When a pragmatic, family-car decision needs to be made, medium SUV models such as the 2017 Kia Sportage Si are increasingly coming into discussion.
Previously the Toyota Camry was the beacon of big, sub-$30,000 four-cylinder family motoring, but the rise of the SUV has stifled sedan popularity.
This entry-level Kia is priced from $28,990 plus on-road costs. It aims to blend the cabin space of a sedan with the boot versatility and high driving position of an SUV – although at this level, the drivetrain simply reads front-wheel drive 2.0-litre automatic.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $28,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 114kW/292Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.9 l/100km | Tested: 11.2 l/100km
Kia makes a solid effort to ensure base-model buyers don’t feel like they’re buying a basic model. Alloy wheels, foglights, a touchscreen and even a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter are all beyond the expected standard at this price.
A similarly-priced Mazda CX-5 Maxx gets steel wheels and a plastic steering wheel, for example. Meanwhile the Sportage’s South Korean cousin, the Hyundai Tucson ActiveX, costs a whisker over $30K with an auto.
Combined with Kia’s benchmark seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and the Sportage Si gets off to a decent head-start in this test.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, air-conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, cruise control, automatic headlights and remote central locking
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB inputs and six speakers
- Options Fitted: none
- Cargo Volume: 466 litres
Cabin accommodation is more than just about high levels of standard equipment, and frankly there isn’t sub-$30K medium SUV that offers an inspiring dashboard design or inteligent levels of versatility.
The Sportage Si is no different. With hard plastic door trims and a curiously rubbery soft-touch dashboard surround, this Kia ultimately feels dreary inside.
The touchscreen is basic in operation, lacking the Pandora/Aha internet music connectivity facilities of the CX-5 and the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology of the Tucson.
Audio quality is sub-par and at night the screen remains brighter – too bright – than the other instrumentation, even with the dimmer switch set to its darkest setting.
Sat-nav is off the menu at this level, as is dual-zone climate control. It’s worth noting that for an extra $900 a Volkswagen Golf 92TSI Comfortline Wagon includes both of those items in addition to smartphone mirroring.
It’s impossible to ignore the intelligence of a Golf Wagon – or a Peugeot 308 Wagon – when reviewing any medium SUV model.
The Sportage Si includes a 466-litre boot; the Golf Wagon maxxes out at 605L. If family practicality is on the cards, a wagon is simply better than an SUV unless you need to travel off-road – which none of these entry two-wheel drive SUVs can do.
At least the Kia has a roomy and plushly padded rear bench with a reclining backrest that won’t be found in the VW. And – hooray in a warm climate such as ours – the Sportage Si features rear air-vents where the Hyundai and Mazda do not.
Just like a Camry SUV, the Sportage Si is big but basic – competent but no more.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 114kW/192Nm 2.0 4cyl petrol
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and multi-link independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
The issue with an entry-level medium SUV is that they are overwhelmingly powered by the same four-cylinder engines featured in small hatchbacks. As with its basic interior, the Sportage Si follows the class average with a modest 2.0-litre engine.
Where a typical small hatch weighs around 1250kg and a Golf Wagon tips the scales at 1301kg, this Sportage Si winds the needle to 1498kg. It’s like already having three extra people on board all the time, even before your actual family are loaded in.
With 114kW at 6200rpm and 192Nm at 4000rpm, the six-speed automatic in this Kia has its work cut out in this application. Thankfully it’s a good unit able to detect hills immediately and hold lower gears prudently.
Kia’s sharp throttle response further disguises the weight issue to create competitive driveability with larger engines in the $30K-plus end of the medium SUV class, where 2.5 litres or a smaller capacity with a turbocharger is the norm.
Another help is the 2.0-litre’s free-revving nature. Only when the accelerator is extended does the Kia start to become noisy and breathless – and even more so with bodies and luggage on board.
The combination of a small engine in a big car results in hard work under the bonnet matched by extreme thirst, however. Urban fuel consumption hovered around 13.0 litres per 100 kilometres before a longer stint away from the ‘burbs came in at 9.0L/100km for an 11.2L/100km average. The combined cycle claim is 7.9L/100km.
The Sportage Si is more impressive in the country than the city. In concert with chubby tyres, its suspension dispatches with rough bitumen as well as it does speed humps. But at lower speeds, the restless and jiggly ride quality disappoints.
The steering is also light and loose particularly on the centre position in Normal mode, although an alternative Sport mode delivers greater on-centre stability. The only problem then is the muddy weighting as lock is wound on.
This Kia handles well, with a secure and solid disposition, but other competitors including the CX-5 and Tucson deliver a single-setting steering and suspension set-up that is ultimately superior. A Golf Wagon, meanwhile, feels a generation ahead.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Kia Sportage range scored 34.62 out of 37 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2016.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Seven years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Kia’s capped price servicing program covers seven years or 105,000km with checks annually or every 15,000km at a higher-than-average $440 for the first four dealership visits.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
At this end the 2.0-litre CX-5 is worse from a driveability and rear-seat room perspective, while the Tucson lacks rear air-vents at base level – both are average performers. The Golf Wagon makes these entry-level medium SUV models feel underdone in almost every way.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Any weighty medium SUV with a small 2.0-litre engine is compromised, but it’s a credit to the engineers of the Sportage Si that it is not a frustrating performer for the most part. It may like a drink and feel slow when pressed, but its driveability is surprisingly impressive.
Likewise its rear-seat space and furnishings, its equipment relative to its rivals and that long warranty are above average, although its staid dashboard design, and compromised steering and ride quality all dip slightly below the expected standard.
Particularly in the white hue of our test car, this Kia Sportage Si is the affordable Camry of medium SUVs – and that may suit pragmatic buyers to a non-Toyota tee.
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