Kia Sportage GT-Line

A Knight In Armour

It’s no secret that mid-sized SUVs are popular – practical, easy to live with, family friendly flexibility makes the SUV a go-to choice for many folks. Which means manufacturers are in a constant state of competition to catch the eye of the vast number of buyers meandering through showrooms looking for the best deal or something different thanks to eye-catching exterior design, bright colourful exteriors, fancy interior layouts or even higher levels of driver and occupant comfort and safety. There are some impressive offerings out there right now, and the fifth generation KIA Sportage is certainly one of them. 

Let’s start with the much-debated subject of visual appeal—between those loyal owners who loved the subdued and conventional looks of the previous Sportage and new prospects who have had their attention caught by the bold new appearance. 

Most of us are slow to adapt to change; but after spending a little time wandering around the striking Jungle Wood green GT-Line diesel,

I began to appreciate the uniqueness of its funky audacious exterior, especially when compared to the non-offensive prosaic familiarity from many of its competitors.

A dominating black chain maille style grille sweeps across the front to create a bold visual impact, highlighted with an overarching satin silver cross bar that defines two distinct nostrils, emphasising KIA’s signature tiger nose bonnet line.

Cool creative day time running lights in the shape of spear heads create striking delineation between that big grille and those eye-catching dramatic diamond shaped front lamps. Finishing off the snazzy front is a practical air intake, with some neat little prism LED fog lights, super handy in the hills on cold winter mornings, and a discreet cover plate to conceal the high-tech radar. All edged in satin silver it contrasts nicely against that great looking Jungle wood green background. 

Allow your eyes to follow the outer flanks of the clamshell bonnet as it tapers in, forming a distinct body ridge which gently arcs back to the base of the A pillar, continuing seamlessly into the lower window ledge it sweeps back and upward at the rear to meet the elegant swooping roof line and form a narrowing wedge at the back for a modern sporty appearance.

There’s a nice counterbalance of down to earth ruggedness, thanks to the hopefully resilient black plastic edging that extends from the front around the base of the vehicle, over the wheel arches, extending high into the doors and rear tail gate to protect shiny paint work from mud, dust, and stones as you explore well-formed forestry trails.

I liked the Sportage’s buffed wider stance and the way the doors and rear-guards bulk outward creating a visual look of strength. 

An SUV’s tail end often seems to suffer from the accounts’ department desire to cut production costs, leaving the back of many vehicles with all the design inspiration and aesthetic appeal of a cardboard box. This isn’t the case with the Sportage. You can see influences from the alluring larger EV6 with the profile of the rear hatch extending slightly outwards creating a subtle rear ledge edged in gloss black trim that cross connects those very modern LED taillights which cut back sharply into the tail gate forming part of the concave rear door panel.

It’s clean, sharp and looks amazing at night. 

Hiding the distraction of a rear wiper assembly neatly up behind the rear roof spoiler and concealing unsightly exhaust pipes gave this Sportage a clean uncluttered appearance. One thing I did appreciate, which I thought odd at first, was the single reverse light mounted low in the centre of the rear bumper, as it did improve camera visibility at night.  

But what’s a smart outfit without the perfect pair of shoes?

Our test GT-Line variant was dressed off with some smart looking 19-inch machined alloy rims with gloss black 5-spoked centres and encased in 235/55R19 rubber.

For pure aesthetics, they looked fantastic!

But if you decide to check out your Sportage’s ability to explore moderate forestry tails or splash across a shallow, rocky creek crossing, then remember that dress shoes aren’t the best option when hiking.  

Ease yourself into the very comfortable heated and ventilated 8-way power adjustable passenger and driver front seats wrapped in indulgent leather, set your preferred position and adjust the soft leather steering wheel to place the paddle shifters within easy reach.

Yeah, I know… paddle shifters on a diesel, I was just as perplexed as you.  

If you demand all the bells and whistles then you’ll love the GT-Line’s premium state-of-the-art swooping integrated curved vehicle instrumentation, vehicle settings and infotainment display party piece. The system is responsive, and easy to use thanks to its intuitive menu structure and layout.

Directly below is a clever integrated two-way display panel which changes its appearance from AC controls to media, navigation and setup options. And for those longer drives you can immerse yourself in high quality surround sound thanks to a little Harman Kardon influence. But how good is this?

There’s over-the-air software and map updates to keep your new Sportage current with the latest information. 

Take a minute to allow your gaze to wander around this opulently appointed cabin and notice the subtle contrasting tones between the tasteful surface treatments of hydrographic wood grain, gloss piano black and satin silver highlights.

Kia’s careful attention to detail ensures a consistent premium look and feel throughout the cabin, no business or economy class in this little bus.  

For the techno buffs, there’s plenty of connectivity with standard USB ports, a fast charge C port, dual 12v sockets – one up front and the second in the rear cargo area to make hooking up a 12v car fridge convenient and easy, and yes there’s wireless charging for the phone. Disappointing (at the time of testing) our GT Line lacked wireless Android or Apple connectivity. 

I did like the clever relocation of the rear seat USB’s.

Rather than the standard approach of placing them in the back panel of the console, they’ve been relocated to the upper inside of the backrest on the front seats. Clever – no more long cables getting ripped out or having your gear yanked onto the floor by shuffling feet as the person next to you gets in or out.  

I also love the real world thinking that allows you to select quiet mode, which turns off the rear speakers, great if the fur kids are asleep in the back after their long walk and morning swim.

And did I mention how good it is to have a solid cover below the panoramic sunroof for those days when you could cook bacon and eggs on the glass roof top? Nice!

For me it’s the attention to minute details and practicalities like these that makes all the difference to enjoyable ownership. 

When it comes to room, for a five-seater configuration, the Sportage is rather commodious.

Of course, it’s not a stretch limo, but even taller drivers will find the front very accommodating, and easily adjust the seat that ideal driving position.

If Captain Tall jumps into the second row, without altering the position of the driver’s seat, they’ll still have adequate shoulder, head, hip and foot room to remain comfortable on a longer journey.

This is all thanks to the fifth generation Sportage’s ample dimensions, measuring over 4.5m in length, close to 1.9m wide and just under 1.7m tall.  

Rear cargo space with the second-row seats in position is a decent 543L. How big is that? Think two Bernese Mountain dogs sitting side by side and intently staring at that 20kg of unopened dog biscuits – tense moments driving home that day

Drop the seats to grow the area to a humungous cavity of just over 1,800L – let’s say four Newfoundlands, and an Aussie Shepherd to ensure everyone is behaving themselves and ready to exit in an orderly fashion.

This flexibility is quickly available with the simple flick of a lever inside the rear tail gate door, which sees the second-row flip and fold forward in one smooth motion to reveal a long flat dance floor, for those times you just can’t go past an opportunity to visit the big green shed or IKEA. 

Given this flagship GT Line variant has an engaging exterior and an inviting interior, was it all window dressing, a nicely presented package which failed to deliver a smooth driving experience? Absolutely not!

With three options available pending which model chosen there’s a 1.6L petrol turbo, a 2L petrol and of course the 2L turbo diesel with eight speed auto as fitted to our GT Line which had an advanced variable geometry turbocharger delivering compressed air to enhance the potency of the diesel under boost. 

Push your foot firmly on the go pedal and the diesel engine responds strongly, generating smooth and somewhat brisk acceleration as you leverage the 137kW’s available. It’s perky and fun to scoot around town and never feels lethargic or strained. But here’s where I believe the diesel is the pick of the bunch.

Mid-range punch is smile worthy, making overtaking on country roads and freeway entry effortless, allowing you to stay relaxed in the seat as the 2.0L throws down an assertive 416Nm of torque to get things moving without fuss, providing a confident response when needed.

It isn’t going to be phased or feel asthmatic when you and your friends jump onboard, throwing in the luggage for a weekend getaway.  

Exploiting the strong characteristic of the diesel is an extensively re-worked 8-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth, quiet and efficient. It just gets on with the mundane task of swapping gears when needed so you don’t have to worry about it. Despite the paddle shifters, it’s no sports car, so start beating on it and you won’t get far much faster.

Strong torque is the order of the day for a relaxed confident driving character, with rewarding low to mid-range response and power.  

There are two driveline systems that allow you to optimise and individualise your Sportage. Using Drive Mode, you can choose from the self-explanatory options of Comfort, Eco, Sport or for further customisation you can enter the smart sub-settings. I liked the fact that the digital cluster includes a crisp graphic showing the changes between each drive mode selection. And, in a first for this fifth generation Sportage, it includes Terrain Mode.  

This brings a new dimension to this vehicle’s capability allowing owners the confidence to enjoy their favourite outdoor leisure activities by adjusting the vehicles configuration to better suit changing road surfaces and conditions for snow, sand and mud. It’s not a 4WDrive designed for heavy off-road excursions, but those pleasant easy going fire trails in summer can quickly become slippery after unexpected rain, and that’s where the AWD system shows its traction advantage avoiding the typical 2WD problem of struggling for grip like a dog on polished floorboards.  

For strength and durability this new Sportage leverages the latest shared N3 architecture. This design friendly platform is stronger, and safer due to the clever inclusion of multiple distribution paths to dissipate impact forces, it’s the Sportage’s way of putting the protection and safety of you and your passengers first in the undesirable event of a collision.

Combining a refined, stable, and comfortable ride with agile and dynamic handling, the Sportage will wind through tight and twisty country road and over bumps and not feel unsettled or nervous.  

The N3 modular design allows it to accommodate different vehicle configurations and powertrains such as petrol, diesel, full electric and hybrid to provide an economy of scale to reduce production costs and offer customers more for less.

The reduction in front and rear vehicle overhangs not only improves aesthetics, but it also enables additional length between the front and rear wheels for better occupant accommodation and luggage space. Having a lower bonnet, roof and seat height lowers the Sportage’s centre of gravity further improving stability and improving driving enjoyment. 

Negotiating those ridiculously tight car bays in busy shopping centres is a stress-free doodle with the 11.4m turning circle and our GT Line was fitted with an impressive 3D surround view monitor which provides images from four cameras (front, side mirrors and rear) to generate a 360-degree view. The bonus is the ability to zoom or rotate the display to get different viewpoints of the vehicle and its surroundings.

Here’s another party trick, the digital cluster shows a left or right blind spot camera image replacing tacho or speedo when indicating to change lanes. 

You can even reverse into or out of ludicrously tight parking spots whilst standing outside the vehicle and using the key fob, very cool!

Driving the Sportage on the open roads is a pleasure – perhaps thanks to the expertise of Ride and Handling Engineer, Graeme Gambold, who is always looking to improve each new KIA he tunes over thousands of kilometres thanks to KIA’s domestic suspension tune program. This new Sportage exhibits well balanced on road manners for an SUV well suited to our local road conditions and delivers the kind of handling traits that Aussie drivers enjoy.  

It’s a characteristically sporty feel that’s fun to drive but remains comfortable, soaking up even the harshest of road conditions whilst maintaining composure over dips or through bends. Which is all possible due to the calibration of the new Electric Control Suspension (ECS) providing continuous damping control in real-time. 

And yep, the Sportage has all the latest in safety features, air bags, radar monitoring, collision avoidance, blind spot monitoring to name but a few. The Sportage isn’t backwards in coming forward thanks to Kia’s comprehensive Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) technology which helps the Sportage avoid potential hazards, diligently protecting occupants and other road users on every outing and at every turn. Our GT Line was no exception with a huge list of acronyms that read like a mini novel on the who’s who of must- have safety tech – if it’s important and innovative the top GT Line will have it.  

This KIA really is a protective Knight In Armour!  

The more time I spend in the Sportage the less I was looking for chinks in its armour. This was KIA’s flagship variant in the Sportage model range and loaded with all the options. Yet, despite its inspired interior and trendy good looks, it doesn’t feel pretentious or flashy. And rather than focusing on its looks, I appreciated it more because of its self-confident relaxed easy going no problem can do nature. 

Just like a comfortable pair of jeans or a good book, I just enjoyed spending time with it. Yet come nightfall as the sun dipped below the horizon, in smart suit and tie, getting ready to take my wife to the theatre, the exquisite mood lighting, resplendent illumination of the curved driver array and the rich deep Harman Kardin audio felt rewardingly special and self-indulgent. 

No argument, on face value the GT Line diesel isn’t the cheapest Sportage option available. However, when you consider the extensive safety features and all the luxury options and niceties included in the price, then the comparative value begins to stack up, plus it’s all covered under a full 7-year warranty. It’s a vehicle that has real appeal to a wide demographic and will suit many different lifestyles. Transporting the family, it’s a great city commuter that’s quiet and relaxing in heavy traffic and easy to manoeuvre. Or stretch its legs on the open road and it will eat the miles effortlessly. It’s a multi-functional Swiss army knife that’s enjoyable to live with, own and drive. 

Model: Sportage GT-Line Diesel Automatic AWD 

Price: $ 59,059.28 

  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel 
  • Output: 137kW/416Nm 
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic 
  • Fuel: 7.7L/100km 
  • Safety rating ANCAP 5 Stars 
Drive Editor - Ray Cully
Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.