportage models require a 20 000 km service, while petrol versions were due every 15 000 km. After twice clarifying what sounded like skewed information, I called a few more dealerships. To my surprise, only two out of the five (multi-franchise) service departments stated – as later confirmed by Kia Motors South Africa – that all Sportage models require a service every 15 000 km.
Its tune-up complete, the Sportage continues to deliver exceptional levels of comfort and refinement. Even on days when an N2 commute conspires to test my resolve, the easygoing nature of the 1,7 CRDi’s drivetrain, including its healthy reserves of torque and slick manual transmission, come to the fore, making light work of slow-moving traffic.
As impressive as this manual gearbox is, there’s no doubt that the buying trend within this particular segment favours the convenience of an automatic transmission. That said, it’ll be interesting to note what drivetrain changes, if any, are included with the local Sportage range’s imminent facelift. Cosmetically, expect the updated line-up to feature a revised bumper and headlamp treatment, as well as a few small interior upgrades.
The recent rainfall in the Cape has highlighted a specification item not included in the otherwise well-equipped Ignite Plus package. As expected, it’s not a chore to manually operate the speed of the windscreen wipers as opposed to relying on a sometimes-erratic automatic function.
After 9 months
Mileage now: 16 691 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 6,79 L/100 km
We like: refinement; frugal engine
We dislike: absence of an optional automatic transmission
Long-term test (Update 4): Kia Sportage 1,7 CRDi Ignite Plus
Published in May 1998, the road test of the first-generation Sportage gave both CAR magazine and the South African public its first taste of what Kia Motors might be capable of. Suitably rugged, with a cheap and cheerful interior, that otherwise complimentary road test concluded with a word of caution about the future of the three available Korean brands of the time: Hyundai, Daewoo and Kia.
Twenty years later – and through three subsequent generations of progressively more European-looking Sportage offerings – the latest (QL) version not only confidently competes with this segment’s best in terms of refinement and build quality, but also neatly represents just how much Kia (and, of course, Hyundai) has grown in such a relatively short period. As both these manufacturers continue to garner global praise for both quality and customer satisfaction, from a consumer publication’s point of view, it’s been intriguing to experience first-hand the huge strides these brands have made to establish themselves as genuine contenders.
With both the current-generation Sportage and its Tucson cousin scheduled for mid-cycle updates, I’m interested to see whether Kia will use this opportunity to add further appeal to a Sportage range which hasn’t quite had the same impact on Tucson sales as it did when the latter was branded ix35 between 2010 and 2016.
The model refresh will correspond with the end of my time as custodian of CAR’s long-term 1,7 CRDi Ignite Plus, a vehicle that, despite its modest levels of standard specification and unfashionable manual transmission, has proved to be one of the most honest, versatile, frugal and, indeed, enjoyable longtermers I’ve had.
After 11 months
Mileage now: 19 943 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 7,05 L/100 km
We like: characterful styling
We dislike: almost time to say goodbye
See Full Kia Sportage price and specs here