In the past few years, Kia vehicles have been a delight to drive, thanks to their top-notch quality and much-improved engineering. It’s just too bad we don’t have as many chances to sample these cars as we’d like. So, when the Sportage GT Line was offered to us, we penciled it into the lineup straight away.
Because the last Sportage had left quite an impression on me, I’ve been looking forward to the new model, especially when it landed on our cover last March. It’s a pity it will hardly ever be considered by compact-crossover buyers. Discussions as to the top pick in that segment still heavily revolve around the likes of the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4, the Subaru Forester, and the Mazda CX-5. Can’t blame them, really. It’s all about marketing.
Proof that Kia has been upping its game is how its cars look. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Peter Schreyer as chief designer of Hyundai-Kia, with his designs becoming even bolder with each new model. While the third-generation Sportage bore some resemblance to the Volkswagen Golf, particularly in the C-pillars, the taillights, and the execution of the reflectors and indicators on the bumper, its successor graduates to something more audacious, although it still models itself on a Volkswagen Group offering—the Porsche Cayenne.
The front end has swept-back headlights and a grille that’s set much lower, just like with Porsche’s SUV. Even the ridges on the hood are a recognizable cue from the German carmaker. Central to these ideas influenced by Stuttgart is the ‘tiger nose’ grille, Schreyer’s signature. The rear is also suggestive of Porsche styling, with its red strip garnish.
The overall shape, meanwhile, is very much similar to that of the old Sportage. Hopefully, this will be retained for the next generations to give the model an identifiable profile. Standard on the GT Line are the LED foglamp clusters, which look like Porsche’s four-point LED DRLs, and 19-inch alloys wrapped in 245/45 tires. They kind of remind me of the wheels on the pre-facelift Subaru Forester XT.
The moment you get in, the first thing you’ll notice is the flat-bottom steering wheel, which hints at one of the Sportage’s most satisfying traits (such is the case for me, at least, because I had felt a good connection with the Sorento and the Forte Koup through their tillers). Along with the tiller, the gauges with white digits and red needles, as well as the use of minimal buttons, appear very much inspired by Volkswagen and Audi. There’s a bit of the Cayenne, too, in the upright A/C louvers and brushed aluminum surfaces.
With German functionality in mind, there are convenient cubbyholes on the center console (we get an extra one because we don’t get the e-brake) and two 12-volt adaptors. A tight fit and finish underlines the cabin experience; it has to feel solid for the whole treatment to flourish.
The Sportage is powered by a 2.0-liter common-rail direct-injection diesel delivering 182hp and 402Nm. It actually doesn’t feel like a diesel, owing to its smoothness and quietness. My time with the car was spent mostly within the city, and the engine returned around 9-10km/L. On my way to Magallanes one afternoon via SLEX, the fuel-consumption meter read 12.5km/L just before I exited the highway. Considering I only traveled a short distance of SLEX from moderate traffic on EDSA, the Sportage should easily reach 17km/L on longer highway trips.
As I said earlier, the steering wheel is an indication of how the Sportage maneuvers. It steers with sports-car-like heft and a firm feel, the wheel wanting to return to the center quickly and offering a nice resistance. There’s a drive mode to suit however you want to drive. Just taking into account how this car goes, its Cayenne-inspired looks are a bonus.
I was thoroughly impressed with the Sportage during my week-long stint with it. But does it have enough to persuade the buyers looking at the segment’s usual suspects? What are its advantages over its peers? It has a striking appearance, that’s one. It drives really well, that’s another. And it’s propelled by a super-smooth diesel.
Considering those three points, we have to say the Sportage and the Mazda CX-5 Skyactiv-D are aimed squarely at each other. Mazda is on a hot streak, so that speaks highly of the Korean carmaker. And you know what? The Sportage might have a chance.
SPECS: Kia Sportage GT Line
Engine: 2.0-liter turbodiesel I4
Power: 182hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 402Nm @ 1,750-2,750rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic