Style and substance. The Kia Sportage KX-4 reviewed

Superb styling, excellent spec, good ride, great sound system

Uncomfortable middle seat in rear, some interior plastics feel cheap

Kia Sportage KX-4?

The current trend for crossover vehicles (which do a bit of both on and off roading) appears not to be wavering, but gaining momentum, with most of the big manufacturers offering one. Now on its third generation, the Kia Sportage is a clear contender in this sector. We were sent their range-topping £27,195 Sportage KX-4 to review, and in terms of luxury and style, Kia look like they might just be heavyweight. Game on.

The Peter Schreyer designed the 2011 Kia Sportage. Second only in style to the Evoque.

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

The man in control of the pen (and the team) that designed the 2011 Kia Sportage – Peter Schreyer – was clearly a chap with talent. The man needs a round of applause, his hand shaking and many a congratulatory slap on the back. The Sportage is undoubtedly one of the best looking and most handsome cars in the crossover field. From almost any angle it is striking, even sexy, but certainly not feminine. In the same class is the Range Rover Evoque and while I don’t think the Sportage’s design is quite as nice as the Evoque’s, it’s certainly a very close second.

The ‘tiger’s nose’ grille gives the Sportage a more aggressive look and the LED daytime LED running lights give it an expensive vibe

The daytime running lights are a strip of LED’s, pointing towards the centre of the ‘tiger’s nose’ grille. These give the Sportage a more aggressive look, make the car instantly distinguishable and also give it a high-end, expensive vibe. Even the design of the front fog lamps (on our Euro version, at least) is impressive, and they aren’t just a couple of boring round units banged into the bodywork – careful thought has gone into the design of these.

Beautiful styling on the headlights of the KIA Sportage 2011 styled by Peter Schreyer

The Sportage’s stance is deceiving. On the one hand it looks low and sleek, thanks to narrow side windows and low-raked front windscreen, but on the other it has enough ground clearance to go head-to-head with other makes of crossover. The KX-4 model I was sent came in metallic Techno Orange, which isn’t as obnoxious as it sounds – in fact I really like it. A deep bronzed, burnt orange colour on a car is rarely a bad thing, and matched with its 18 inch 5-spoke brushed-alloy-effect wheels, the Sportage strikes an impressive pose.

Walking around the car, chrome highlights catch the eye from the along the bottom of the side windows, a chuck of it sitting right at the back of the rear doors. Too much chrome can be an awful thing on a vehicle, but the Kia keeps things classy, with the only other places it’s situated are edging the front grille, door handles and above the front fog lights. Something I must say is that the chrome feels expensive, solid and well-made too – not cheap lookey-likey stuff.The KIA Sportage KX-4 - one of the best looking and most handsome cars in the sports SUV field

The Sportage’s looks are fluid. The bodywork design flows, and is smooth with very few apparent swage lines, save for a slight delve at the bottom of the doors and a couple of triangular contours on the bonnet, giving it a muscular, high impression. Overall, the Kia Sportage is one of the best-dressed SUV’s out there.

Interior. Neat or nowt special?

Remember older model Kia’s? The interiors on cars like the 2001 Sportage lacked so much imagination and material quality, that I shiver and hiss like a vampire who’s just been offered a free garlic bread with his £10 pizza order. They were downright ugly, let’s be honest. Happily, I didn’t have shield my eyes when I opened the door on the new Sportage – it’s really rather nice, and I’d describe it as luxurious for sure. A whole, entire galaxy away from the old model.

The KIA Sportage KX-4's cockpit borders on luxurious.

The KX-4 Kia sent tops the Sportage list, and has all the interior gadgets you’d expect. Some of the stand-out stuff includes good quality leathers seats which are also heated in the back. There’s plenty of legroom front and rear, and getting comfortable was not a problem. Having said that, why, oh why does the middle seat section in the back of this (and most other cars) have to be so awfully uncomfortable to the derrière? Arguments erupt as to who’s sitting where after a while on long journeys. We try to be polite to one another, but a flattened and throbbing backside make you dive mercilessly for the side seats, the victor sitting content in their heated comfort, whilst the loser suffers a sore rump and grumpiness.

KIA Sportage KX-4 Front seats

There are two large glass panels in the roof making it panoramic (on that point the front one also acts as the largest retracting sunroof I’ve ever come across) and which make the interior far less claustrophobic with the car having a low roof. A well laid out and super-simple to use multi-function 7″ touchscreen controls the radio, sat nav, bluetooth and sound system amongst other stuff, and is the screen for the reverse camera too. The display for the camera is way too grainy actually, and spoils the experience a bit, because overall the quality level for the system is pleasing.

KIA Sportage KX-4 – multi-function 7″ touchscreen controls the radio, sat nav, bluetooth, sound system and the reverse camera

KIA Sportage KX-4 - Kia appear to have pulled off a bit o’ luxury right here

A stand-out point all my passengers made was about the sound system. There’s not a huge amount of speakers – one in each door, two tweeters and an integrated subwoofer in the boot area – but they deliver a sumptuous, crystal clear and satisfying sound which’ll make every instrument on the Dark Side Of The Moon album stand out, and give you prodigal bass from The Prodigy.

KIA Sportage KX-4 interior view of the heated leather rear seats

Some other smaller touches that I liked included the little slot in the glove box, which you can open and it’ll blow air conditioned air into the box for keeping cans or food cool. Flippin’ great thing that! How many more bars of chocolate have to be sacrificed to the sweetie gods before that is standard on all cars? Also, when you pull up the large boot cover hiding the (full-size 18″) spare alloy, there’s a small plastic hook attached which clips onto the edge of the boot opening, and holds up the cover so you can remove the spare without have to go spare with frustration yourself. Again, small but significant when the time comes, especially when you’re in a rush to change the wheel and you have a zillion tons of crap floating about in the boot.

Another handy feature is the keyless entry/locking system on the Sportage. Carrying a barnload of photography equipment in my arms, I let out a wail of frustration as I realised the car key was still in my back pocket and the car needed locking. Being a man, I absolutely refused to put all my gear down – as is the defeatists attitude – and an epic struggle began between my full hands and working them around and into the bottom of my jeans pocket. The anguish was incredible, and the awful realisation that I may possibly have to put down my stuff began to dawn. Suddenly, a dark square on the chrome door handle caught my eye. I dislocated a finger enough to press it, and the car was locked! No key needed. I walked off, my pride intact and a tear of joy in my eye. This invention is a marvel for all men of the world.

To sum up, the Sportage KX-4’s interior is a nice place to be. Yes, some of the plastics could be a little less hard (on the door cards for instance), and there’s a little to much grey and black around, but Kia appear to have pulled off a bit o’ luxury right here. Anyone riding in the Sportage KX-4 were impressed with the trim level and build. Can’t say much more than that.

Kia Sportage KX-4 - The boot space includes a full size spare wheel

Engine. Gutless or gutsy?

The Sportage range comes with a few different engines, including two petrol units (1.6 & 2.0) and two diesel’s (1.7 & 2.0). The Sportage KX-4 has only one choice, and that’s the 2.0 CRDi motor with 181 horsepower. The two litre diesel engine also comes in another guise with 134 bhp, but that is only available with the KX-3 spec and below. Interestingly, should you want the higher power motor, you’ll have to buy the KX-4 as there’s no choice for it on the other models.

Without delving too deep into a million stats and figures of the other models, if you want the best fuel economy go for the  manual 1.7 CRDi with 114 bhp on 16 or 17″ rims, as it’ll return you nearly 55 mpg on average. If you want power, with a still-decent return of over forty six miles per gallon, get the KX-4 in manual guise. The Sportage managed nearly 450 miles from its 58 litre fuel tank, and we averaged the consumption out at 35 mpg. That was a couple of hundred miles on the motorway, and the rest through evil town roadworks, heavy traffic, and winding country roads which required almost constant gear changes. That, plus the fact I apparently have a right foot made of plutonium (heavier than lead), mean I was well below even the quoted ‘Urban’ consumption of 39 mpg.

Kia KX-4 test and review - Brushed silver and black lacquer make for smart looking alloys

There are a couple of factors to consider here though, one being the fact that the ‘live’ mpg display was well into the 40+ mark on any decent run at the national speed limit (60/70 mph) I happened to be on, and secondly, the engine had only covered less than four thousand miles. It’s a got a few thousand more before it’s full loosened up, and no doubt the consumption will get better as it does.

The Sportage KX-4’s 2.0 CRDi is the standard configuration of most diesel’s you’ll find in Europe or the U.K., with 4 cylinders and 16 valves and a Variable Geometry Turbo (VGT). That is relatively boring information however, so let us move on to the fact it develops a large slab of horsepower (the aforementioned 181), and a mighty 282 lb/ft (383 Nm) of torque. That’s a good amount, and it’ll shift the 1.7 tonne Sportage around with gusto (which I’ll talk about further down). Diesel units are generally noisy and intrusive within the cabin, but Kia have done fairly well with the sound-deadening in the KX-4, plus it’s less obtrusive and noticeable once you’re at motorway speeds and it’s warmed up fully.

Testing the Kia Sportage KX-4 with a blast in the Yorkshire countryside

Gearbox. Sweet or sour?

The 6-speed manual on the Sportage is decent. Nothing to shout about really, but it’s tight (in a good way) with a between-gear throw that’s acceptable and not too far. The only real negative I can see here is that before the engine and oils have had time to warm up, the ‘box is notchy and can be overly stiff and awkward to get into either reverse, first or second. That’ll only last ten minutes or so, and perhaps the more miles that are put on the car, the more it’ll loosen up some.

From a fuel-consumption viewpoint, yes the the manual makes sense but me, I’d rather have the six-speed auto. Sure, it lowers consumption by around 6 – 8 mpg, but I simply would not have a manual on a vehicle like this. It’s not a ruddy sports car (where having a manual is fun), so why constantly work that left leg? If you’re not overly concerned with fuel being one billion pounds a litre, go and test drive automatic version and see how that is. If Kia send through one with the auto ‘box, we will happily update the review.

Kia Sportage KX-4 light cluster and front.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive this thing!

Firing up the engine is a push-button affair. Clutch to the floor, push the Start button and the diesel fires into noisy life. Setting off from cold, the engine and takes a little waking up but after ten minutes or so, it’s good to go. That said, the rev counter needle doesn’t exactly flick up and down with joy and stabbing the accelerator at a standstill, it feels lazy. Still, I’m not here to sit and rev it up like I’m 12 (that is reserved for cars with a lovely exhaust note, upon which it is your birth right as a grown man to blip that throttle), so let’s set off.

I want to point something out actually, before we go on. I have a passionate hate for the headlamp sprayers on the Sportage. Here is my problem; when spraying the windscreen, even a quick tug on the lever controlling it results in a powerful deluge of water being fired at the headlamps. This torrent of water then rains down over almost the entire car including bonnet, roof and sides. If you’ve just washed and waxed your car, and want a simple splash of water on the ‘screen to clear the dust off, you are screwed. There is no getting around this either. Also, this dratted system wasted the very last drop of water in the bottom of the washer bottle. Yes, instead of it clearing dangerous heavy smearing on the windscreen, it used the final dregs to wash non-existant dirt from the headlights. Not clever at all. Rant over, but please Kia, put it on a separate button at least!

KIA Sportage KX-4 basking in the sunset at the stunning humber bridge

On the road, and first gear is noticeably short – second should be selected as soon as possible. However, do this too quickly and you’ll get so much turbo lag that your mind will instantly flash back to the 1990’s turbo’d cars. Okay, that may be a little harsh, but the fact remains you are not going to get rolling properly until where the magic 1,800 rpm powerband starts. Get the selection timing correct though, and it’s met with a rewarding swell forward. The 181 bhp diesel Sportage quickly gets through the first four gears, until you hit around 85 mph. The 0 – 60 is not exactly a mad dash though, but more a stroll and you’ll be doing that in around 9.5 seconds. Still, remember that the Sportage is not designed to blow people’s doors off from the lights.

First into second on the manual ‘box gives a jolty and jerky ride should you accelerate really hard out of, say a junction. When you do need that, it’s difficult to get smooth acceleration in these gears, because as I’ve mentioned, 1st is short, and you’ve gotta change quick to save the engine running out of puff. After you’ve pulled the stick into 2nd, the initial jump in gears is spasmodic and jarring, and not overly pleasant. Rolling at around thirty miles-per-hour, I give it some gas and it takes me on a surprisingly quick and energetic bolt up to motorway speeds. Third is an enjoyable gear, and if I’ve got passengers they’re taken aback a little by the turn of speed. It’s not like it’ll rag you back into your seat like some fire-breathing hatchback, but the burst in pace nudges me to remind me that actually, I’m driving a car with way more torque than a 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX. Diesel. Power.

KIA Sportage KX-4 rear in metallic Techno Orange - A deep bronzed, burnt orange colour which we really like

Any negatives on the driving experience? Just one. During the test period, I noted that a few times I caught both the accelerator and brake with one foot. I was wearing boots when it happened, but they aren’t exactly massive barges at an average size nine. Investigating a little by feel alone, the two pedals do actually seem a little close together than I’m used to in other vehicles, and it doesn’t usually happen. It’s not something to be overly concerned with, but it’s worth being wary at least.

The ride comfort is not an issue. Kia have done well to keep the suspension and chassis balanced between pleasure and pain. The average buyer now wants, nay expects, their car to not only be comfortable, but to handle decently too. Long gone are the days where your car was was as comfy as a jelly mould, but also handled like one too. The Sportage’s ride is just slightly hard. It doesn’t bang over bad road surfaces exactly, but it can jolt a little too hard on some of the bumpier roads.

Kia Sportage KX-4 test and review. Image shows the Kia offroad.

For a larger car though, she rides well in the twisties. Flooring it around a huge roundabout is always a good way to test how a car rolls and grips, and coming off hard at exit will give indication of how much flicking the car from one lean angle to the other quickly will upset the balance. For instance, trying that in the 1980’s in a Porsche 911 or TVR of choice would have meant you apologising profusely to a home owner (near to the roundabout exit), as you try to reverse off his new persian carpet, back over his crushed fondue set, and out of the hole in his humble abode you just made.

Something I picked up on a few times regarding the ride; at low speed, pulling out around a sharp corner can upset the suspension, the rear end wiggles and jiggles its butt like some latino dancer. It’s probably not noticeable to a bystander, or even to passengers, but I found it happened more than a few times. It doesn’t wallow or roll, just… waggles… a bit.

Doing this in the Sportage upsets the car very little. Although the independent suspension set-up is well done for the most part, most of the reasons it’ll stay true come down to electronics. For keeping your silly hooning antics in check the Sportage has electronic stability control (ESC), which will reign in your over-or-under steering, and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and cornering brake control (CBC) to make sure the braking power goes to the wheels with the most purchase. That’s a lot of abbreviations right there, and there are still more to come…

 KIA KX-4 test and review. Image shows the burnt orange colour gives a flash of colour on a dreary day.

Kia’s Dymax electronic AWD (all wheel drive) system is also fitted to the KX models, so it’s a ‘safe’ drive through the front wheels normally but should the system detect slip of any sort, it’ll kick in and give you a 60:40 drive between the front and back wheels. A thing to add is that the KX-4 also has Kia’s Parallel Park Assist System (PPAS). I tried it out a few times, and it’s actually pretty accurate, and also ridiculously simple to use. Vision in the Sportage is impeded by the large A-pillars, high bonnet-line and and narrow windows, so if you’re crappy at guessing parking space sizes, the PPAS will suit you.

ThePolishingBooth-Advert-banner-animated

Off-road experience. Stuck or skilled?

The KX versions are meant for a bit of light green laning, so I’m off to check out how it does. Pulling of a road I know well, there are steep, grassy slopes leading back to the tarmac. The grass is damp too, adding extra slip. In normal drive, the front wheels spin as they hit halfway up the embankment. The traction control kicks in first, limiting the spin by electronically reigning in the revs via throttle restraint. Now the Dymax system kicks in, putting it into the safe 60:40 AWD mode. This doesn’t work though, as the traction is still stopping me pushing the accelerator revs to where they need to be to get up the slope.

Kia Sportage KX-4 review and test. Image shows the Sportage off road.

Time to gain some traction and avoid much embarrassment from onlookers. Pushing the AWD button gives instant torque split 50:50 to the front and rear wheels. The hill start assist control (HAC) works to hold the car in place while I take my foot off the brake and slip the clutch until the biting point. Useful! There’s a heavy grinding, grating sound as the traction control also kicks in, firing off power to whichever wheels need it. The Sportage climbs, clambers and grapples its way up to the pinnacle of the slope and onto grippy tarmac loveliness. It’s impressive, especially as the 235/55 Hankook Optimo K415 tyres offer virtually nothing in the way of grip off road.

Pulling down a sharp incline again on grass –  which is an especially nasty thing to brake on, as you’ll just keep sliding, much like ice – and the downhill brake control (DBC) came into effect, slowing and controlling the Sportage safely, without any braking input needed from myself. Again, I was impressed with how well the DBC system worked. It also kept me from sliding into rather large and annoyed-looking bull which – should that have happened – would have probably made the Sportage resemble a small, orange tin containing 100% organic pure mashed human.

Verdict & overall score (/10)

Exterior  9
Interior 7.5
Engine  7
Gearbox  7
Drive  7
Overall Score 7.5

The Kia Sportage KX-4 directly competes both in price and spec with cars like the VW Tiguan, Audi Q3 and Nissan Qashqai, in a seemingly fast-growing market. The Sportage is one of the best-looking SUV designs, no question. Its solid build and huge spec, alongside the highest 5-star NCAP rating give more the expensive European competition a run for their money. Ride and handling can be described as proficient for sure, while engine power on the KX-4 is adequate for what you’ll need. Overall, if you’re looking at the large crossover/SUV market, then the Kia Sportage is a car definitely worth serious consideration alongside some very tough competition.

Stats

 

Model (as tested)  Kia Sportage KX-4 2.0 CRDi manual, 181 bhp
Spec includes  All-round power windows, panoramic roof, full leather with heated seats front and rear, Parallel Park Assist System, 7″ screen including sat nav and full bluetooth connectivity
Price  £27,195 on the road
Engine  Diesel, 1,995cc, 4 cylinder, 16 valves, high pressure fuel injection, variable geometry turbo
Power, Torque, CO2  181 bhp, 282 lb/ft (383 Nm) | CO2: 158 g/km
Drive, Gears  Front wheel drive, plus Dymax all-wheel-drive | 6 speed manual or automatic
0 – 60, Top Speed, NCAP  9.4 seconds | Max speed: 120 mph | 5-Star Euro NCAP rating
Fuel economy (mpg)  Urban: 39.2, Extra Urban: 52.3, Combined: 46.3
Weight (curb)  1,754 kgs (with fuel)
Luggage space  Boot: 564 litres, Rear seats folded: 1,353 litres
Websites  UK: Kia.co.uk, America: Kia.com, World: Kia.com

Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies, Nath Fielder | Photography: Chris Davies, Jason Fanthorpe, Matthew Davies

4 responses to “Style and substance. The Kia Sportage KX-4 reviewed”

  1. john steele

    I have a Sportage and more or less disagree with everything you say except the comments on the exterior, which looks really neat. I guess when KIA give you a new bright shiney car to review, if you want further ‘offers’ from KIA or other marques to sit on your driveway to ‘test’ then you need to say lots of nice things. Conflict of interest – I think so. Go see owner reviews to get a good idea of what it’s like living with KIA.

  2. Alexander

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for a great review of really neat vehicle. I recently bought a Sportage and I am very happy with it, the looks are striking, the quality is there and the value for money proposition is unbeatable – and then there’s the Kia warranty.

    As for Mr. Steel’s comments, if in fact he actually does have a Kia (which I kind of doubt) if he finds it so wanting, why did he buy it in the first place? I assume he would have test driven it, this is funny for me as I bought mine sight unseen (and I had never driven one) from a country Victoria, Australia dealer. I did it all by phone and online and the collected the Sportage.

    Thanks again, Alexander

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