Kia Sportage (2016 -) Driving & Performance

Review by Gareth Evans on
4.5
The Kia Sportage is rapidly becoming a household name. The Korean firm sold a massive 90,000 units of the popular third-generation car since its introduction in 2010, but it’s fair to say it was beginning to feel its age.

3 out of 5

Performance

There’s quite a range of engines for the 2016 Kia Sportage, and while none of the related performance figures are going to set the world on fire, the associated running costs mean this is still a decent proposition in its market.

Diesel power

The bottom rung of the diesel offerings is the 1.7-litre CRDi unit, which is available only with a six-speed manual gearbox. It’s got just 114bhp and 280Nm, taking 11.1 seconds to cover 0-60mph and hitting a top speed of 109mph.

To be honest, this is the ideal engine for the Sportage unless you need or want an automatic gearbox. It has enough punch to overtake easily, isn’t too noisy when doing so and combines pleasingly with the manual gearbox. The gearchange doesn’t have the pleasing short throw of the Mazda CX-5, but it slots confidently and solidly between ratios.

Set to be more popular are the pair of 2-litre diesels, with either 134bhp and 373Nm or 182bhp and 400Nm. You’ve got the choice of two six-speed gearboxes – one automatic (an old torque-convertor design) and one manual. With the former it’ll cover 0-60mph in 11.6 seconds with a top speed of 114mph, and with the latter it’ll be significantly quicker, taking 10.1 seconds to cover the same sprint from standstill to 60mph. Top speed is the same.

The higher-powered 2-litre diesel gets the same choice of gearboxes, but this time the 0-60mph time is 9.2 seconds for both, and top speed is 125mph. This is the other diesel we drove on the initial launch, and it worked very nicely indeed with the automatic gearbox. Sure, the ‘box’s tech is old now, and it’s slow to react and swap gears, but this isn’t a sporty car and we didn’t find this a frustration. It was a pleasure not to worry about changing gear ourselves.

Petrol power

The petrol options are both 1.6-litres in capacity – one with a turbocharger, known as the T-GDi and one without, called the GDi.

The former is the better performer, with the option of a six-speed manual gearbox or a quick-shifting seven-speed twin-clutch automatic. With its 174bhp and 265Nm, it’ll do 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds with a top speed of 126mph in manual configuration or 8.8 seconds and 125mph with the automatic.

Our biggest issue with this engine is how hard you have to work it to make the progress described above. It simply doesn’t feel natural to push the quiet, comfortable Sportage that hard. We drove a manual car (the DCT automatic is coming soon) and found the throw too long for sporty driving, too. It’s missing the point, which is why we’d prefer the extra fuel economy of a diesel.

With 130bhp and 161Nm, the lower-powered petrol engine only comes with the six-speed manual gearbox. It covers 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds with a top speed of 113mph.

4 out of 5

Handling

There’s been a significant improvement in the way the Sportage handles. Thanks to a sophisticated suspension system mounted on lightweight chassis components and fine-tuning specifically for the UK market, Kia has pulled off a minor miracle in building a car that we think drives among the best in its class.

There’s still a bit of bodyroll – this is an SUV, after all – but it feels incredibly composed and predictable.

The all-new electrically-assisted steering helps. The motor for this has been moved from the steering column to the rack, making the system more accurate and responsive. The previous Sportage suffered in this respect, so it’s refreshing to drive one with it fixed.

We tried both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive Sportages, with the latter able to send up to 40 percent of its power to the rear axle if the front loses grip, or split it half-and-half if you activate the centre differential locking function for harder-core off-roading. We can’t see the point, though, because the Sportage isn’t going to spend much of its time off-road and there’s loads of traction even in front-wheel drive configuration. Think very carefully whether you’ll make good use of the all-wheel drive, because a 1.7-litre car is a very proficient thing to drive in its own right.