Diesel delivers one of the highlights in the range, writes Colin Smith
The combination of small car dimensions and a powerful engine usually promise some driving appeal.
The Kia Sportage might not immediately appear to fit that description but compact measurements and the impressive response of Kia's R-Series turbocharged diesel engine mean it's not entirely far-fetched to consider this compact SUV in such terms.
There's a useful 135kW output from the 2.0-litre variant of the R-Series but it's 392Nm of torque - available from 1800-2500rpm - that ensures considerable muscle for a compact SUV.
The third generation Kia Sportage received a mid-2014 facelift.
Accompanying the upgrade and detail cosmetic changes the choice of Sportage models grew from six to eight - an example of how the scope of model choice is widening as SUVs and crossovers gain an ever-larger share of the Kiwi car market.
Additions to the range were a luxury-spec Limited petrol two-wheel-drive model and a new LX entry grade model for the Sportage diesel 4x4 line-up which is tested here.
Diesel delivers one of the highlights in the Sportage range. The 2.0-litre R-Series unit provides most of the performance of the 2.2-litre variant used in the bigger Sorento but in a lighter and more agile vehicle it introduces a sporting theme to the performance. The R-Series is punchy, fuel efficient and has notable refinement with improved noise suppression. Across all of its attributes the 2.0 R-Series is competitive with modern diesel engines in more expensive Euro models.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard and the diesel proves a long-legged highway cruiser using 1700rpm at 100km/h in sixth gear and shifts to 2200rpm in fifth and 3000rpm in fourth gear.
The gearing is well matched to the torque delivery and the shifts are smooth, with responsive kickdown when prompted with some extra throttle and smooth up-changes during acceleration.
Claimed combined cycle fuel consumption for the Sportage 4x4 Diesel is 7.2 litres per 100km and, during a mainly highway run with the Eco mode selected in an effort for the best figures, I achieved 6.9L/100km.
The Sportage also shows off some appealing agility and sure-footed cornering grip. There's plenty of rubber on the road with 225/60 R17 Hankook Optimo K415 tyres that have a mild M+S pattern for work on slippery surfaces.
There's a firm but well controlled ride and moderate road noise from the Hankooks. My driving time in other Sportage models suggests the best ride quality is achieved by the 17-inch wheels and taller profile tyres fitted to the base models rather than the 18-inch wheels and low profile tyres on Limited models.
Drivers considering putting the four wheel drive capability to more demanding use will discover a 4x4 Lock mode for slippery conditions and Hill Descent Control is also standard.
The debut of the LX model lowers the entry point to the Sportage Diesel 4x4 line-up to $44,240 while the mid-grade EX is $48,490 and the luxurious Limited is $54,490.
In the process of adding the LX grade to the 4x4 Diesel range Kia has provided an example of how so-called base models have become very well equipped.
The Sportage 4x4 LX diesel has 17-inch alloy wheels and a stylish exterior package that includes roof rails, daytime running lights, front fog lamps and indicator repeaters in the mirrors. Among the equipment highlights are a reversing camera (the display integrated with the interior mirror) and rear park sensor along with cloth trim, rain sensor wipers, a leather steering wheel with tilt and reach adjustment and a trip computer.
There's single zone air conditioning at LX level and the audio system - mounted on the centre facia - has Bluetooth streaming plus USB and auxiliary inputs.
Cruise control and audio/phone switchgear are integrated on the steering wheel while the button for the trip computer is on the dash.
The safety roster includes six airbags and the usual electronic stability and traction control systems and an alarm and immobiliser security system is standard. Three child seat tether points and two ISOFIX attachments are provided.
The Sportage was a wide-body stance but the reality of a vehicle that measures 4440mm in length is the interior is no more roomy than most small-medium hatchbacks - although passengers sit higher with better visibility.
Cloth seats are comfortably shaped and I liked the driving position with a combination of supportive seat design, raised cushion height and the reach and rake adjustable steering wheel.
The driver's seat has manual cushion height adjustment and slide/recline movements with manual lumbar support adjustment.
There's good footwell space in the rear with an almost flat floor along with reasonable kneeroom and decent headroom.
Load space is 564 litres and expands to 1353 litres when the 60/40 split rear seat is folded.
Recognising the Sportage is capable of being put to work in more remote and demanding regions the full size spare wheel offers more peace of mind than a space saver. With its handsome styling, top-rate diesel engine and smooth transmission the Sportage is an appealing compact SUV which is easy to drive and right-sized for the city and tight parking spaces.
Attributes including supportive front seats can be added to the equation and the specification on offer at LX grade is a prime example of the comprehensive equipment levels now offered on so-called base model vehicles.
Engine 1995cc 16-valve four-cylinder turbocharged direct injection diesel Maximum output 135kW at 4000rpm Maximum torque 392Nm at 1800-2500rpm Length 4440mm Width 1855mm Height 1635mm Wheelbase 2640mm Kerb weight 1508kg Fuel tank capacity 58 litres Wheels 7.5 x 17-inch alloy Tyres Hankook Optimo K415 225/60 R17 radial
KIA Sportage LX Diesel
PRICE: $44,240 SAFETY: Dual front airbags, Front seat side and head protection airbags, Front seatbelt pretensioners and load force limiters, Three point centre rear seat belt, Active front headrests, Electronic Stability Programme and Traction Control, Hill Start Assist, Anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist, Daytime Running Lights, Reversing Camera, Rear Park Assist, 2 x ISOFIX child seat mountings, 3 x child seat tether points.
Alarm and immobiliser security system Full size spare wheel
CRASH TEST RATING: Overall rating (2011 Australasian NCAP rating) 5Star FUEL ECONOMY: Combined (claimed): 7.2 litres per 100km Road test results: Highway: 6.9 litres per 100km