To say that Kia has been producing rather interesting cars is quite an understatement. In the avenues of design, drive, quality, technical advancements and overall feel, Kia has been very impressive, so much so that they've decided to compete toe-to-toe against the established Japanese brands and transcend their once budget-friendly image.
No, Kia is no longer all about being bang for your buck. They want to be known for building great cars entirely on merit. And this Kia Sportage, a range-topping GT Line variant no less, is perhaps the best example of that.
On design alone, the Sportage is already quite striking. The tiger nose grill makes it unmistakably Kia. The headlights are mounted high on the fascia, and they're paired with a set of rather cool quad LED lamps for fog lights; yeah, like a Porsche. The beltline is a bit high, making for a slimmer greenhouse overall. The rear is clean to look at, and those big wheels do complement the design very nicely. The Sportage is really one of those models that you'd be hard pressed to lose track of in a parking lot simply because of how different it looks.
Mind you, I said striking; that's because there are quite a few out there who aren't sold on the Sportage's looks, and that's OK. How a person perceives car design isn't always universal; just take a look at the Nissan Juke.
The cabin, however, is something else. The previous Sportage already had a clean interior that I liked when I drove it years ago, but this one takes everything up a notch or two. The appearance of the dashboard is something I would expect of a much more expensive crossover. The build consistency, the gaps between the panels, and the materials used are of a high caliber, so much so that I could almost -ALMOST- swear this came from Germany rather than a factory just south of the DMZ.
Settling inside, what's clear is that the Sportage is really driver centric, as evidenced by how the center stack is canted towards the driver. The seat is really quite nice; it envelops you for a nice snug fit, but not overly so as to mimic that of a performance car. One thing though; there is an impression that you're in a car and not a crossover/SUV as you'll feel like you're sitting low in the vehicle with the high beltline. Though that could be fixed if you adjust the seat to the maximum height.
Being a top of the line variant, this Sportage has a lot of the options ticked when Kia Philippines specced it. Look around and you'll spot things like the climate control unit and the audio unit with USB connectivity; no more proprietary cables needed. There are six airbags all in all; two in front, two on either side for the driver and front passenger, and a curtain airbag for all occupants. Look up and there's that massive panoramic roof. Look down and you'll see buttons for hill descent, the electronic parking brake, stability control, and even a button to adjust the steering “feel” of the electric power steering; you can activate a comfort mode to lighten things up or a sport mode tighten up the steering. One thing, however, is missing: Bluetooth telephony. And that will be a kicker, but I'll explain later.
As a drive, the Sportage really impresses. While many of its competitors typically use gasoline engines, this Sportage has a 2.0 liter turbo-diesel from the Hyundai-Kia family of excellent sparkless motors. Prior to the availability of Euro-4 fuel, this R-line engine would have made 178 PS. Now that we do have Euro-4 as the national standard, power goes up to 185 PS, and a lot of torque: 402 Nm, to be exact. Moreover, the engine is bolted on to a 6-speed automatic that has all-wheel drive.
On a daily drive to the office and back, the Sportage really does well. The powertrain is quick to respond with typical point to point (i.e. stoplight to stoplight) driving. Fuel economy as expected, is quite impressive: 11.3 km/l with traffic factored in (18 km/h average speed). Maneuverability is good around tight streets and the parking aids make quick work of most mall parking lots. One thing that could be improved is the ride; this GT Line's 19-inchers and low profile tires are better suited for smooth highways, not roads that have more bumps and dips than a teenager's cheeks.
Cruise on an open road, however, and all those niggles go away. The GT Line really does like to be driven far and with good speed. Wind noise is kept well in check, and tire noise is minimal unless you run over tarmac that's not as well made as it's supposed to be. Fuel economy goes up even more if you're cruising; on my drive, I was getting 17.9 km/l without even trying (95 km/h average). And the handling going up or down a mountain is quite nice too; it's no Subaru in terms of composure, but the Sportage is definitely no slouch. And being a crossover with 6.8 inches of clearance means you won't be dodging around our common (read: small) road debris all too often.
As a vehicle, the Sportage GT Line can easily score high marks. The niggles are too few and far in between when it comes to how the Sportage was engineered and built, nevermind the polarizing design. But the real flaw came in the part of the speccing: as a TOTL variant, there really is no excuse to not have Bluetooth so you can play music and, more importantly, make or take calls on the go. And at a time when there's a law that penalizes using a phone without a handsfree system, this speccing error is a mistake that could cost customers dearly.