It took a fair stake of disappointing moments for the Kia Sportage to get to where it is today. If you recall, the first generation Sportage model, introduced in 1993, scored poorly in crash tests in several territories. As the saying goes, make mistakes, fall hard, then rise again and try again. Kia did just that.
It returned to the drawing board and came back with a bang when it launched its second-generation Sportage in 2004. It immediately became a hit globally in the SUV segment generation after generation.
As one of the brand's more successful models, the Kia Sportage has recently entered its fifth generation. We spent time at the helm of the range-topping GT-Line S variant. Off the bat, we can comment that, while its looks remain a subjective topic of discussion, it's handsome and take my word for it; pictures don't do it any justice.
It wears an unconventional face that houses alien-looking headlights plus an unfamiliar grille while riding on sporty 19" wheels. Compared to the model it replaces, this one has grown significantly. As you've guessed, that translates to more boot space and a roomier interior.
As the Kia Sportage range headliner, the GT-Line S is filled to the brim with niceties. It gets a ventilation/heating function for the front seats, further complemented by a well-built interior. The cabin's architecture is finished in all-black, plus an innovative and uncluttered central command, with the rotary gear-shift dial, is up there with our favourites.
I am not a fan of the narrow-touch sensitive panel that lets users choose between radio shortcuts and climate controls. I am of the opinion that physical buttons are still more intuitive.
A curved 12.3" infotainment system sits in line with the digital instrument cluster to create a seamless long curved housing that stretches halfway across the dash. The intuitive infotainment system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB ports up front, and two USB-C ports integrated neatly into the front seatbacks for rear passengers.
The Sportage falls within the same basket where difficult-to-fault vehicles are mostly found. It is comfortable, and the combination of partial suede cloth and artificial leather on the sporty seats provides optimum support.
It has enough space to accommodate five adults plus an impressive boot space that measures 591 litres with the second row raised and 1,780 litres when folded flat - enough for your day-to-day duties and weekend getaway trips if I'm honest.
While a diesel powerplant would make for a great offering, the sole 1.6-litre in-line turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine has enough urge to get up and go. It pumps out a healthy 132 kW, and 265 Nm of torque sent entirely to the front wheels via an untroubled 7-speed DCT transmission.
On the road, the Sportage remains impressive in terms of comfort, refinement and power delivery, plus a soft suspension setup that does remarkable work of cushioning the cabin for any road imperfections. There is a fraction of wind noise entering the cabin at certain speeds but not enough to make us complain.
The steering is a touch light on the open road, yet in its defence, it makes it easier to manoeuvre the vehicle in and out of parking lots.
It doesn't come cheap at a price of R734,995 for the subject at hand. On the flip side, the rewarding drive and all the technological features are enough to make you forget about the hefty price tag. Anyway, good things come at a price nowadays. With most driving done in Comfort mode during my tenure with the car, it was a tad thirsty at 8.1l/100 km. Again, Kia's proven and highly frugal diesel powerplant would make a lot more sense in this application.
For once, let's forget about the pricing. With the Sportage, Kia has built a winner set to soldier on with its predecessor's success of becoming a more polished family SUV. It has been improved in all the requisite departments to make it stand out in the competitive SUV fold. It deserves serious consideration.