Kia's Sportage has always stacked up well in 1.6-litre diesel guise. Jonathan Crouch wonders whether this model still does with its fresh mild hybrid tech.
Kia continues to make inroads into the lucrative SUV crossover market with this good looking Sportage model. This improved fourth generation version arguably makes most sense with this new 'U3'-series 1.6-litre CRDi mild hybrid 48V diesel engine. Let's put that variant to the test.
Kia's Sportage was once a bit player in the mid-sized SUV Crossover market. The first generation car was the sort of thing you might have bought if you lived on a remote smallholding where nobody would see what you drove. The second generation model was a rebadged Hyundai Tucson that moved things on significantly but wasn't in any way polished. Then though, we got the MK3 Sportage, a car which had the glitz to mix it with the best crossover SUVs out there while selling at prices they found hard to match. In 2015, the fourth generation model picked up where that car left off, but one of the few things that wasn't changed was the entry-level 1.7-litre CRDi diesel engine.
As part of the improvements announced in mid-2018 though, Kia took the opportunity to introduce its latest 'U3'-series 1.6-litre diesel unit to the line-up. And 18 months on, the brand has updated that unit with its latest 48-volt mild hybrid tech. In this form, the idea of a stylish Cossover that is capable of regularly delivering over 50mpg, while returning a relatively tax-friendly CO2 reading of around 140g/km might well be tempting to plenty of people in this segment. Let's put this car to the test.
Mindful of market requirements, let's ignore how this Sportage fares in the mud because it's just not relevant. Just how not relevant is supported by the fact that most versions of this Sportage sold with this engine will leave the showroom in two-wheel drive guise only. These cars are usually used as suburban school run specials that have enough about them to take in the odd family holiday to Disneyland Paris or similar.
This Sportage is a little different to the class norm. Whereas cars like the Ford Kuga or the Nissan Qashqai have been engineered to offer a very taut, car-like driving experience, this is an altogether softer-sprung thing. OK, so it's not as 'flingable', but for the sort of urban driving and motorway cruises its target customers will use it for, the Sportage feels a more relaxed comfortable thing.
The 1.6 CRDi variant we look at here is powered by a new 'U3'-series mild hybrid 134bhp 1.6-litre turbodiesel that will get it to 62mph in a reasonable enough 10.8 en route to 112mph seconds. The alternative 4WD auto version makes the 62mph sprint in 11.4s. Either way, this engine does its best work between 1250 and 2750rpm, where it feels lazily elastic and more muscular than the peak power figure would suggest thanks to the meaty reserves of torque. It's deceptively brisk if you can keep the engine in the heart of the torque range, the languid throttle response belying how much shove there really is.
There are no further visual changes to this updated Sportage: there didn't need to be as the range was aesthetically updated as recently as Autumn 2018. Trademark Sportage touches include the windscreen's castellated top edge and the way that the raked-back C-pillar contrasts with the angled rear window. At the rear, top versions get full-LED tail lamps with a special illuminating 'C'-shaped signature. This Kia is a fraction larger than the SUV C-segment class norm. The standard version's 4,485mm-length makes it 91mm longer than a Nissan Qashqai and 122mm longer that a SEAT Ateca. The 'GT-Line' variants are 10mm lengthier still.
There is an important change inside though. All versions in the Sportage range now feature the Korean maker's most sophisticated 'frameless' eight-inch touchscreen satellite navigation system, which comes with the brand's latest UVO Connect telematics system, plus as before, there's 'Android Auto'/'Apple CarPlay' and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity. Otherwise, it's as before. The exterior dimensions lead you to expect a decently spacious cabin, which is what you get, with plenty of head and elbow room.
And at the back? Well if you've previously owned or test driven a rival comparably-priced Qashqai or Ateca, you should notice how much extra leg room is freed up by that slightly lengthier body; it really is significant and aided by scalloped front seat backs. The rear bench backrest reclines and headroom's reasonable too, despite the sloping roofline. Out back, boot space is rated at 491-litres in petrol models, extendable to 1,480-litres if you fold the rear seat.
Though Sportage prices start at around £23,500, you have to stretch to just over £25,000 to get this mild hybrid diesel variant, this 1.6-litre CRDi 134bhp model being now the only pump-fuelled version you can have. This improved fourth generation Sportage is looking to nick sales from the likes of Skoda's Karok and Nissan's Qashqai, plus of course its Korean design stablemate, the Hyundai Tucson. Plusher versions may also attract buyers looking at slightly pricier cars like Ford's Kuga, Mazda's CX-5 and even Toyota's RAV4.
There's a choice of '2', '3', 'GT-Line' and 'GT-Line S' trim levels. Basically, the 'GT-Line' is a sportier-looking version of a '2'-spec model and a 'GT-Line S' derivative is a sportier-looking version of a '3'-spec derivative.
All models come well equipped. Even the grade '2' variants come with alloy wheels, heated front and outer rear seats, dual automatic air conditioning, privacy glass, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain sensing front wipers, automatic light control, electrically folding, adjustable and heated door mirror, cruise control with speed limiter and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
In addition, there's Trailer Stability Assist (TSA), Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC), Downhill Brake Control (DBC) and cruise control. Plus lots of camera safety kit. This includes a Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) to alert a tired driver who may be about to stray into the path of a vehicle approaching from behind. Plus High Beam Assist (HBA) to switch between full and dipped beam automatically when there are other vehicles in their vicinity on unlit roads. And a Speed Limit Information Function (SLIF) within the instrument cluster.
If you're looking to save a bob or two - as most Kia owners traditionally have been - Sportage models like this 1.6-litre CRDi mild hybrid 48V variant are the ones most likely to appeal. For an up-front spend of around £1,600 over the entry-level 1.6-litre GDi petrol model, this 1.6-litre CRDi diesel improves your running cost figures quite a lot. Let's look at the WLTP-rated efficiency figures. A 2WD manual or auto front driven variant with this engine can return up to 52.3mpg on the combined cycle and a CO2 reading of 131g/km. For the AWD auto version, the figures are 46.3mpg and 159g/km.
The mild hybrid technology in use with this unit is certainly clever. The engine is assisted by a compact starter-generator unit belt-connected to the crankshaft. Power for the 48V Ecodynamics+ system comes from a small lithium ion battery mounted beneath the boot floor and the 13bhp electrical boost it facilitates boosts the Sportage's total output under acceleration. When you lift off the throttle to coast, or use the brakes, the starter becomes a generator, recharging the battery with energy that you'd otherwise lose in the form of heat. Kia claims that this technology improves efficiency by up to 4%. Like the rest of the Kia range, the Sportage is sold with the excellent seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty. It is fully transferable should the car be sold before the time or mileage limits have been reached. Fixed cost servicing also brings additional peace of mind via the Kia Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing package, offering retail customers inflation-proof servicing for the first three or five years.
As long as you're not expecting an off-roader in the traditional sense of the word, it's hard to see how the Kia Sportage would disappoint in this form. It's well built, rides smoothly, now offers a much nicer interior and - the clincher for many - it still looks good.
Ultimately, this improved fourth generation version merely builds on the strong foundation its predecessor established - but then that's no bad thing. That car was just right for its intended market - as this one is, especially in this frugal 1.6-litre CRDi diesel mild hybrid guise. With Kias of the past, you used to need a spreadsheet to explain the rationale behind your buying decision. Now all you need is a photo.