Kia Sportage GT Line road test: Sport by name
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Perforated leather on each side of the flat-bottomed sports steering wheel feels nice to the touch. Textured scroll wheels come with nice weighting, and are hooked up to one of the most usable infotainment systems on the market.
And in the middle of it all, placed on top of the centre console, is a hill descent button that — if we're being honest — nobody is ever going to press.
Kia has come a long way, and the Sportage has not only echoed the company's evolution, it's also reflected the changing face of what these little compact crossovers have become.
The Sportage first arrived in the mid-'90s as a simple, utilitarian compact SUV with surprising off-road ability. A Korean skateboard with four low, a stereo, and not much else. In other words, a world away from the Sportage of today.
It's now seen as one of the juggernauts of a segment that has changed vastly over the last 20 years. SUV capabilities bow to style and technology — and the Sportage has both in buckets.
For 2019, Kia has streamlined the Sportage model range, along with implementing a mild mid-life refresh. The Limited model has been wiped from the line-up, making the GT Line the definitive premium variant.
It comes in either two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (in the past it was only AWD), and is supported by the base-level LX and mid-level EX trims. They come with three engine options; a pair of unchanged four-cylinder petrol engines (a 114kW, 192Nm 2-litre and a 135kW, 237Nm 2.4-litre), plus a 136kW, 400Nm four-cylinder 2-litre diesel.
Pricing is unchanged at its extremities; beginning with the 2-litre petrol, 2WD $35,990 LX Urban, and peaking at the AWD $54,990 GT Line diesel.
At $45,990, our 2-litre 2WD GT Line Urban test car cuts almost perfectly down the middle.It's a bold-looking thing, particularly in this GT trim. Kia has tweaked the interplay between the fog-light shrouds and the secondary grill — connecting it together with a slick stick of chrome for a more aggressive look.
Factor in the contrast-coloured skid plate and the GT Line's Stinger-esque 19in wheels and you have one of the most distinctive compact crossovers on the market. But it's evolution, not revolution.
Changes inside are equally minimalist. The GT Line gets a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, and the 8in touchscreen (it shrinks an inch in LX models) now sits flush with its framing trim rather than being sunken in.
Otherwise, it's business as usual. Everything feels exceptionally well bolted together, design and materials exude a premium vibe, and OCD tragics like myself will particularly appreciate Kia's fonts — which are deliciously identical and consistent across every screen, dial, and button.
Basketballers and professional light-bulb changers will find ample headroom, legroom, and knee-room in the Sportage.
The boot is one of the biggest in its class, too, though it's slightly disappointing that the rear seats can't be adjusted from the boot given that capacity grows from 466L to 1455L when they're folded flat.
So if the exterior and interior haven't changed that much, what has? In a word, safety.
In April, we were critical of the Sportage's big seven-seat brother — the Sorento — for denying a lot of prime safety tech in its mid and base–spec models. In a market so focused on families, it felt almost cruel, and the outgoing Sportage followed similar lines.
But, perhaps Kia has been listening. Base model LX Sportage models now get autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and active lane keep assist as part of their standard equipment.
That makes it better equipped than the $60k Sorento EX; despite being nearly half the price.
It's worth making particular note of Kia's lane-keep technology. Most of these systems are mundane in nature — existing simply to “nudge” your car off the edges of its lane. Kia's system, however, is much more advanced.
When engaged in its richest setting, you can constantly feel it thinking and adjusting the steering underneath your fingertips. Instead of waiting until you're on top of a lane edge to kick into action, it works constantly to keep the car in the middle of the lane on well-marked roads. And generally, it does a bang-up job.
It might not be paired with adaptive cruise control (a feature oddly absent from the whole Sportage range), but nonetheless it would provide a sound basis for a Level 2 autonomous system.
The other big change to the Sportage is in its suspension tuning on Australian and New Zealand models. For the first time, Kia has given each tier of models different suspension characteristics. Our GT Line and its combined McPherson strut and multi-link set-up, for instance, is meant to provide “firm but rounded” ride quality, paired with “athletic and engaging” handling.
Though athletic and engaging might be a slight stretch, in the company of the busy SUV class the Sportage nonetheless feels like one of the most capable entrants.
Steering is vague, but is made up for by flat cornering and a 6-speed automatic that's quick to react to jabs of the throttle.
The GT Line's suspension is certainly firmer than average, namely over broken pavement. Those chasing the feistiest looks in the line-up will learn to accommodate the occasional harshness — but if I were in the queue to become a
Sportage owner, I would instead go for the softer, similarly equipped EX Urban. Sales data points to that queue being rather long.
And, I can see why.
2019 Kia Sportage GT Line Urban
Pros: Handsome, feels premium, finally gets the safety tech it deserves
Cons: Lower-grade models might be a better bet, ride not for everyone