Living the Dream
The range-topping Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDI EX Plus recently joined the **Driven** long-term fleet, and for its inaugural journey, Bernie Hellberg Jr travelled to the Waterberg to put it to the ultimate road trip test.
There’s no better way to get to know a car than to spend time behind the wheel. Checking it out in a showroom, even taking it for a short test drive, has nothing on living with the car for a couple of days. You’ll soon discover precisely what you love, and probably a few things that you don’t care for. I guess that, ultimately, is the point of reading any car review; get under the skin of a new car as profoundly as you can, without actually driving it yourself.
I’m always happy to take one for the team when it comes to long-distance reviews, but in the case of our new long-term arrival – a luscious Blue Flame Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDI EX Plus – I had to fight the clamouring hordes for the keys.
It’s no secret that I have huge respect for the Kia brand (well, for Korean car brands in general, if not for certain Korean smartphones, but that’s another matter entirely). Good, solid, easily driveable, and properly designed, Kia vehicles, in general, have few equals in their respective segments, and the Sportage, in particular, stands out as one of the brand’s best.
Emboldened after successfully dispensing with all challengers to the Sportage throne, first on my get-to-know-your-Kia to do list was familiarising myself with what’s new after the Sportage range received a nip and tuck in late 2018. Keeping up with the Jones’ – or in this case, the VWs, Toyotas, and Hyundais of the world – is a never-ending process for all manufacturers, so the question is whether Kia has done enough to keep the middle-aged Sportage ahead of its rivals.
Build quality is excellent inside the Sportage, with overall design, attention to ergonomic detail, and lovely leather-clad seats being the first features you notice. At R562,995, the EX Plus is not the cheapest SUV around, but with high levels of standard specification and virtually guaranteed return on investment, it makes a lot of sense in this segment.
The upgraded 8’ touchpad infotainment system with Apple CarPlay (yay!) and Android Auto (sigh!) functionality is a highlight in the cabin. Integrated navigation is standard to the system (not that one needs it when your smartphone is around), and access can be had through either the front, or rear, USB port. No cable? No problem, as the EX Plus is also fitted with a wireless charging pad that’s big enough for plus-size phones. But be aware that the system doesn’t yet allow for Apple CarPlay to function without a cable.
Being the range-topper, other standard features include electronically adjustable front seats, a panoramic sunroof, climate control with sync functionality, and front- and rear park distance control with a reverse-view camera that’s great during the day, but struggles with grainy resolution in the dark.
In terms of safety, six airbags are standard, as is ABS with EBD, brake assist, stability control with traction control, hill start and hill hold, and ISOFIX child seat mounts.
Strictly classified as a compact SUV, there’s nothing compact about available cabin space, both in the front and in the rear. Achieving a comfortable driving position is easy with the electrically adjustable seats, and set even for my 1.84 meter-tall frame, there is enough rear legroom for another ample-sized adult.
Stowage solutions for flotsam and jetsam are everywhere where it matters. Twin cupholders between the front seats, large side pockets in all doors (okay, they’re not so large in the rear), a decent centre bin and cubby, and two cupholders in the central rear armrest complete the picture.
Luggage capacity is a substantial 466 litres, which can be extended to 1,455 litres by folding the rears split seatback down. Although the rear seat neatly flat for easy loading, the Sportage is not quite as cavernous as its rivals in this segment.
HEADIN’ OUT WITH MY BABY
Knowing precisely what your car offers in terms of its equipment, and how it all works is great, but getting out on the road is what it’s all about.
To better acquaint myself with our long-termer, I headed towards the always beautiful (and almost always green) Waterberg mountains in Limpopo province for a weekend of pampering at the exquisite Tinstwalo Lapalala Reserve, around 75 km beyond the sleepy hollow of Vaalwater.
While it’s not quite Route 66, I love heading out to this part of the country. It’s quiet here, easily accessible from Gauteng, and the roads are pretty decent too – that’s important when one’s trying hard to preserve the longevity of the 245/45 R19 Hankook tyres fitted to the EX. The drive to Tintswalo Lapalala will take about three hours from Pretoria – not counting potential traffic on the N1 north – so if you’re travelling at a busy time, say on a Friday afternoon, best head out as soon as possible to arrive in time for the two o’clock pick-up at Tintswalo.
A road trip not only highlights a car’s strength, but it also tends to bring any niggles to the fore.
The Sportage, however, had few of the latter, keeping it in my good books since taking delivery of it with barely 300 kilometres on the clock. Considering that the engine was barely run in at the time, the car delivered inspiring performance throughout the trip.
Official performance figures put the EX Plus on par with, or better than, its direct market competitors, which are (based on relative price, and in no particular order): the Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0TDI 4Motion Comfortline; Hyundai Tucson 2.0D Executive; and the petrol-powered Toyota RAV4 2.5 AWD.
It’s somewhat of a toss-up between these very close rivals when comparing performance figures. While the Sportage trumps all but the Tucson on maximum torque (both figure at 400 Nm), at 6.3-l/100 km, it beats the Hyundai hands down in the fuel consumption stakes, while the Tiguan pips it at the pumps by a marginal 0.2-l/100 km.
Being the only petrol-powered rival in our comparison, the Toyota RAV4 has the most power at 152 kW versus the Kia’s 131 kW, while the VW only manages 105 kW from its four-pot powerplant.
Mated as it is to a brand new eight-speed automatic transmission – that keeps doing a superb job in varied circumstances, I might add – long-distance high-speed cruising is an exercise in smoothness and precision, while cruise control ads another layer of comfort to the experience.
I continue to be impressed with the Sportage’s responsiveness when overtaking, especially when sport mode is engaged; although I spend most of my driving time in eco mode in a so far fruitless attempt to achieve the Kia’s stated average fuel consumption. Best sustained average I could achieve during the trip was 7.4-l/100 km, with city driving returning in the region of 8.1-l/100 km.
The holy grail of suspension set-ups is to achieve a balance between supple ride quality for comfort, and firm ride for handling stability and better performance. The Sportage strikes a decent balance between the two, with the ride proving to be both capable and comfortable. On gravel roads, the experience is never jittery or hard, and the excellent build quality means that road noise and wind noise intrusion is almost non-existent.
The Sportage also receives a gold star from me for steering responsiveness and feel. SUVs are many good things, but lively handlers that provide the driver with positive steering feedback they very rarely are, but the Sportage provides just enough of the stuff to keep you engaged, and alert.
The Sportage 2.0 CRDI EX Plus proved to be a worthy companion during our Limpopo excursion, offering enviable performance in a comfortable and well-equipped cabin. But road trips aside, the Sportage is an easy car to live with everyday, and is a worthy challenger in a hotly contested market segment.
The Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi EX Plus is sold with a five-year/unlimited km warranty, a five-year/90,000 km service plan, and five-years worth of roadside assistance.