Depending on your preferred vernacular, the medium or midsize SUV is the largest segment in Australia’s new car market. In October, medium SUVs accounted for 18.1 per cent of the action.
As a result of the segment’s growth, competition for the attention of buyers has seen a wave of model updates from all the heavy hitters, the most recent of which has come from Kia.
The 2019 Kia Sportage has arrived at an opportune time (something Kia is making a habit of), to keep the car in the mix against the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and the upcoming Toyota RAV4.
We are testing the Si Premium diesel which starts at $37,690 plus on-road costs. This is the model that clever types would classify as the sweet spot in the range.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, LED running lights, rear-view camera, lane keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, high beam assist and rain sensing wipers.
Moving up from the entry-level Sportage also nets a larger 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation, DAB digital radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and an eight-speaker JBL premium sound system.
The only things missing from the Si Premium’s spec sheet which we would like is keyless entry and push-button start.
For those analysing the numbers, the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel unit is the most powerful of the trio of engine choices dispersed through the range. It produces 136kW of power and 400Nm of torque, the latter is accessible from only 1750rpm which guarantees plenty of low down thrust.
Further strengthening the case for diesel power is the new eight-speed automatic transmission which is only available with the oiler. Petrol versions continue to utilise a six-speed auto. The new smooth shifting eight-speed automatic was developed in-house by Kia and can send torque to both axles through an on-demand AWD system.
It’s a brilliant combo, regardless of the driving situation. The throttle response is immediate, with a seemingly endless supply of torque irrespective of where you are in the rev range. Having access to so much oomph down low can be addictive after only a short stint behind the wheel.
To accomplish maximum efficiency, the Si Premium is a front drive only proposition around town. The on-demand AWD system will automatically send torque to the rear if additional traction is needed. The system will shuffle around seamlessly, often undetectable to the driver.
While it’s easy to sing the praises of the powertrain, it’s the suspension and steering that produce the cherries to push the Sportage ahead of higher selling rivals. The locally tuned ride is remarkably compliant when crossing corrugated surfaces. Those prioritising comfort need look no further.
Same goes for the steering calibration, the electric power-steering system is well weighted and responds sharply to driver inputs.
Kia has received plenty of kudos for rapidly improving the quality of its cars, however, one aspect that isn’t spoken about as much as it should be is refinement. At idle, Kia says the diesel only hits 44 on the decibel meter. Additional dashboard insulation and sound-absorbent materials in the wheel arches keep the cabin quiet at highway speeds.
Detracting from the driving experience is a brake pedal that takes a while to master. Pressure needs to be applied earlier than we expected and there’s a spongy feel that needs to be negotiated in the lead up to a stop.
The diesel engine and new transmission do a fine job of balancing performance and efficiency, at the conclusion of our test week which covered 526 kilometres, we returned a combined consumption figure of 7.0L/100km – a result very close to the claimed number.
Now a thought on the design, the updated Sportage gets new front and rear bumpers, revised tail lights and fresh alloys that ever so slightly sharpen things up, but it’s the brand's now signature Tiger Nose grille that sets the tone. Kia isn’t afraid to keep a bit of aggression in its design language – they’ve come too far to turn soft now.
The well-insulated cabin isn’t as sharply presented as some of Kia’s newer models (looking at you, Stinger!), there is an oversupply of buttons cluttering the centre stack and there are some rock hard plastics that will no doubt scratch with minimal effort.
Si Premium buyers will easily adapt to Kia’s very well sorted infotainment system, it’s easy to use with all functions logically laid out. The more time we spend with Kia’s infotainment system, the more we like it.
Occupants wanting the feeling of elevation that sitting high brings should note, the height of the front passenger seat isn't adjustable (except in the range-topping GT-Line) and it’s mounted fairly low for an SUV.
The interior packaging of the Sportage is carefully carved out to extract every available millimetre of space. The Sportage rides on a wheelbase 30mm shorter than the sales leading CX-5 yet it has comparable rear legroom. Along with space, those in the back also get proper air vents and charging points.
Kia’s ownership package continues to donkey lick mainstream rivals. Kia backs its cars with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, seven-year capped price service program and a seven-year roadside assistance package – the last two are dependent on returning to a dealer to complete the required maintenance.
Service intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km whichever comes first. The costs average out to $511 for each service under the capped pricing structure.
The updated Sportage Si Premium is a very competitive entry into an increasingly hectic segment. The impressive drivetrain, comfortable ride and luxury brand levels of refinement make it impossible to leave off the shortlist. It’s also very well priced against its rivals.
We are still to test the other engines and transmission options in the new Sportage range, that will happen in the coming weeks, though the standard set by the diesel engine and new eight-speed automatic will be very tough to topple.
2019 Kia Sportage Si Premium Diesel Specifications
Price from $37,690 plus on-road costs Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel Power 136kW @ 4000rpm Torque 400Nm @ 1750-2750rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 6.4L/100km Tank Capacity 62L Length 4485mm Width 1855mm Height 1655mm Wheelbase 2670mm Tare Weight 1736kg Ground Clearance 172mm Turning Circle 11m Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Warranty seven year/unlimited kilometre
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