Fresh looks and interior equipment only take Kia’s refreshed mid-size SUV so far when the entry-level engine feels lacking

What is it?

This is the refreshed, restyled, fourth-generation Kia Sportage, the firm's best chance of toppling the Nissan Qashqai as the nation’s favourite mid-size SUV.

Numbers suggest that’s an achievable goal: the Sportage accounts for nearly a third of the brand’s UK sales and, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), last month the Sportage ranked as the tenth best-selling new car in the UK.

So how to go about doing conquering the Qashqai? An exterior nip and tuck has sharpened up the Kia’s looks for 2018, while safety and in-cabin technology have received upgrades over the outgoing model.

The engine line-up has also been expanded, with a mild hybrid added to the range for the first time. We drove that variant on European roads earlier in the year, but this is our first chance to experience the Sportage here in the UK.

Unlike that initial drive in a GT-Line trim variant, however, today’s test car is in '2' specification, meaning it uses the entry-level engine and six-speed manual gearbox. The naturally aspirated, 1.6-litre petrol engine gains a particulate filter to help meet emissions standards, but performance remains unchanged.

That means 130bhp and 161lb ft has to propel 1490kg of mid-size SUV entirely through the front axle, with four-wheel drive reserved for the upper end of the model range.

2 Kia sportage 2 2018 fd hero rear

What's it like?

Perfectly adept at the kinds of short, regular journeys most Sportage owners are likely to use it for, with a comfortable driving position and good all-round visibility. Get beyond the city limits, however, and the limitations of the engine are apparent.

Making any significant progress forces you into the upper end of the rev range, where things get noisy very quickly. Even then, it takes significant effort to build up speed, with a sluggish response in just about every gear. Put foot to floor and you'll feel what seems like a kickdown switch, which is odd in a car with a manual gearbox.

The lack of pace is most noticeable when joining dual carriageways, but can be felt away from traffic lights and junctions as well. Caravan owners in search of a tow vehicle are always more likely to buy a diesel variant, but anyone considering long distances may be better served by the turbocharged petrol model, which is £2000 more expensive.

It’s not as if this naturally aspirated engine is particularly economical, only managing a touring average of 36.1mpg.

Back to top

Steering is consistent, but gives little in the way of driver feedback. There’s largely enough grip in corners to maintain your approach speed, but it’s impossible to ignore the high centre of gravity. Sudden changes of direction, and the body roll they create, provide a swift reminder you’re driving a fairly tall SUV.

The ride is on the firm side, becoming unsettled on rough stretches of road in a way that’s felt in the cabin. This does translate to more agility and high-speed stability, but at a cost of some comfort, even when riding on 17in alloy wheels. We question whether the trade-off was worth it.

Inside, the Sportage is as comfortable and spacious as we’ve come to expect. Rear passengers will appreciate the abundance of leg and head room, although the sheer amount of black trim panels does little to lift the interior ambience.

The step-up trim of our test car is surprisingly comprehensive, with reversing camera, climate control, a 7in touchscreen with European mapping, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

While the touchscreen responds very quickly to your inputs, the climate controls are sensibly assigned to physical buttons. On-wheel cruise control is within easy reach, too, although you miss out on luxuries such as adaptive cruise in this trim level.

8 Kia sportage 2 2018 fd dashboard

Back to top

Should I buy one?

Despite the nomenclature, the Sportage is first and foremost a family car. Treat it as such and it gets a lot right, even at the modest ‘2’ trim level, although the driving experience is unlikely to excite enthusiasts.

The Kia has price on its side, too, undercutting major rivals such as the Seat Ateca, Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Qashqai.

However, the only argument for choosing this entry-level petrol engine would be for a commute that never ventures onto a dual carriageway. For motorway journeys we expect the turbocharged alternative would serve you far better, while a diesel variant would provide superior economy for longer-distance drives.

The Sportage is a mid-size SUV with potential, but in this configuration we haven’t seen the best it likely has to offer.

Kia Sportage 1.6 GDi ‘2’ specification

Tested Kent, UK Price £22,405 On sale now Engine 1591cc, 4-cylinder petrol Power 130bhp at 6300rpm Torque 161lb ft at 4850rpm Gearbox 6-speed manual Kerb weight 1,490kg Top speed 113mph 0-62mph 11.1sec Fuel economy 39.8mpg CO2, tax band 162g/km, 33% Rivals Toyota C-HR, Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-5

13 Kia sportage 2 2018 fd otr right

Join the debate

Add a comment…
caustic_river 23 August 2018


Are we so used to hideous looking cars that we have forgotten what a well-styled vehicle looks like?
ianp55 23 August 2018

Kia Sportage Pricing

So where does the from £16670  entry price come from? on the Kia UK website entry level price for a petrol  Sportage 2 is £20305, if you want all wheel drive you have to add another £4k. Top price is £34545 so adda premium paint and that tops £35k. So are Kia UK being optimistic in their pricing structure as there are a lot of better vehicles on the market than the Sportage at that price point

5cylinder 23 August 2018


161 lbft from a n/a 1.6? I don't think so. 161 nm perhaps, which would equate to about 118 lbft. Sounds more like it.
Surely a motoring journalist should get this right?
Will86 23 August 2018


5cylinder wrote:

161 lbft from a n/a 1.6? I don't think so. 161 nm perhaps, which would equate to about 118 lbft. Sounds more like it. Surely a motoring journalist should get this right?

I was wondering where 161lb/ft came from too; your explanation sounds right to me. Lack of torque does make driving much harder work, though sensible gear ratios can help. My Civic has more power and torque than this Sportage, and is lighter and more aerodynamic, but it's still only a n/a 1.8 and any sort of incline really highlights the lack of torque. Surely the 1.4T-GDI in the new Ceed and Hyundai i30 would be ideal for the Sportage.