2012 Kia Sportage SLi Diesel Review Photo:
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What's Hot
Practical sizing, excellent refinement from diesel powerplant.
What's Not
Poor over-the-shoulder visibility.
Its classy styling alone will win hearts, and it?s also one of the best drives in its class.
Tony O'Kane | Mar, 26 2012 | 25 Comments


Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $35,720 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 7.5 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 8.5 l/100km



The Kia Sportage was a slow seller last year, but not through any fault of its own.

Instead, runaway success in global markets meant supply problems for Australia. That left Sportages thin on the ground here and waiting lists were long enough to force potential buyers elsewhere.

Those supply issues are over however, and Sportage sales are now starting to account for a bigger slice of the Medium SUV market.

To re-acquaint ourselves with Kia’s classy-looking family wagon, we put the mid-grade Sportage SLi diesel to the test.



Quality: Forget what you know about Kias of old: the Sportage’s interior has a bold, modern design that elevates it above most of its competitors.

With stylish red illumination, finely textured dashboard plastics and piano-black facings, there’s a very nice feel inside. Some of the switchgear however, such as the windscreen wiper/indicator stalks, is not up to the same standard.

Also not so good, the flat dashboard surface and instrument cowl can reflect a little uncomfortably if driving into the sun.

Comfort: Headroom and legroom are plentiful for both front and backseat occupants, and although the moulded plastic ovals in each backrest are a little weird, the double-stitched black cloth upholstery feels durable.

The front seats give decent under-thigh support and the wide-set bolsters mean larger-framed occupants won’t feel hemmed in. The back seat is spacious enough for two adults, but the rear bench cushions are flat and not terribly supportive.

Equipment: Standard features on the SLi-grade Sportage include foglights, a rear-vision camera, a trip computer, cruise control, climate control an electro-chromatic rear vision mirror and 17-inch alloys.

The Sportage’s six-speaker audio system incorporates steering wheel-mounted controls, a USB input, a 3.5mm input and Bluetooth phone/audio integration.

Storage: Seats up, you’ll be able to fit a generous 740 litres of cargo in the Sportage’s boot. Fold down the 60:40 split rear seatbacks down, and you get a flat space that measures in at a sizable 1547 litres.



Driveability: The Sportage’s 2.0 litre R-Series turbodiesel is shared with its cousin the Hyundai ix35, and it’s an excellent powertrain.

Producing 135kW and 392Nm, it’s got the right numbers to pull the Sportage’s substantial 1.7 tonne body, and it’s exceptionally refined. A truck motor this ain’t.

The torque band is fairly slim though. Peak torque arrives at just 1800rpm (good), but tails off at 2500rpm (not so good). It definitely favours low-rpm running, but on the upside most motorists will rarely need to go beyond this rev range.

A six-speed automatic is the only transmission available with the diesel engine, and it makes good use of the diesel’s output.

It slurs smoothly through gears, kicks down fairly quickly and there’s a ‘manu-matic’ mode for when the driver requires more control - like when towing.

Refinement: Noise and vibration from the engine are quite low, and the gravelly note of the diesel motor is quite muted from within the cabin.

There’s also little in the way of wind rustle or intrusive tyre roar, but we did hear the occasional rattle from a piece of rear cabin trim.

Suspension: The Sportage’s suspension tune reflects the car’s name. It’s firmer than some other compact SUVs out there (though not as firm as the ix35), and the feel behind the wheel is one of sportiness and agility.

But it’s not spine-jarringly stiff. Instead, the Sportage neatly straddles the divide between sportiness and comfort with just enough compliance.

The steering lacks feedback though, it’s a bit numb at the straight ahead. However, the weighting through the electrically-assisted steering rack improves when cornering (especially when cornering quickly).

The Sportage has a car-like 10.6 metre turning circle, which makes it easy to navigate urban obstacles like crowded carparks.

Braking: The Sportage SLi’s all-disc brake package utilises slightly larger rotors than those on the base model Si, although this is more to compensate for the up-spec model’s extra weight than it is to improve braking feel.

Braking however feels strong and progressive, if a little over-assisted.



ANCAP rating: Five stars

Safety features: Front, front side and full-length curtain airbags are standard. All seats are equipped with three-point seatbelts, with the front seats also getting pre-tensioning belts and anti-whiplash headrests.

Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are standard, as is hill-start assist and hill descent control.



Warranty: Five years/unlimited kilometres.

Service costs: Servicing costs vary. Consult your local Kia dealer before purchase.



Nissan X-Trail TS diesel ($35,990) - Nissan’s X-Trail rugged design and extra off-road versatility offers plenty of appeal, but it’s down on both power and torque compared to the Sportage.

Its interior is well laid out and spacious though, and while it’s a smidge more expensive compared to the Sportage, the slight gains in size and quality are well worth it. (see X-Trail reviews)

Subaru Forester 2.0D ($36,490) - The Forester is the reigning champ of the medium SUV segment, but the diesel variant is a manual-only proposition and doesn’t sell in the same volumes as its petrol-drinking brethren.

The current-gen Forester is also fast approaching retirement, and its interior shows it. (see next-gen Forester spy photos) (see Forester reviews)

Holden Captiva 5 diesel ($33,990 ) - The Captiva is compelling on-paper value, but its interior feels cheaper and lacks the class of the Sportage. Like the Forester, it’s also quite a dated design. (see Captiva reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.



The Kia Sportage is one of the best buys in the medium SUV market right now. It performs well, handles corners without fuss, rides comfortably, has an impressive interior and is priced competitively.

We highly recommend a close look at the Sportage. With supply from Korea now opening up, the waiting lists that frustrated potential buyers last year should now be non-existent.

Capable and stylish, there’s very little not to like.

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