There are few things more annoying than a pretty face with nothing between the ears. But when you combine beauty and brains with an accessibility that gives everyone a chance, then you’re onto a winner. And that’s the appeal of Kia’s MY14 Sportage. This handsome SUV champions value like few others in its class. And its clever TV advertising isn’t a swindle job – for build quality and dynamics, the Sportage is seriously persuasive.
After switching to European production back in mid-2013, this ‘mid-cycle enhancement’ introduces some subtle styling tweaks. New grille, LED taillights and handsome new wheels 16-inch (SI), 17-inch (SI-premium and SLI) and 18-inch (Platinum) alloys mark out the latest and greatest, through the base SI still doesn’t get a reversing camera. What the entry-level Sportage does get is bucket loads of space, style and kit for its razor-sharp $25,990 sticker. Bluetooth with phone and media streaming, cruise, keyless entry, rain sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and a new six-speed manual gearbox make the front-drive SI one of the best-value SUVs on the market.
But all that would mean peanuts if the Sportage drove like an unhinged bullock. Instead, it’s quite likeable, powered by a direct-injection 122kW/205Nm 2.0 litre four in our six-speed auto Platinum AWD’s case, or a 135kW/392Nm 2.0 litre turbo-diesel four in AWD models for another three grand.
Switching to Slovakian production meant the deletion of the torqued 2.4L petrol, so it’s ironic that the MY14’s suspension has been upgraded to account for an increase in towing priorities. Eager as the 2.0 GDI is, there’s only so much Kia’s well calibrated auto can do to scoot along 1580kg. Both springs and dampers have been stiffened, but our Sportage gets an Oz-specific steering tune, front dampers and anti-roll bars. In conjunction with a bunch of NVH improvements, it endows the Sportage with a solid driving feel.
Steering is accurate and evenly weighted, handling is well-balanced, and road noise is fairly unobtrusive, though the ride on Platinum’s 235/55R18s is pretty firm, just like its platform sister, Hyundai’s newly returned ix35. Who would’ve thought that a Sportage could actually be an entertaining drive?
Missing out on the ix35’s gutsier 2.4 GDI petrol is probably the greatest tragedy, but besides its lack of proper petrol-engine muscle, it’s hard to think of a reason not to pick a Sportage over its ugly older sister.
Whether a six speed manual sweetie for $26K or a tougher turbo-diesel range-topper for $41, this updated Sportage finally lives up to its name.
Written by Nathan Ponchard for Wheels magazine August 2014 edition