For the Kia brand, one model that really did much to shape their success in the local market, it's the Sportage.
In many ways, the Sportage was a pioneer of the compact SUV, going head on with the pioneer of the crossover class, the Toyota RAV4. Back then, Kia still had much to do in the way of development, but gradually they did; the second generation (now crossover) Sportage was launched in the mid-2000's, followed by a very well received successor, the third generation in 2011.
With each generation, one could tell that Kia's design, engineering, and quality have all progressed significantly. Can this all-new fourth generation Sportage do the same?
The design is something I would characterize as polarizing. At first glance, you would already know whether you like it or don't, especially with a front end that busy. The previous Sportage had a more edgy design direction, but this one is more rounded in looks. If anything, the fascia, especially the high headlamps, are reminiscent somewhat of the Porsche Macan. This particular version is the 4WD, but not the GT; the latter even has a busier front. Thankfully, the “tiger” grille has become a brand hallmark, making it undeniably a Kia.
The profile is neat and straightforward, and the greenhouse is nicely proportioned to the sheet metal around. Ground clearance is decent, but not to the level of true body-on-frame SUVs; this is a crossover after all. The design is finished off very neatly, with slim taillights connected by a reflective red garnish.
From the driver's point of view, the dashboard of the Sportage is a logical evolution from its predecessor, utilizing the predominant black with red accents all around, from the lighting to the leather and stitching. It's actually quite driver-centric in here, as the center panel is angled for the driver's convenience and every control is within easy reach. 10/10 for driver ergonomics.
There's a definite improvement in terms of overall cabin space and feel. While I did feel like I sat a little low on the back seat, there is plenty of rear legroom to go around, even with three passengers there. Luggage space is likewise improved; based on Kia's official figures, there's 503 liters of cargo space with the back seats upright; a 38 liter improvement. Fold the rear seats and you've got plenty to haul gear like bikes, bags, and more.
The GT version may be the top variant, but this one is already very well equipped. Everything is pretty much powered, including automatic folding for the mirrors when you lock the doors. Automatic headlamps are standard, and so is a long list of standard safety equipment. Look up and there's a even a panoramic glass roof, and oh, the 18-inch 10-spoke two-tone alloy wheels look quite cool too.
This particular model is a diesel, and what a good one it is. Displacing 1995cc from an inline-4, the Sportage gets a very healthy 185 metric horsepower and 402 Nm of torque. The Sportage was able to achieve this through Kia (and Hyundai's) common rail direct injection and e-VGT technologies. That engine is match with a 6-speed automatic and an all-wheel drive system.
Around the city (in this case, Dumaguete), the Sportage proved itself to be a solid performer. The suspension is definitely an improvement over the predecessor; there's good absorbency that has been carefully dialed in without sacrificing driving stability or handling. City maneuverability is also good. The NVH, particularly the reduction of the noise from open-mufflered motorcycles was definitely better. The only thing that proved to be a minor challenge was the visibility out front; the previous model was easier to negotiate with around tight, 90-degree city streets and park nose first. During our time with the Sportage within city limits, it returned 10.4 km/l; good figures given the provincial traffic and stoplights along the way.
On provincial highways the Sportage has clearly evolved, as this new version feels much better refined; in many ways, it feels much more mature and more premium. There's a certain balance about how this new crossover can take on corners confidently. Braking performance is good, though the tires could use an upgrade to something with better hold, and less noise. The all-wheel drive system isn't a performance oriented one like what you would find in, say, a Subaru, but it gets the job done if you encounter some slippery surfaces at speed.
Fuel economy — like in the city — is good; 13.7 km/l at an average speed of 71 km/h. Mind you, I wasn't being particularly economical, given that we were keeping pace as a convoy. A proper and more mindful drive can easily yield better figures.
The 2016 Kia Sportage EX AWD is a marked improvement over its already good predecessor. In terms of improvement, I still think the leap between the second to the third generation Sportage was more significant, but this new model is still a profound step in the right direction for Kia.
The best part is the pricing; when I drove the 2012 Sportage DLX AWD with the 2.4L diesel, the pricing was already at PhP 1,698,000. This new 2016 Sportage EX AWD with the more powerful 2.0L diesel is priced just at PhP 1,595,000; a price cut that is clearly the result of the ASEAN-Korea free trade agreement that recently took effect.