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Kia has used a midlife facelift to reconsider its local Sportage line-up. Has it delivered a new entry-level sweet spot?

Based on the impressive growing global sales of Sportage models since 1993, culminating in the hugely popular third generation leading Kia’s market-share charge both internationally and on the local front, you could forgive the brand for its somewhat ballsy approach when it introduced the current fourth-generation Sportage late in 2016.

Indeed, our road tests of both the top-of-the-range diesel derivative (2,0 CRDi SX AWD) and flagship petrol model (1,6 T-GDI GT-Line AWD) – replete with 19-inch alloys, chrome accents, full leather upholstery and comprehensive touchscreen infotainment systems – that year showed just how far Kia’s bestselling global model had come. The trouble was, in adopting a relatively aggressive marketing strategy where the bulk of the range was positioned above the R500 000 price point while the Sportage’s equally impressive Hyundai Tucson cousin boasted a significantly broader local range (with only one model costing more than half a million), Kia SA risked losing touch with its value-hungry buying audience.

Whereas a relatively prompt reshuffle of the local Sportage range in 2017 introduced a notably broader portfolio that included a mid-level Ignite Plus specification, it’s the arrival of this vehicle’s mid-cycle facelift that has offered the brand the opportunity for a more thorough rethink of this important model’s market positioning.

Gone are the two flagship models we tested originally – with the new top-of-the-range 2,0 CRDi EX Plus priced round R550 000 – and in comes a revised line-up of engine and transmission options, as well as an intriguing new entry-level offering (tested here) aimed at increasing foot traffic through local Kia dealership doors.

Adding further distinction to the Sportage’s unmistakable front-end, the updated range gains an even more prominent Tiger Nose grille as well as larger foglamp housings (that look clumsy when not fitted with actual foglamps, as is the case in Ignite specification). While the updates to the rest of the exterior design remain subtle, Kia has introduced a selection of new alloy-wheel designs (16-, 17- or 19-inch) aimed at further distinguishing the new car from the old.

With fond memories of our since-discontinued long-term Sportage 1,7 CRDi Ignite Plus still fresh (a wrap-up report was published in our December 2018 issue), the uncomplicated interior finishes found in the new 1,6 GDI Ignite were met with a welcome sense of familiarity by our team of testers. While we applaud Kia’s decision to now include a leather-bound steering wheel and gearshift lever throughout the Sportage range, we also have no complaints about the retention of impressively comfortable cloth-covered seating in the most affordable models.

It didn’t help that we also had an updated Rio 1,4 TEC hatch, complete with one of Kia’s latest infotainment systems, on test at the same time as this Sportage but, as we found with our long-termer, there’s pleasure to be found in the simplicity (while including Bluetooth and a multifunction steering wheel) of Kia’s somewhat dated analogue audio system.

Appreciated during our time spent with the long-termer was both the impressive ride quality (especially on the smallest wheels) offered by the fourth-generation Sportage, as well as generous levels of rear-passenger comfort with above-average luggage space. That said, we remember our CRDi-powered unit’s electrically assisted steering offering more weight than experienced in this new petrol-powered derivative.

While the Sportage package remains as impressive as ever overall, it’s the decision to introduce the brand’s ageing naturally aspirated 1,6-litre Gamma engine to the party that may prove a more difficult sell. Mated with a well-sorted six-speed automatic transmission, in this 1 479 kg derivative you’re constantly aware (whether audibly or via the fast-approaching traffic in your rear-view mirror) that the claimed 161 N.m of maximum torque is available only at 4 850 r/min.

Compare this with the workings of a modern turbopetrol drivetrain and it’s soon clear it requires careful consideration before attempting either motorway-overtaking manoeuvres or fully laden hill climbs, particularly at altitude. To this end, it helps to use the manual override function (steering wheel-mounted paddles would have been a boon) to both pre-empt downshifts and, indeed, hold onto an optimal gear.
CAPE TOWN – Mid-cycle refreshes are often a simple case of tweaking a design element here and there, and while this is true of the treatments doled out to the latest Kia Sportage, there’s bigger news in the guise of a considered model range re-alignment that ushers in a value-packed entry point to the Sportage stable: the Kia Sportage 1,6 GDI Ignite AT.

Look closely

At a glance, you’d be hard pressed to discern any notable cosmetic changes to the Sportage. A slightly larger take on the brand’s signature "tiger nose" grille and a mild massage of the front and rear bumpers, along with ever-so-subtle dashboard element updates, is about the tall and short of it. Kia has also introduced a new selection of alloy wheel designs in 16-, 17- and 19-inch sizes as well as a handful of new paintwork options.

Shifting the goalposts

With the aesthetic updates being as subtle as they are in this mid-cycle refresh, the big news instead regards a measured rejig of the local Sportage model line-up. Taking into account car buyers’ tendency to prioritise pricing, Kia Motors SA has dropped its more expensive variants – the SX AWD models and the 1,6 GT-Line AWD (which sat comfortably north of R500 000) – shifted the balance of its range towards more wallet-friendly offerings and trimmed the engine choices down to the well-known 2,0-litre petrol and turbodiesel units, while adding a new entry-level 1,6-litre petrol engine.

Cheap, but cheerful?

At R379 995, the Kia Sportage 1,6 GDI Ignite AT sits squarely in previously inaccessible territory occupied by the likes of Toyota’s C-HR, the Suzuki Vitara and just a few grand below the well-regarded Mazda CX-5 2,0 Active. But how does it acquit itself with a lesser-powered engine such as the naturally aspirated 1,6-litre petrol four-pot?

With less metal in its nose than the 2,0-litre models, the 1,6 Ignite feels well balanced and its handling characteristics are fluid and progressive. As most scenarios where a small engine is tasked with propelling a 1 500 kg vehicle via an automatic gearbox, performance is a mixed bag. With 97 kW and 161 N.m on tap, progress is never going to be scintillating and planting the throttle to overtake slower traffic sets the progress versus engine noise ratio firmly in the latter camp. Kia has pegged the maximum speed at 170 km/h and claims a 12,1-second zero to 100 km/h sprint (or rather jog) time. The transmission is, however, smooth in its shifts and once the speeds even out mechanical refinement improves markedly.

Perched on 16-inch rims shod with plump 70-profile tyres, the Sportage’s ride is supple and resistant to jitter on rippled road surfaces, and the handling – although channelled through segment-typical light steering – is composed and bereft of excess wallow. Our flowing route between the Winelands and Cape Town saw the front-wheel-drive 1,6 return an average (indicated) fuel consumption of 8,4 L/100 km, which is reasonable but not stellar.

What does your money net you?

In addition to a five-year/90 000 km service plan and an unlimited-kilometre warranty spanning the same timeframe, the Kia Sportage 1,6 GDI Ignite AT is reasonably well equipped. Features such as alloy rims, electric windows and side-mirrors, manual air-conditioning, rear park distance control and a Bluetooth-enabled audio system are standard fitment.

Leather upholstery is the preserve of higher-rung models, but the Ignite's seats are supportive and clad in what feels like hardwearing cloth. Fortunately, the touch points (steering wheel and gearknob) are leather-wrapped, lending a more upmarket feel to the otherwise solid but basic cabin. Despite the Ignite’s budget placement, Kia hasn’t skimped on safety equipment, with the likes of Isofix, six airbags, ABS with EBD and a suite of stability control systems included as standard.


If you can make peace with its leisurely performance, the Kia Sportage 1,6 GDI Ignite AT is a welcome addition to the sub-R400k SUV segment and certainly has the goods to lure buyers away from its aforementioned company.

Full Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Cloth upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Front armrests: Standard
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Brake assist (BAS/EBA): Standard
  • Traction control: Standard
  • Stability control: Standard
  • Hill descent control downhill brake control: Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Front side airbags: Standard
  • Curtain airbags: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 6
  • Automatic drive away locking: Standard
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: outer rear
  • Approach home safe lighting time delay park headlights: Standard
  • Hillstart assist hillholder: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Cruise control: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Daytime driving running lights: LED
  • Light sensor auto on off lights: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Rear spoiler: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 805 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Gearshift: automatic
  • Transmission type: automatic
  • Front tyres: 215/70 R16
  • Reartyres: 215/70 R16
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 4485 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1855 mm
  • Height: 1655 mm
  • Wheel base: 2670 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 182 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 11.0 m
  • Approach angle: 17.5
  • Break over ramp angle: 19.5
  • Departure angle: 24.6
  • Load volume / capacity: 466-1455 L
  • Load volume / capacity: 1455 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1568 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 2040 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 750
  • Towing capacity - braked: 1400
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 62l
  • Fuel consumption average: 7.7 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 175g/km
  • Power maximum: 97 kW
  • Power maximum total: 97 kW
  • Power peak revs: 6300 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 67.3 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 161 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 4850 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 161 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 112 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 12.1s
  • Maximum top speed: 170 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 1591 cc
  • Engine size: 1.6l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.6
  • Engine + detail: 1.6
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Cam: dohc
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Variable camvalve timing: Standard
  • Warranty time (years): 5
  • Warranty distance (km): unlimited km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 5
  • Service plan time (distance): 90000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 5
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Service interval (time): 1
  • Brand: Kia
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 32160060
  • MMintrodat: 2018-11-05
  • Introdate: 2018-11-20
  • DuoportarecordID: KiaSpor4Fe1

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