This is a love letter to the first press car ever to really, truly steal my heart. My job is a good one: I get to drive lots of exciting cars and many inspire great affection. But in all honesty, no test car has ever truly made me fall deeply, madly in love. Until now. I love the Kia Sportage GT Line Diesel.
On the surface, there isn't anything all that special about the Sportage. It doesn't levitate, and the dashboard isn't trimmed with gold bullion. Power comes from a turbocharged four cylinder diesel engine making 136 kW (182 hp) and 400 Nm of torque, hooked up to a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters. Not exactly a firecracker then, especially given the GT Line tips the scales at more than 1700 kg (3748 lb).
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Those figures don't tell the whole story, though. Maximum torque is on tap between 1750 and 2750 rpm and peak power comes in at 4000 rpm, and the torque convertor does a good job keeping the engine in its power band. At least, it does most of the time: although it's settled at motorway speeds the gearbox does hunt around on part throttle, which can make the car feel unsettled.
The solution is slipping into Eco Mode, where the car holds a taller gear. Usually that leaves cars feeling sluggish, but it's no great hardship given the torque on offer here. In fact, the engine is perfectly adequate, even in its most economical setup. That's right, the Sportage is that good it made me drive around in Eco Mode. Love does funny things to a man.
That said, despite spending most of our time with the Sportage in Eco Mode, the car wasn't overly economical. Kia claims 6.8 l/100km (35 mpg) on the combined cycle, but we barely dipped below 10 l/100 km (24 mpg) during our week with the car. We're willing to cut it some slack because most of our driving was in traffic, but that is a big discrepancy between claimed and real economy nonetheless.
Kia was once maligned for delivering cars that drove like they belonged in the 1950s. In fact, that blanket could be thrown over all Korean cars. I was once unlucky enough to spend some time in a Hyundai Excel and, without a shadow of a doubt, it was the worst vehicle I've ever driven. Thankfully, things have changed since the Excel hit dealerships back in 1994. In Australia, Hyundai and Kia have now opened up their own suspension tuning house to ensure their cars are up to scratch.
In the Sportage, that effort shines through from the second you slip behind the wheel. The steering takes a bit of arm twirling at low speed, but the weighting is absolutely spot on, to the point where you could almost call this four-wheel drive sporty. What really impressed was the suspension tune, though. GT Line cars get a slightly firmer setup than standard models, but our tester never lost its composure through the gauntlet of speed bumps and potholes lining the roads around our office. In a word, it felt expensive.
The expensive feeling extends to the well-sorted interior. Premium paint is the only option on the Sportage GT Line, and everything else fitted to our tester was standard. Bluetooth audio streaming, full leather trim, a digital multifunction speedo cluster, self-parking, auto-emergency braking the list of standard equipment goes on. I'm a sucker for a good set of heated seats, and the ones in the Sportage are the best in the business. How I miss their warm embrace.
With a class-standard 466 l (16.5 cu.ft) of space in the boot, it has enough space to swallow all the bikes, prams or wheelchairs people try to cram into their cars. The back seats have plenty of leg and shoulder room, even with a seriously tall driver in the front seats, though that space does come at the expense of some front-seat legroom. I'm a tall man with a taller haircut, but there isn't really any excuse for anyone to have their head touching the roof lining and legs splayed around the wheel in a car of this size.
Speaking of size, designer Peter Schreyer has done a fantastic job of making the long, tall Kia look small on the outside. Not everyone was sold on the snub-nosed looks, but to these (fashion blind) eyes it is an incredibly handsome piece of design. It spent some time parked next to a Mercedes GLC, and there isn't any doubt the Korean car was the more distinctive. It was love at first sight for me, and the attraction didn't wane with time.
Unfortunately, this love affair must come to an end. Kia only gave us the car for a week, and I can't afford the AU$44,950 it would take to buy one. No matter how perfect our love, some differences are too great to overcome – and this is one of them. Daisy Buchanan hit the nail on the head in The Great Gatsby when she said "rich girls don't marry poor boys."
Still, we'll always have the good times. I will miss the toasty seats and sexy silhouette, and I hope the car will miss me. Just know, no matter what happens from here, there are no hard feelings. The overwhelming adequacy of the Kia Sportage won't be forgotten.
The equivalent Sportage trim starts at US$32,700 in the USA. The diesel isn't available in North America, but everything else we've said about the car stands, right down to the good looks.