Ageing diesel family SUV has been tweaked again. Is this mid-range version still a worthy purchase?

What is it?

This is the latest mid-range version of the popular Kia Sportage crossover.

Having been facelifted in 2018, with various mild-hybrid diesel engines being brought in at that point and since, the Sportage has just had a pricing and equipment realignment. This is the new mid-range option and the likely big-seller.

The Sportage range still contains four trim levels, but now only three rather than four engines, with the top-of-the-range, four-wheel-drive-and-automatic-only 2.0-litre CRDi diesel having been deleted altogether.

The trim range now comprises the entry-level 2, this 3, the GT-Line and the GT-Line S, with the GT-identified models getting sports suspension and sportier styling inside and out.

For engines, there are now both normally aspirated and turbocharged 1.6-litre petrols to choose from, plus this U3-generation 1.6-litre diesel, which inherits the 48V starter-generator mild-hybrid system that the now-discontinued 2.0-litre diesel had.

Part-time four-wheel drive is available in conjunction with the more powerful petrol and the diesel.

Sadly, the diesel delivers only average claimed economy and emissions versus its rivals, most of which are newer, fresher cars. But the Kia’s equipment levels might well make up for that lack of distinction, with a wide range of active safety systems being fitted to all versions of the car, and the 3 grade adding leather-upholstered electric seats, 19in alloy wheels, a panoramic glass roof and LED headlights. It also costs about £500 less than the 4 version it replaces.

What's it like?

We’ve previously tested only GT-Line and GT-Line S versions of the facelifted Sportage, finding that their sports suspension made for a slightly unsatisfactorily firm ride. On standard suspension, the Sportage is certainly softer and is broadly comfortable around town, on well-surfaced country roads and on the motorway.

It remains a fairly numb and only averagely well-resolved car to drive, however, due to a mix of variously leaden and over-sensitive controls and occasionally patchy body control at speed.

The interior is reasonably pleasant and apparently solidly constructed, although what attempts it makes to inject extra perceived quality (with chrome around the ventilation controls and air vents and a slightly shiny textured dashboard pad) aren’t too successful.

There is, however, a comfortable and easily accessed driving seat in it, as well as a simple and readable set of analogue instruments, plus a very easily navigated touchscreen infotainment system that includes all the functionality you’re likely to want from it.

What was once a very usefully large boot loses its underfloor storage space as a consequence of the presence of the car’s 48V mild-hybrid lithium ion battery, but it remains roomy enough. Back in the cabin, however, the panoramic roof robs the Sportage of a notable amount of head room in both rows. If you’re taller than 6ft as a driver or regularly carry adults in the back seats, it would be best to avoid versions of the car on which this glass roof is fitted (3 and GT-Line S).

Back to top

The engine is creditably quiet and smooth for a downsized diesel, and the mid-range torque it makes moves the Sportage along effortlessly enough. Driveability would be sweeter if not for the slightly over-sensitive accelerator pedal and notchy manual gearshift quality, but neither is desperately bothersome.

That the car doesn’t particularly impress on real-world economy (we averaged 45mpg over several days of mixed testing) probably has plenty to do with the fitment of 19in wheels. Funnily enough, those wheels don’t do much for the car’s close body control and ride quality either. It’s not that they make for a particularly noisy or jarring secondary ride; rather their unsprung mass tends to make the car’s axles lollop into depressions in the road and seems to exacerbate bigger vertical ride inputs, making the car heave and toss a little on uneven country roads.

Typically, though, the Sportage's lateral body control is decent, and its handling is fairly precise, although a numb steering system that’s a little too keen to self-centre makes it feel less agreeable than it might at times.

With that leaden steering feel and iffy vertical body control, plus an engine that doesn’t like to rev much beyond 3500rpm, this certainly isn’t a car to whisk along keenly for the sake of it. It does at least handle fairly securely, though, and doesn’t need to struggle or strain to get up to big speeds or climb steep gradients when the need arises.

Should I buy one?

As one of the older cars in its segment and never having been one of the most distinguished to drive or use, the Sportage probably wouldn’t be near the top of the list of crossover SUVs we might recommend right now, but it remains a neat-looking car in a popular part of the market presented with good value for money.

At times over these past few years, it has even broken into the UK’s monthly top-10 best-selling new cars list, and no rocket science, nor any particularly glowing recommendation from us, is evidently necessary to work out why.

The next couple of years are likely to be quieter, tougher and less successful ones for it, as fresh metal arrives with alarming regularity and accounting for the rise and rise of the BEV and PHEV. Still, those who stick with the handsome, well-equipped, broadly competent and well-priced Sportage will likely be doing so for reasons they needn’t take long to explain.

Back to top

Kia Sportage 1.6 CRDi 48V 3 specification

Price £28,455 Engine 4 cyls, 1568cc, diesel Power 134bhp at 4000rpm Torque 236lb ft at 2000-2250rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1609kg 0-62mph 10.8sec Top speed 112mph Economy 47.9mpg CO2 153g/km Rivals Seat Ateca 2.0 TDI 150, Ford Kuga 1.5 Ecoblue 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
volvocu 7 August 2020

Kia vs. VW!

Why would he like Kia as much as VW? This Kia is inferior to a comparable Tiguan in virtually every single category save price...besides I think he has been too generous by rating it 3.5 stars, which is at least half a star too much for such a mediocre product

rsmith 8 August 2020

volvocu wrote:

volvocu wrote:

Why would he like Kia as much as VW? This Kia is inferior to a comparable Tiguan in virtually every single category save price...besides I think he has been too generous by rating it 3.5 stars, which is at least half a star too much for such a mediocre product

Exactly. Its way off the mark - any car person can see that. But people like catnip cannot afford the VW, only the Kia. So they like to moan.

MaxTorque 9 August 2020

Look, another Kia hater

Look, another Kia hater

I guess the likes of volvocu can't be feeling too good about Kia coming up with a World Car of the Year winner in the form of the Telluride. So contempt it is to placate his rage, much like that which oozes from every piece Mr Saunders writes on every Kia/Hyundai product.

Funny don't you think to see how the Americans and Aussies consider VW's to be way inferior to Kias and Hyundais (squarely reflected in their sales discrepancy) while you have blighters here who still cling on to the old stereotypes - must be the diet no doubt

FastRenaultFan 22 January 2021
Bul,shit. The Kia is better equipped than an equivalent VW, it's better built, it's better to look at. If anything the Sportage deserved 4 stars. The GT Sportage is even really good to drive. I know someone who has a lexus coupe 300hyprid and a Kia Sportage GT SUV and loves driving both of them.
catnip 7 August 2020

Matt Saunders clearly doesn't

Matt Saunders clearly doesn't like Kia's as much as he likes VW's