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Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi Ignite Plus AT: What more could y...

Motoring

MOTORING

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi Ignite Plus AT: What more could you ask for?

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These days, it’s not unusual for cars to come with anything from digital instrument displays and touchscreen-driven infotainment systems to motorised tailgates and auto parking. But there are more essential qualities, as the midrange Kia Sportage Ignite Plus proves.

It’s easy to be dazzled by the bells and whistles motor manufacturers fit to their latest models in order to woo and please customers.

Who would have thought that you could open a tailgate simply by sweeping your foot under the bumper? Or that it would be possible for cars to parallel park themselves?

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Other automotive niceties include expansive touchscreen displays and all-digital, configurable instruments, dimmable ambient lighting in a rainbow of hues, voice control, smart device integration and wireless smart device charging … the list goes on, and continues to grow.

However, for all their high-tech appeal and bragging rights, none of the above is essential to the daily motoring experience. Yes, they can make life behind the wheel more convenient, and more bearable. But do you really need them – and can you warrant the price tag?

I’ve spent the past month behind the wheel of a vehicle that, while hardly basic, eschews many of those wannabe features, and focuses on elements that really matter instead. It’s been a refreshing experience that’s recalibrated my perception of my motoring needs.

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The Kia Sportage is one of SA’s most popular compact SUVs – although compact is a relative term. It competes against the likes of the VW Tiguan, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Kuga and a host of others.

These are vehicles that have effectively taken over from the station wagons of yore as the family cars of choice, promising a useful mix of space, versatility and zip, linked to a measure of mild all-terrain capability. No wonder their popularity continues to grow globally.

Talking of which, the Sportage is Kia’s most popular vehicle. Now in its fourth generation, the sleek, clean-profiled SUV looks more European than Korean – ongoing proof of former Kia design chief Peter Schreyer’s considerable influence on the brand’s identity.

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The Sportage underwent a midlife nip and tuck last year, but in cosmetic terms, the changes are subtle at best. That’s just as well: why fix something when it isn’t broken?

So, while there’s a slightly revised grille up front that in turn has required equally subtle changes to the bonnet, the result is inconspicuous. The same can be said of the new bumper, which now incorporates bolder fog light housings.

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The rear bumper has also been changed to add some visual muscle to the design, while the taillights may look the same, but display a bolder signature when lighting up. Sportage cognoscenti may spot the new alloy wheel designs.

Trim levels have also been enhanced across all specification grades, ranging from the entry-level Ignite and the smarter Ignite Plus to the even fancier EX and the range-topping EX Plus in an effort to create a more competitive, added-value package than before.

The under-the-skin changes are arguably the most pertinent. Kia South Africa has trimmed the available engine offerings to just three – two petrols and a turbodiesel – while the previous six-speed auto gearbox has been replaced with a slicker, more responsive eight-speed auto transmission.

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My December steed was powered by Hyundai’s 2.0-litre turbodiesel, which has been a popular choice among Sportage buyers, albeit more for its low-down shove than its fuel economy.

The 2.0 CRDi Ignite Plus is the most affordable turbodiesel member of the range, although the R461 990 asking price doesn’t exactly qualify this Sportage for budget status. Still, it’s keen for this segment, especially considering its sensible selection of features.

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The turbodiesel engine has been a popular choice among Sportage buyers – hardly surprising, given the four-cylinder mill’s eager 131kW of power and generous 400Nm of twist. But while the engine is a stalwart, the gearbox is all-new.

The new eight-speed transmission’s two extra gears allow the ratios to be stacked more closely together, promising better use of the engine’s urge, while upping smoothness and refinement, too.

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As you’d expect at this level, the list of standard kit is fairly comprehensive. Included are air-con, power steering, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, rear park distance control, Bluetooth connectivity and multi-speaker sound.

To its credit, Kia has also endowed all Sportage versions with auto-activating headlights and LED daytime running lights. But the SUV has to make do with plain old halogen headlights, which just can’t compare with the brightness and definition of xenon or LED lamps.

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To be honest, I’d be prepared to pay a premium for LEDs, which are brighter, reach further and have a better-defined beam. Besides, their role as a safety-critical feature shouldn’t be underestimated, especially given how many accidents happen after dark, or when visibility is poor.

That aside, the Ignite Plus runs on sensible but mildly sporty 17-inch alloys wrapped in 225/60 R17 rubber, which benefit the ride and are more affordable to replace.

However, if you want leather, a colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and satnav, auto wipers, front parking sensors and automatic climate control, you’ll have to shell out more cash for the EX version, while all-wheel drive, bigger wheels, and a panoramic sunroof are included in the range-topping EX Plus.

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In other words, the Ignite Plus is only on the second rung of the Sportage model ladder. But in reality, you never feel short-changed behind the wheel.

Instead, what struck me about the compact SUV is just how far Kia (and other Korean marques) have come as far as tactile quality and attention to detail are concerned.

The test vehicle’s shut lines were perfectly consistent, the paintwork looked the quality, glossy part, and the doors closed with that solid thunk more typically associated with upscale European models.

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Inside, shades of charcoal and black create an ambience more functional than fancy, but the plastics feel classy, the cloth upholstery is invitingly understated, and the switchgear looks and feels well executed.

The overall approach is smart and well thought out, thanks to intuitive ergonomics, despite the absence of a touchscreen to manage functions and features.

Instead, a compact, centrally located LCD display with rotary controllers provides access to the entertainment, communication and vehicle settings. Even so, the operation is intuitive enough not to have to resort to the manual.

Frankly, I never missed a touchscreen, and the combination of a clear alphanumeric display and a menu-driven interface made set-up and control of aspects such as hands-free telephony and audio streaming a simple affair.

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A leather-trimmed steering wheel with multifunction controls frames conventional analogue instruments but separated by a digital display with scrollable trip computer data, including average, trip and instant fuel consumption, range, and more.

As for space, seating is generous both front and rear, and a relatively wide body means the Kia can accommodate three average-sized adults on the rear bench seat. The downside is a boot that’s only average at 466 litres with the rear bench seat in use.

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However, folding the 60/40-split rear seatbacks flat and removing the tonneau cover creates a capacious 1 455 litres of cargo space – big enough to swallow a medium-framed 27.5er mountain bike without removing the wheels, plus all the gear to go with it.

On the move, the Kia has loads of poke. The turbodiesel engine is a little growly, especially when cold, but offers ample low-down shove, and turbo lag is never an issue. Midrange punch is particularly impressive, making for easy and effective acceleration and overtaking.

For the same reason, the Sportage effortlessly covers the long-distance ground, maintaining highway cruising speeds with ease, almost regardless of the gradient.

It’s sprightly off the mark and nippy around town, while the diesel’s torque and the auto box make dealing with start/stop traffic much more bearable. For what it’s worth, the SUV will even exceed (just) 200km/h in top speed terms.

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The Kia comes with a selection of three driving modes – Normal, Eco and Sport – of which the default Normal setting is by far the most preferable.

Eco makes the SUV feel too lethargic and is best ignored, and Sport uses a more aggressive gearshift programme which results in an edgier, less composed driving experience that doesn’t suit the Sportage’s easy-going character.

No, the Kia is best left in Normal mode. And while the gearbox does offer manual override, the full auto function is more than capable enough.

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As for handling, the Sportage feels sure-footed, steady and predictable, even when pressing on. The ride is refined without becoming wafty, but given its 185mm ride height, body lean feels more exaggerated than it is when cornering hard.

Still, there’s plenty of grip, and the Kia generally sticks to the chosen line. Too much enthusiasm in the twisties is greeted with a measure of understeer, but never terminally so, and the ABS brakes do an unerring job of slowing the SUV down without fuss or drama.

Driver assistance systems such as hill start assist and downhill brake control add to Kia’s composure, backed up by an extensive list of active and passive safety features: stability control, six airbags and the ABS brakes already mentioned all add peace of mind.

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The Sportage’s SUV configuration and extra ground clearance suggest a measure of all-terrain talent, but this is not a bundu basher. It will cope with mild gravel, but anything more challenging is best avoided.

Given the Sportage’s dynamic capability and composure, the cruise control is perhaps the only disappointment. At highway speeds, it tends to force the gearbox to hunt between the top gears, which results in inconsistent progress – quite the opposite to what cruise control is meant to achieve.

But that’s the only blot on an otherwise admirably blemish-free copybook, putting the Kia right up there with the best in the mid-spec turbodiesel compact SUV category.

Indeed, the 2.0 CRDi Ignite Plus model offers one of the most compelling price/performance/value packages in the segment, with the Mazda CX-5 2.2DE Active arguably its closest rival.

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Yes, it lacks some of the bells and whistles we’re all so easily seduced by. But when it comes to the aspects that really matter, this Kia Sportage ticks all the right boxes. DM

PROS

Clean styling, solid build quality and perky dynamics, linked to a balanced package of features.

CONS

Iffy cruise control. Fuel consumption could be better.

VITAL STATS

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDI Ignite Plus AT

Engine

In-line four-cylinder, 1,995cc, turbodiesel

Power

131kW @ 4,000rpm

Torque

400Nm @ 1,750 – 3,750rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

76.65 kW/ton

Gearbox

Eight-speed automatic, FWD

Wheels/tyres

17-inch alloy, 225/60 R17 tyres

0-100 km/h

9.3sec

Top speed

201km/h

Fuel tank capacity

62 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed/tested)

6.3 / 8.7 litres/100km

Operating range (claimed/tested)

984 / 772km

CO2 emissions

164g/km

Retail price

R461,995

Gallery

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