Kia Sportage 2.0 XE review
by David Finlay (25 April 2005)
Comparing the new Sportage with the model it replaces is as good a way as any of demonstrating how impressive Kia's progress has been over the past few years. The original version was certainly cheap, but once you'd established that it kept the rain off and was quicker than walking you had more or less run out of good things to say about it. The car which replaced it isn't quite as cheap, but it's still on the inexpensive side for a medium-sized SUV, yet it's a genuine quality product.
At £14,495, the 2.0 XE petrol car tested here is the humblest in the Sportage range, and I suspect it's also the best in terms of value for money. Although you can spend more on the more highly equipped XS, or on the 2.7-litre V6, or on one of the diesels, there's a strong case to be made for this entry-level model, which has no real shortcomings compared with its more expensive relations and shares all of their strong points.
Foremost among these, for me, is the ride quality, which is not simply "good for the money" but good full stop. There is no way of disguising the fact that the Sportage is quite tall in relation to its length and width, but if you accept a certain amount of body lean and a tendency to drift in crosswinds you're left with a car which absorbs bumps at least as effectively as any other SUV. In this respect, Kia has done a world-class job.
The same excellent suspension work has led to impressive handling. While it's unlikely that anyone would buy a Sportage principally because of its ability to tackle corners, the fact remains that it's possible to hustle one of these cars along a twisty, bumpy road far more effectively than the modest straightline performance figures would suggest.
Both these aspects make the Sportage a comfortable car to drive, so they enhance the effect of what was already a pretty comfortable interior to start with. I'd prefer to be able to move the driver's seat slightly further back than Kia allows it to, but apart from that there's a lot of interior room, especially in the rear.
This generous amount of space behind the front passengers helps the Sportage to provide an impressive 1887 litres of luggage room when the rear seats are folded down. When they aren't, the relevant statistic is 667 litres; it could be a lot more, but the floor of the luggage compartment is very high, with a compartment for a full-size spare underneath and the rear half of the four-wheel drive system under that.
It's open to question just how useful the 4x4 aspect of the Sportage actually is. I imagine you would have to be pushing on very smartly to feel the benefit on tarmac, and Kia does not make extravagant claims for the off-road ability of even the diesel version, never mind its petrol-fuelled stablemate. Perhaps there is a case for an even cheaper, front-wheel drive Sportage which would gain more in increased storage space than it lost in ultimate handling ability, either on public roads or on muddy slopes.
All the same, what we have here is a very strong contender in the increasingly competitive budget SUV market. If you're tempted to look elsewhere, it would be worth asking yourself whether you are spending extra money to buy a better product, or simply to avoid being associated with a badge.