Almost 4 000 km is a tough initiation stint for any vehicle. But that's exactly what the Kia Sportage faced only two days after arrived at the CAR offices. The reason? My midyear family holiday trip, this time to the picturesque Drakensberg region. The Sportage range was updated in 2018, which saw the entry-level 1,7-litre CRDi engine discontinued (unfortunately, since we reported favourably on this derivative when it formed part of our fleet in 2017) and the addition of a new eight-speed automatic transmission paired to the 2,0-litre turbodiesel unit found in this test unit. With 131 kW and 400 N.m, progress was bound to be swift.
This was indeed the case as, even fully loaded with family and gear, the Sportage delivered impressive overtaking punch when dealing with the vast number of trucks clogging up the N1. Setting the cruise control at the national limit saw the initial fuel consumption hovering above 8,4 L/100 km (which was slightly disappointing). Interestingly, as the kilometres piled on the consumption steadily dropped with a lowest indicated reading of 6,7 L/100 km between Beaufort West and Cape Town on the return leg.
Bells and whistles
In EX Plus specification, the Sportage is loaded with features, including an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, a panoramic sunroof, a USB port for passengers as well as a wireless smartphone charger. As a result, this is the most expensive derivative in the range at R562 995, eclipsing the AWD variant (which is offered in EX spec only). The 19-inch wheels (lower-spec models employ 17-inch items) do increase the kerb appeal but the result is a slight jitter through the chassis over ridges on the road surface. What the wheels certainly do, though, is amplify the sporty character of the vehicle, which is in tune with its nimble handling and quick-shifting transmission.
Reaching Golden Gate
The destination for our trip was the majestic Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the Sportage had to dirty its boots to reach the log cabins high in the mountains. Although this model is front-wheel drive, traction was not a problem on the cement blocks in the jeep track and I even engaged the (somewhat superfluous) hill-descent control function when negotiating the steep slopes. The Sportage is more of a city slicker than the adventurous Sorento (my previous long-termer) but managed to take our family to spectacular hiking trails without too much hassle. Although I will miss the extra space and seven seats of the Sorento when the in-laws arrive, the Sportage feels like its younger and more athletic sibling.
The only negatives noted were minor vibrations through the cabin at idle, overactive shifts from the transmission when cruise control is engaged and a slightly weak radio system when a popular song on the radio demands “sing-along volume”. Otherwise, I am looking forward to seeing how it fares in the Big Smoke when the school holiday ends.
More about the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
If you are looking for a family break that includes nature then Golden Gate should be on your shortlist. It offers majestic mountain views, scenic walking trails and a variety of fauna and flora.
The accommodation ranges from a campsite all the way up to the Golden Gate hotel. We stayed in the Highlands Mountain Retreat, which feature secluded log cabins high in the mountains. They offer spectacular vistas and are fully equipped for your stay. The fireplace and electric blankets are a must in the winter as the morning temperatures dipped to -3°C while we were there. From the cabins you can explore the surroundings and we even spotted wildebeest, zebra and blesbok on short walks. Many birds of prey circle the mountain ranges, which should please bird lovers.
The park offers a variety of activities for the adventurous, such as abseiling, canoeing, horse riding and plenty more. We preferred hiking and you will find a path for your fitness and skill levels. As we have small children, we concentrated on the short scenic options but even these rewarded with spectacular sights of nature.
After 1 month
Current Mileage: 3 889 km
Average fuel consumption: 7,97 L/100 km
We like: Nimble handling and punchy powertrain
We don’t like: Engine vibration at idle
Long-term test (Update 2):Kia Sportage 2,0 CRDi EX Plus Auto
After a mammoth mileage accumulation in its first month, the Sportage took it easy this time round. A fill-up after the holiday trip confirmed the best fuel consumption to date at 6,69 L/100 km was indeed achieved on the final homeward leg. The engine feels livelier than when it arrived and there is the temptation to enjoy the sprightly acceleration away from the lights (even with slight torque steer) to the detriment to fuel economy.
A pleasant convenience feature is door-handle lights which automatically illuminate when walking up to the vehicle in the dark.
After 2 months
Current Mileage: 4 112 km
Average fuel consumption: 7,78 L/100 km
Long-term test (Update 3):Kia Sportage 2,0 CRDi EX Plus Auto
The Sportage’s suspension setup and responsive steering enable the driver to make it in time for that important meeting even if a few corners are in the way. The ride is slightly firm but, in my opinion, the advantage of a nimble vehicle outweighs the slight impact on comfort. Cape Town has been in the claws of a cold, wet winter and seat heaters would have been a boon in this top-spec model. At least it comes with a panoramic sunroof and the kids love how the raindrops create patterns on the glass as we drive.
In summary, the Sportage is a joy to pilot round town, although I am already planning the next getaway to pretend I’m also a rugged lead in an advertisement.
After 3 months
Current Mileage: 5 273 km
Average fuel consumption: 7,98 L/100 km
Long-term test (Update 3):Kia Sportage 2,0 CRDi EX Plus Auto
More bad news is a slight, intermittent drivetrain oscillation when reversing at slow speed, which I will monitor this month. The main drawcards are its ease of use and uncomplicated nature which help to cushion other daily frustrations.
After 4 months
Current Mileage: 5 846 km
Average fuel consumption: 8,20 L/100 km
Long-term test (Update 4):Kia Sportage 2,0 CRDi EX Plus Auto
When it comes to an SUV such as the Sportage, outgoing tech editor and previous minder of this Kia, Nicol Louw, was the ideal candidate for a vehicle this size as it suited his four-person family well.
Over the first three months of its time in the CAR garage, the Sportage received praise for being an effective all-rounder that can comfortably and capably manage the school run, running errands and creeping through traffic. This is largely thanks to the efficient drivetrain, plush chassis and com- mendable packaging.
My perspective will be somewhat different, however. My single lifestyle has seen the Sportage subjected to mainly stop-and-go driving, with the spacious back seats remaining unoccupied most of the time. I feel this is worth a mention because, on my daily commute, I’ve encountered many SUVs in this segment being subjected to the same thing. My feeling is these vehicles are not being used to their full potential once resigned to the urban sprawl.
Having spoken to some owners who use their SUVs for this purpose, they’ve confirmed they feel a sense of security from the raised ride height plus they find an SUV is more fashionable. And the Kia is more fashionable than most.
Still, while the Sportage is a great contender in the midsize SUV segment and its lofty ride height allows it to transverse pockmarked gravel roads, I can’t help but daydream what it would be like driving Kia’s own, more nimble Ceed Sportwagon on my congested route. The Ceed also offers more boot and utility space according to the carmaker’s measurements, and just 11 mm less headroom. Sadly, it’s unlikely to ever be offered in SUV-obsessed South Africa.
After 5 months
Current Mileage: 7 201 km
Average fuel consumption: 8,27 L/100 km
We like: great daily usability
We don’t like: a station wagon would be equally usable
Long-term test (Wrap-up):Kia Sportage 2,0 CRDi EX Plus Auto
it melds well with the torque converter. With access to eight forward speeds, the Sportage performs capably both in the city and on the open road.
After 6 months
Current Mileage: 8 473 km
Average fuel consumption: 8,51 L/100 km
We like: comfortable ride; standard features; stylish
We don’t like: thirstier than anticipated
See Full Kia Sportage price and specs here