Skid Marks

Kia Sportage GT Line: amazing value at the top of the class

Korean cars like the KIA Sportage are not just about value-for-money, but great style and advanced technology as well.

Korean cars like the KIA Sportage are not just about value-for-money, but great style and advanced technology as well.

When I first laid eyes on the Kia Sportage, I thought it just looked amazingly gorgeous.

The stylish, Euro-inspired lines (no doubt influence brought about by Peter Schreyer, the entire group’s big boss and formerly design head at Kia), high-tech features (amazing R-eVGT engine, LED lights all around), and upscale standard equipment (19-inch alloys for the GT line, leather interior, paddle shifters for the 6-speed auto) was a huge wake-up call that Koreans are not just about value-for-money, but great style and advanced technology as well.

The problem is, well, all that tech comes at a price. The Sportage rings the bell at P1,795 million. That’s well into the Mazda CX-5/Subaru Forester money, both being the top dogs in this class.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I’m driving the Sportage GT Line, the top-end model. Immediately, I found myself eating my own words. It truly is worth the P1.795 million I would theoretically have paid if I wanted to bring one home.

Considering the car had almost 16,000 kilometers under its belt, travelled all over the country, and handled by all sorts of people who never cared about it, the Sportage still felt solid.

There’s a joke about test drive units being similar to race cars: a kilometer undergone by a test unit is equivalent to 10 kilometers for a privately-owned car.

Going by that logic, this Kia Sportage GT Line had undergone a theoretical sub 160,000-km drive in a span of just over a year since its launch.

Yet, it still felt solid, well-built, and dare I say, premium.

Open the door and it feels well-built and tight. It doesn’t close hard with a thud, like say a typical German luxury car. But the inside feels very well isolated, quiet, devoid of road noise, and despite the loud diesel engine on the outside, a soft hum is all you get inside.

The leather-covered seats are soft, supple and comfortable. They don’t exactly give race-car like support, but it’s a crossover, meant for long drives with family and friends, with gear in tow.

The flat-bottom steering wheel is a nice touch, despite seemingly out of place. So are the paddle shifters.

The amber colored LCD displays, with crisp white backlighting for the instrument cluster, gives an even more upscale feel of luxury.

My only complaint with the interior is that the plastics still do look and feel a tad cheap and toy-like: hopefully Kia upgrades its next generation vehicles to have more soft, tactile surfaces.

The middle row seats offer very generous space and legroom; you can easily slide your size 12’s underneath the front seats on a long drive.

The boot, however, is a tad short, but the compromise is acceptable, as you can drop the split-folding rear seats to accommodate more luggage, plus the dimensions can easily slot in a big balikbayan box, or a few weekender bags.

The piece de resistance in the interior, though, has to be the panoramic glass roof, which pretty much bathes the interior with ambient light.

You’ll probably never open it up on a typical Philippine summer, but at night, out in the province, with clear skies and stars twinkling, it really livens up the mood.

In terms of safety, you get six airbags for the GT line variant (front, side and curtain bags), plus ABS brakes with traction/stability control.

Euro NCAP awarded the Kia a flying 5 stars for crash safety, so you know it’s safe and solid.

The engine is a 2.0-liter common-rail direct injected variable geometry turbo-diesel engine delivering a more-than-adequate 182 hp and 400 Newton meters of torque, which is a bit of an overkill considering the Sportage’s size and admittedly still portly 1,587-kg curb weight.

The six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive transmission delivers excellent response, even when kept in Eco mode.

It delivered an impressive 13 km/liter on my mixed city and highway drive.

Comparing notes with colleagues, some had achieved higher—one reaching as high as 17 km/liter on pure highway driving.

In the city, I was able to achieve an average of about 8.4 km/liter, albeit in very short drives through heavy traffic.

Behind the wheel, the Kia drives beautifully, smoothly. Each time the missus rode with me, she fell fast asleep, thanks to the roomy interior and comfortable seats, plus the impressive climate control system that easily chills the interior despite being exposed under the summer sun for hours.

The steering could use a bit more heft and feel to improve driver involvement, but the smallish 10.6-meter turning radius makes maneuvering in tight spaces easy.

A rear-view camera would have helped immensely. The sonar-based parking aid still gives useful assistance, but it seems to have a few blind spots, as it failed to detect a concrete column and traffic cone when I was parking in a tight car port.

Switch the driving mode to Sport and slot the gearshift to manual mode, and the Sportage literally flies on the highway.

Unfortunately, I wasn‘t able to play with it much on Sport mode as the missus gave me the dagger look when one too many heroic corner entry speeds roused her from slumber.

While the Sportage might lack the Subaru Forester’s adjustability and playfulness, or the Mazda CX-5’s precision, it’s still a very fun and capable crossover through the twisties, and especially on fast, flowing A-roads, thanks to the monstrous torque and transmission’s crisp upshifts.

The Kia Sportage is a highly underrated crossover, overshadowed by Subaru’s iconic Forester, Mazda’s cool CX-5, and Honda’s safe and solid CR-V—which is a shame as it is just as good, if not better than these crossovers in some areas.

It received a Red Dot Award in 2016 for product design, which tells you just how slick and sleek the exterior is.

According to Kia, it’s selling well, but I honestly think it’s not selling well enough as I don’t see these enough on the road.

Get over your fears of owning a Korean car, book a test-drive, and discover what makes the S portage such amazing value for money.

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