For once, I’m making no apology for writing this long-term ‘goodbye’ report partly from memory.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that. I’d planned to live with the Kia Sportage for several weeks before it was scheduled to drive off to a new owner, but the opportunity eluded me.
Why? Because, as had continually occurred throughout this handsome mid-sized Kia SUV’s time with us, it was swiped by a colleague on the excuse that he had a special mission for which only the Sportage would do. It returned and then it was gone.
All of which provide a convenient bottom line for this story: the Sportage is one of the most ‘suitable’ cars you can buy – suitable for commuting and parking in city centres, suitable for carrying normalsized families and their junk, suitable for going places swiftly without wasting fuel, suitable for comfortable motorway cruises and suitable for arriving places and conveying just the right sense of proportion and style.
Small wonder that this has become the top-selling Kia. When our Sportage was delivered, the UK importer was looking at a 20,000- unit order backlog and confessed to “fighting for production”. The previous-generation Sportage was the first model to reflect the renowned styling skills of ex-Audi design boss Peter Schreyer, hired in 2006 to change the look of Kia’s dumpy line-up – a task at which he succeeded in spectacular fashion. Brand snobbery may still occasionally affect Kia’s line-up, but the Sportage has become a see-it-and-buy-it model, the kind all car makers ache to offer.
All of which is why, back in May last year and after the debut of a Sportage revision that only increased the size of the stampede, we fell to wondering whether this new darling of suburban SUVs was as good as it was cracked up to be. The road tests had been positive, but what about the ‘living with’? From long experience, we know that’s different. When Kia’s hard-pressed distribution types found us a slot in their delivery schedule, we chose a mainstream 2.0 CRDi KX-3 (Sportages go up to KX-5), about two-thirds of the way up the range. In effect, it’s a model with all the things one needs (electric windows, air-con and so on) but without the sort of stuff (radar cruise control and panoramic sunroof) that pushes even mainstreamers towards the stratosphere.
It worked. Everyone loved the car. It was driven by at least 15 people, amassing 17,000 miles in just seven months. It took families on holiday to France, Wales and the West Country. It helped people move house. It commuted long and short distances to our Twickenham HQ. It was an ideal photographic unit, the generous boot proving to be an ideal space from which photographers could swing on harnesses. But mainly, it amassed miles because we enjoyed driving it. In our job, you almost always have another alternative. If cars do unusually large mileages, it’s because we like ’em.
What’s good? The access, for one thing, especially rear doors of a decent size. Usually, if a car looks as good as this, the doors suffer at expense of the shape. The Kia is also decently roomy, although Jim Holder (who used the Sportage for a camping trip to Wales) notes that if you’re a family that takes lots on trips such as his, you’ll need a roof box.
Driving this mid-sized SUV at much the same time as our long-term Vauxhall Astra SRi provided a continuing comparison of the competing virtues of hatchbacks versus SUVs. The Astra always felt more agile and accurate to steer when you stepped into it, and you could feel its smaller frontal area. In the Kia, you always appreciated the head room, the more upright seating (which many find more comfortable over very long journeys) and the better view. Rural UK is covered in hedges and walls just high enough to prevent hatch and saloon drivers from appreciating its panorama, but the Sportage allows you full view of a fascinating backdrop.
It would be nice to report that when we returned the Sportage, it was in pristine condition. Sadly, we kerbed a couple of wheels and, a day or so before its return, it also collected a huge rock on its final motorway journey that meant Kia’s used car preparation people had to cope with a windscreen impact mark the size of a cricket ball. Still, at least the body was perfect, with no dents or scuffs. Some cars’ size and shape seem to protect them from blemishes, and in our experience the Sportage is one.
We encountered few real faults. A vulcanised seam of simulated stitches across the dashboard always grated, mostly because it was so at odds with the fine form and function of more important bits, especially switchgear. A Jaguar engineer told me last year how in Korea, product designers tended to create these small components in their own right, rather than car by car, which was why they were so good. The front seats were only okay, and the steering, once criticised for dullness at the straight ahead, now seemed a little oversensitive at speed. Not a long list.
We were always pleased with the KX-3 spec, which needed no extras. The white paint perfectly showed off the car’s lines. Our choice of the 134bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine turned out fine, too. At the last minute we discovered its peak torque was only 6% lower than that of the more expensive, less frugal 182bhp unit we nearly chose. The car was always flexible and as fast as we needed.
Bottom line? This was a useful, durable, thoroughly enjoyable SUV we were all very sorry to lose.
KIA SPORTAGE 2.0 CRDI 130 KX-3
Mileage at start 1065 Mileage at end 18,220
List price new £27,000 List price now £27,250 Price as tested £27,000 Dealer value now £22,000 Private value now £21,500 Trade value now £20,000
FUEL CONSUMPTION AND RANGE
Claimed economy 54.3mpg (combined) Fuel tank 62 litres Test average 42.2mpg Test best 46.0mpg Test worst 33.5mpg Real-world range 475 miles
0-62mph 10.1sec Top speed 114mph Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, diesel Max power 134bhp at 2750-4000rpm Max torque 275lb ft at 1500-2500rpm Transmission 6-spd manual Boot 491-1480 litres Wheels 6.5Jx17in Tyres 225/60 R17 Kerb weight 1550kg
SERVICE AND RUNNING COSTS
Contract hire rate £325 per month CO2 134g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £2127 Running costs inc fuel £2127 Cost per mile 15.9 pence Depreciation £7000 Cost per mile inc depreciation 53.2 pence Faults None
Read our previous reports here