First Impressions

As a car guy who grew up on Mini’s, hot hatches and rally cars, there have always been three things I disliked in the automotive world. SUV’s, diesels and crossovers. So when KIA offered Auto Clique NZ a new KIA Sportage LX Diesel, I was the obvious choice for the road test.

Fortunately I have a much more open mind than I did when I was a younger man, thanks largely to the success of diesel in endurance racing and the new outlook that comes with becoming a father. So I came to the Sportage with a much more open mind only to find that I really didn’t need to. For some time now KIA have been producing very well appointed vehicles and are by no means the thin metal shell with ill fitting plastic interior that the dreaded KIA Rio may have been in the past.

You may not think they have the legacy of someone like Toyota but KIA have been around for nearly as long having been established in 1944, just 7 years after the Japanese mainstay. So in terms of being a well defined automaker, it’s more about perception than it is about history.

The Sportage itself may have the looks of one of the basic unbranded SUV’s in Grand Theft Auto, but take a closer look and you will soon see that they have the quality and practicality to stand up against any other automaker.


The Test Drive

My test started with what is probably one of the most important aspects of modern motoring. Bluetooth. Though I am more than savvy when it comes to technology, I can always tell how much I’ll like a car by how easy it is to connect my phone as it is a good measure of how much thought the manufacturer has given to living daily with the vehicle . The infotainment system in my test vehicle is the entry model rather than the full colour system with Sat Nav, yet it was painless to connect and took almost no time at all. Its red LCD display was clear and gave me more than enough information about the podcast I was playing, and the phone book was easy to navigate to make my first call of the day.

My initial time with the KIA was more suited to a city car than a full time four wheel drive. A mixture of free motorway and crowded main streets through Auckland on my way to my home office. In traffic the Sportage was smooth and effortless to maneuver across busy lanes, with no real trouble seeing where vehicles around me were, even someone on a scooter.

As for the creature comforts, the seats were comfortable enough but I felt that they pushed forward on my shoulders a little too much causing me to shift in my seat a little more than usual until it settled in.

The fabric choice felt durable and not as nylon-like as it looked, while the rubberised dash felt like it had taken the bulk of the budget. It can’t be easy to make rubber feel like a quality interior material yet KIA have managed to get it right. In all, I was impressed that KIA had managed to take what is clearly entry level fabric, rubber and plastic and not have it feel cheap – something that most Japanese manufacturers need to really learn.


I stopped for a quick grocery run where I discovered the little trick the KIA had pulled off for the reversing camera. I had assumed there wasn’t one on this model given the basics of the stereo and lack of full colour LCD screen, but after shifting into reverse and checking my rear view I was impressed to see a little screen light up inside the mirror with the view from the very camera I had dismissed as absent. It took some getting use to from always having a screen in the centre of the dash as the norm, but I liked how they had tackled the problem of not having said screen to exploit.


I was also impressed with the space behind the rear hatch given that this is more Crossover in size. Though there was a lack of good shopping bag hooks that would really benefit the Sportage as a family vehicle, its 564 Litre seat-up, 1353 Litre seat-down capacity provides plenty of space for shopping, strollers or luggage for the camping trip. It was certainly enough space to help move a friend’s new oven to Hamilton – a trip that gave me a chance to test the Diesel’s mileage claims.


7.2L/100Km for a full time four wheel drive falls a little short of it’s rivals the Toyota Rav4’s 2.2 Litre Diesel which boasts a combined rating of 6.5 L/100Km.

That said the 2 Litre Turbo Diesel is smooth and responsive on the open road. With 135Kw at 4000rpm and 392Nm of torque at 1800-2500rpm, the Sportage almost makes up for it’s extra thrust. With 25 more Kw and 52 more Nm of Torque than said Rav4 it never feels short on performance.

This extra grunt would be perfect for towing that boat or caravan over the summer without feeling weighed down on the open road. When it comes to weekend surfing trips to those slightly harder to reach West Coast beaches, the torque really does give the Sportage an advantage.


To test this theory, I set off early on a cool yet glorious Sunday morning to Murawai Beach, just north of Auckland. Though the terrain isn’t exactly a challenging off-road course, it gave me the chance to test the KIA’s four wheel drive system on varying surfaces. Starting with the classic kiwi gravel access road, the ride was comfortable over the loose metal surface. Despite the shocks being firm to counter the vehicle’s ride height on the road, there was no sense of excessive vibration and my morning coffee never once began to froth out of the lid’s mouthpiece.

Throwing it around a couple of the sharper corners, the Sportage remained composed and its traction control system never panicked, cutting power. It simply allowed the four wheel drive system to do its thing and maintain grip and speed throughout.

Though I wasn’t brave enough to take the Sportage on to the beach itself, I was able to traverse a couple of sand dunes on a helpful farmer’s land. The locking diff and four wheel drive system made light work of the shifting surface and not once did it feel for lack of grip. The only system I was unable to test during my time with the Sportage was the downhill crawl. The button down to the right of the steering column beckoning to find a suitable slope. But with a lack of hours and a lack of a suitable and safe steep bit to test on I’ll have to take KIA’s word that it performs well. As it stands the little SUV lived up to all of its other promises.


What’s it up against?

When it comes to price the KIA Sportage it’s hard to draw comparisons. Its closest rival in price is miles behind in performance and its nearest in performance is fifteen grand dearer. Though the trim level on the dearer rivals may have a better feel and even look, the Sportage can hold its own in the quality department and is a stand out when it comes to bang for buck.


Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km Luggage Capacity Price Highest to Lowest
Volkswagen Tiguan TDI 4Motion TDI 4Motion 2.0L Turbo Diesel 103 Kw / 320 Nm 6.3L / 100 Km 470 / 1520 Litres $55,490
Hyundai ix35 Series II 2.0 litre R-series engine with E-VGT 135Kw / 392 7.5 / 100 Km 465 / 1520 Litres $50990
Toyota Rav4 GX Diesel AWD Diesel turbo, 2.2L, 4 cylinder 110 Kw / 340 Nm 6.5L / 100 Km 577 / 1776 Litres $45,640
ASX 4WD 2.2D Auto XLS 2.2L Turbo Diesel Engine 112Kw / 366 Nm 5.8 / 100 Km 384 / 1158 Litres $41,990
Mazda CX-3 KYACTIV-D 1.5 litre turbo diesel 77Kw / 270 Nm 5.1L /100 Km 264 / 1174 Litres $38,695
KIA 2.0 LX DIESEL AWD 2.0L ’R Series’ DOHC CRDI Diesel Turbo 135Kw / 392 Nm 7.2L / 100 Km 564 / 1353 Litres $35,995
Suzuki S-Cross 1.6 LTD ALLGRIP 1.6 Turbo Diesel 86 / 156 Nm 6.2L / 100 Km 430 / 875 Litres $35990

The Good and the Bad

Pros Cons
  • Easy phone integration
  • Great performer
  • Hard to beat it on price
  • Proper four wheel drive systems
  • Easy to drive around town
  • Plenty of space
  • Seats could be better
  • Not the most economical Diesel
  • Fairly generic styling


What do we think ?

The KIA Sportage might not turn many heads or become the choice of the dedicated Mudder but it certainly lives up to its name as a Sports Utility Vehicle. If action sports are your thing and you need a vehicle that will not only be a pleasant drive but have the grunt and gear to get you to your favourite spot, whether that be the heart of the forest for the perfect Mountain Bike trail, the sweet surf beach just out of reach of the grommets or simply to tackle those slippery roads up to your favourite snow covered mountain, the KIA Sportage will get you there.

Sure, there are more lavish SUV’s available with more gadgets and nicer trim but you will get quality and performance with the Sportage without it costing you an arm and a leg.


Rating – Chevron rating 4 out of 5

KIA Sportage LX Diesel

Vehicle Type Front Engine, AWD, 5 Door SUV
Starting Price $ 35,995 NZD
Tested Price $ 38,990 NZD
Engine 2.0 L Turbo Diesel, 135 kW, 392 Nm
Transmission 6-Speed Automatic with Sequential
0 – 100 kph 8.1sec
Kerb Weight 1601 kg
Length x Width x Height 4440 x 1855 x 1635 mm
Cargo Capacity 564 / 1353 Litres
Fuel Tank 55 litres
Fuel Combined – 7.2 L/100km
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star
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Roger Baillie
Brought up in a world of Mini's, road trips, rallying and tinkering it is unsurprising that among my passions, since I can remember, cars have been something very special to me. The way they look, the way they smell and especially the way the sound. This passion has grown over the years from a spectator's seat at Formula 1 and WRC events to active participation in events such as the Cannonball Run NZ and Stance Off Events. My current love affair is with a slightly tuned Mk4 Golf GTI which brings me nothing but joy on the road. This love for driving and cars has led me start a Podcast dedicated to my love of driving called Drive Life NZ where I hope to share my story while exploring the varied stories of other enthusiasts. Dispelling the myths surrounding car people and celebrating our diversity.


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