The Sportage has always been one of our favorites in the compact crossover class for the better part of a decade. We've always felt that it's been underrated by the market, especially since much of the attention goes to models like the Forester, the RAV4, the Tucson, the CX-5 and the CR-V.
It's been overshadowed, sure, but maybe the new facelifted version for 2019 can change that, and maybe the presence of a new distributor in Ayala Corporation can reinvigorate the Sportage and the rest of the Kia line.
To be honest, when Kia released the first images of the facelifted Sportage last year, we had to refer to photos of the pre-facelift model just to make sure we're looking at something different. And that's because the changes are subtle, to say the least, and that's even for this range-topping GT Line.
The changes made a few new details like new headlamps with the Porsche-ish quad LEDs which, interestingly enough, mimic the quad LEDs you'd find where the foglamps would be. There's a revised lower bumper. There are new 19-inch wheels, new taillights, and other small bits and pieces here and there. Really though, the Kia Sportage does look strikingly good, and wouldn't be laggard in terms of design when put side by side with many of its competitor models.
Inside, the Sportage also has a few -albeit subtle- revisions. The steering wheel is different, though only slightly. I do like that they changed the control panels on the spokes of the wheel. Kia also changed the control panel for the A/C system with new buttons and a piano black plate.
But perhaps the biggest change is the audio system; it's no longer a classic audio unit with buttons. It's now a touchscreen unit with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and finally, Bluetooth. That's a relief, especially since many of us have to take and make calls on the go.
Other than those changes, not much else is different. I like the front seats; they're not super soft, but they're comfortable and have plenty of support when taking turns at speed. The legroom in the back is nice and angle of the 60/40 backrests are adjustable for comfort. The armrest is nice too. The Sportage is not a 7-seater, so the rear is really just for luggage.
If you have to carry a lot of stuff, that won't be a problem for the Sportage. The loadspace is a little high compared to some other models, but it can accommodate large pieces of cargo like balikbayan boxes (maybe 2 jumbo ones). With the rear seats folded flat, you've got a long load space for bigger items like a bicycle, though you may have to remove the front wheel. Don't expect to be able to fit a 4x8 board of plywood there in the back, but we don't think there's a vehicle in the class that can anyway.
This Sportage comes with a turbodiesel; one of the most advanced in the market. It's a 2-liter, and thanks to modern tech like a variable vane turbo and direct injection, it makes 185 horsepower at 4000 rpm and 400 Newton-meters of torque at a very early 1750 rpm and holds it up to 2750 rpm; that will be key for fuel efficiency. The engine itself is a carryover from the pre-facelift model, but gearbox has been upgraded. Instead of a 6-speed, this one is an 8-speed auto.
This may be an Asian crossover, but there's a certain European feel about the way it drives. The Sportage feels rather solid, and in a very good way. The way it rides over tarmac, the way it feels when it hits bumps, and the way the steering feels are quite Euro, and that's a good thing. There's even that satisfyingly good and rattle-free thud when you accidentally run over a pothole. It won't be as comfortable some of the other models in the same category, but it's not bad either.
The Sportage also feels a bit more car-like than a crossover generally feels, and that's primarily because of the way I like to sit with the seat set to the lowest position. If you want a more SUV-like feel, you can adjust it to be a bit higher, and it goes you better visibility too, something useful for urban maneuvering. And for urban fuel economy, we were able to get 11.6 km/l at an average speed of 21 km/h.
On faster roads, you can really enjoy the handling of the Sportage. It feels rather light to toss around, and easily overtakes faster vehicles with the ability of the turbodiesel and the 8-speed auto. But I do miss the ability of the all-wheel drive system at speed, and that's because the previous Sportage GT Line I drove 2 years ago was an AWD variant and it had a sunroof too. And the price difference of that model compared to this new one isn't as big as I thought. And there's the rub.
The Sportage is a well rounded, well engineered, and well designed compact crossover. But this new 2019 front-wheel drive GT Line turbodiesel is priced at PhP 1,820,000; when I drove the 2017 all-wheel drive GT Line turbodiesel it was at PhP 1,795,000. That makes little sense, up until we take a look at what happened at the start of last year: the new tax law.
Under that legislation is a revised excise tax scheme for vehicles, and generally speaking, models that are in the PhP 1 to 2 million price bracket are the most severely affected. That's probably why this GT Line is priced so high, which is a shame.
Mind you, there are lower grade variants. There's the Sportage LX gasoline at PhP 1.290 million, but we think the Sportage EX diesel at PhP 1.545 million is the pick of the litter if you want a Sportage but the GT Line is priced too dearly.