We generally think of choice as a good thing, but it can be overwhelming.
Kia offers a whopping 11 options in its Sportage SUV line-up, split across four trim levels, three engines, three transmissions, and both front- and all-wheel drive. Knowing how to spec your Sportage is no simple task.
The one-from-range-topping SX+ 1.6T on test here presents as an appealing option. It comes with plenty of luxuries like the flagship GT-Line, but undercuts it based on price.
It also features a powerful turbocharged engine, which packs more of a punch than the entry-level 2.0-litre engine… for a price, of course.
Is this the right combination of ingredients to create the best possible Sportage?
The Sportage has recently been hit with a $350 price rise in line with the wider Kia range. On the back of that, the range kicks off at $32,795 before on-roads for the S 2.0 FWD manual and extends to $52,720 before on-roads for the GT-Line 2.0D AWD automatic.
Our 2023 Kia Sportage SX+ 1.6T AWD automatic tester is priced from $43,850 before on-roads, making it just shy of $6000 less expensive than the equivalent GT-Line. There’s no equivalent below it in the range; the 1.6T engine is only offered on the SX+ and GT-Line.
The Sportage competes in one of Australia’s most crowded and popular segments, so there’s no shortage of rivals.
Over at Hyundai, the Tucson Elite 1.6T AWD lists for $43,900 before on-roads, and features the same powertrain as the Sportage, while the Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD Hybrid will set you back $45,600 before on-roads.
The new Nissan X-Trail ST-L 2WD five-seater is priced at $43,190 before on-roads, and the Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire 2WD seven-seater is priced at $43,240 before on-roads.
2023 Kia Sportage pricing:
- Sportage S 2.0 FWD manual: $32,795
- Sportage S 2.0 FWD automatic: $34,795
- Sportage SX 2.0 FWD manual: $35,350
- Sportage SX 2.0 FWD automatic: $37,350
- Sportage S 2.0D AWD automatic: $40,195
- Sportage SX+ 2.0 FWD automatic: $41,850
- Sportage SX 2.0D AWD automatic: $42,750
- Sportage SX+ 1.6T AWD automatic: $43,850
- Sportage SX+ 2.0D AWD automatic: $47,250
- Sportage GT-Line 1.6T AWD automatic: $49,720
- Sportage GT-Line 2.0D AWD automatic: $52,720
All prices exclude on-road costs
Regardless of which trim you opt for, the Sportage has a spacious and flexible interior.
It’s meaningfully bigger and more usable than its predecessor, and comfortably had space for four adults, two sets of golf clubs, and a weekend’s worth of supplies during our time behind the wheel.
With a 12.3-inch central display and a wing-shaped dashboard inspired by the EV6 flagship, the cabin has plenty of showroom appeal. The leather seats in the SX+ also deliver an upmarket feel, although the basic driver display looks old hat.
Kia has brought a Casio watch to an iPad fight, and it stinks of penny pinching when you consider the significantly cheaper Seltos features a fully digital driver display from one trim level above base.
The Sportage features an excellent driving position. The leather-trimmed seats offer plenty of support, and there’s enough adjustment to accomodate tall or short drivers. Even after three hours behind the wheel I was feeling fresh.
All-round vision is decent, but the blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert still come in handy given the chunky, upswept C-pillar. The GT-Line also features a handy blind-spot camera feed that displays in the instrument cluster if the indicators are activated, which would be nice to have in lower-end models like the SX+.
Kia’s infotainment system is excellent. The widescreen display looks high-end, with neon purple graphics and quick responses, and the SX+ features factory navigation in case you don’t have phone reception for Apple or Google Maps.
The only real knock on the system is the fact the home, back, and menu buttons are quite a stretch from the driver’s seat – and Kia still doesn’t offer wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on its flagship infotainment system.
Sitting below the widescreen infotainment system is a slim, matte touchscreen featuring a row of function buttons capable of controlling either the air-conditioning or the infotainment system.
It’s a clever design that’s neater than a stack of touch buttons or controls buried in the infotainment system, and has also allowed the design team to make the cabin look clean and simple. Here’s hoping the rest of the market takes note.
There’s an abundance of storage spaces around the cabin, with two cupholders, a decent space under the dashboard, a deep central bin, and door bins with space for large water bottles.
Kia has opted for a combination of USB-A and USB-C plugs up front, along with the standard wireless charger.
The Sportage has acres of space in the rear. Full-sized adults will be able to sit behind full-sized adults, and headroom is much better than you’d expect of a car with what looks like a sloping roofline.
There’s a fold-down central armrest with cupholders, along with rear vents, two rear USB-C ports, and a 12V outlet at the base of the transmission tunnel.
Boot space is a claimed 543 litres with the rear seats in place, expanding to 1829L with them folded.
It’s a broad, practical place to store your stuff, with a wide-opening powered tailgate, 12V outlet, and remote releases for the rear seats.
Beneath the floor is a full-sized spare wheel.
Power in the Sportage on test comes from a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine making 132kW and 265Nm.
A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is standard, as is all-wheel drive. This engine is optional on the SX+, and is standard on the range-topping GT-Line.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.2 litres per 100km, we saw 7.9L/100km over a week with a strong skew to highway driving.
The fuel tank holds 54L, and the petrol Sportage runs on 91 RON regular unleaded.
The 1.6T should be the most appealing engine in the Sportage range on paper, with solid outputs and performance pedigree from its use in Kia GT and Hyundai N Line products – in practice, it’s less convincing than the base petrol and range-topping diesel.
The dual-clutch transmission is to blame for some of the awkwardness. It can be a bit jumpy off the mark, and occasionally gets caught between first and second gears on light throttle inputs.
Once you’re up and running, it doesn’t shift as fast as the class-leading unit in Volkswagen Group products, and can be clunky on downshifts when you demand lots of performance in a hurry.
It’s definitely punchier than the base engine, especially when it’s on the boil, but it doesn’t make the Sportage into an overgrown Cerato GT. Get into its power band and it gets a move on but the diesel packs more of a punch low in the rev range, and it sounds and feels a bit strained at the top end.
If you really can’t wrap your head around the idea of diesel, and the base engine doesn’t have enough punch for you, it fills that gap. But it doesn’t really stand alone as a compelling alternative to either of them, which is disappointing.
It’s even more disappointing when you consider the rest of the Sportage is well sorted.
The steering is light around town, so the car is easy to place in tight spaces, and the ride has been tuned with a focus on comfort. On 19-inch alloy wheels it does an excellent job keeping pimply city streets outside, and floats nicely over potholes and speed bumps.
Smaller-wheeled, less expensive variants are more comfortable again, but even the close-to-range-topping SX+ strikes a nice balance between ride and handling.
High-speed crests and dips are still handled in one neat movement, there’s no awkward bobbing or heaving, despite the slightly more compliant tune. It’s impressive.
Road noise is well contained, even on coarse-chip surfaces, and the engine settles down nicely at a 100km/h cruise.
Only if you’re hustling along does it feel a bit loose, but that isn’t really the point of a family SUV like the Sportage anyway.
The Sportage features the same lane-keeping and lane-centring assist systems rolling out elsewhere in the Hyundai and Kia Group.
The former pushes back to the centre of the lane if you drift onto the white lines, the latter is more hands-on and will actively follow curves in the road.
The lane-keeping system is handy, especially if you’re spending long periods of time on the highway, but the lane-centring is far too intrusive for my taste. Some members of the CarExpert team love the system, others instantly reach for the button to switch it off.
Although lane-keeping defaults to on, the lane-centring stays off once you’ve toggled it using the steering-wheel mounted button. Good.
Also good is the fact Kia hasn’t fitted the infuriating speed limit warning system that now bings and bongs at you if you drift over the limit in the latest Seltos.
Sportage SX+ highlights include:
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- ‘Design Type B’ exterior body design
- Matte plastic wheel arch mouldings and bumper trim
- Gloss black roof rails
- Gloss black side mirrors
- LED headlights (reflector-type)
- LED tail lights w/ incandescent indicator and stop lights
- Hands-free power tailgate
- Privacy glass
- 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- ‘Basic’ digital instrument cluster with 4.2-inch LCD display
- DAB+ digital radio
- Sounds of Nature
- Wired Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Satellite navigation
- 8-speaker Harmon Kardon premium sound system
- Dual-zone climate control
- Paddle shifters
- Keyless entry with push-button start
- Electrochromic rear-view mirror
- Soft-touch door armrests and front door upper
- Premium weave pattern dashboard garnish
- Front headrest coat hangers
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Quilted artificial leather upholstery
- 8-way power drivers seat with 2-way power lumbar
- Heated front seats
The Kia Sportage has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on tests carried out by Euro NCAP in July 2022.
It scored 87 per cent for adult occupant protection, 87 per cent for child occupant protection, 66 per cent for vulnerable road user protection, and 74 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- AEB with pedestrian/cyclist/junction assist
- Blind-spot assist
- Rear cross-traffic assist
- Lane keep assist
- Lane Follow Assist
- Intelligent speed limit assist
- Adaptive cruise control (N/A manual)
- Reversing camera
- Rear parking sensors
- Front-centre airbag
Sportage GT-Line adds:
- Surround-view cameras
- Blind-spot view monitor
- Reverse AEB
- Remote Smart Park Assist (diesel only)
The Sportage has a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty like the wider Kia range.
Maintenance is required every 12 months or 10,000km – whichever comes first. The turbo petrol has shorter intervals than the base petrol and the diesel, which allow for 15,000km between visits.
The first seven services will set you back a combined $3988 using Kia capped-price servicing, which is quite expensive in the scheme of things.
The strengths of the Kia Sportage shine through in the SX+, but we’d steer clear of the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine.
It offers more punch than the base 2.0L but the way it delivers its performance is uninspiring, it requires more regular maintenance, and the dual-clutch transmission can be awkward.
For most day-to-day duties, you can get away with the basic engine and save a few thousand dollars. If it’s more punch you need, the diesel is a torquey little unit that excels on the open road.
Choose the right engine and the SX+ is arguably the smartest pick in the sprawling Sportage line-up. It features most of the niceties you’d want from a premium-ish family SUV, but undercuts the flagship GT-Line handsomely on paper.
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MORE: Everything Kia Sportage