New car review: Kia Sportage SX

Manual SUV a solid choice despite ‘old-school’ features.

There are a few things about the Kia Sportage SX we are testing here that stand out as being slightly unusual in the modern automotive landscape. 

First, there’s no keyless entry, which is an increasingly common feature in cars we are testing these days.

Second, you fire up the Sportage old-school style, by turning the key in its ignition, as opposed to the ever-more-popular push-button start.

And finally, there is the clutch pedal, manual shift lever, and ratchet-style handbrake, all of which are fast becoming automotive curiosities. 

Readers accustomed to driving older model cars might be thinking, “so what,” but trust us when we tell you that such manual features are becoming increasingly rare in the vehicles we test.

That is especially the case given that consumer preference has swung strongly in favour of automatics, and car companies have a well-documented preference for handing journalists only their better-equipped models. 

Nevertheless, with its keen $31,690 drive-away pricing, you could be forgiven for thinking this front-wheel drive Kia Sportage SX petrol manual might be one of the better selling models in the Sportage range.

But you’d be wrong.

2019-Kia-Sportage-Si-Premium-03 front

Petrol autos are the real movers and shakers in the seven-variant Sportage range, representing 4057 of the total 4984 Sportages sold so far this year, with the pricier diesel autos claiming another 852 sales.

That leaves the petrol-manual S and SX to hoover up the scraps with combined sales of a mere 75 units so far this year. 

All of which brings us back to the head-scratching point about why we are driving a model that has managed just 28 sales so far this year.

The short answer to which is, “we have no idea, either”, but what we can tell you the SX sits towards the bottom of the Sportage range, which encompasses S, SX, SX+ and GT-Line variants, with a mix of petrol and diesel, manual and auto options taking the available variants to 10. 

Sportage drive-away pricing starts with the $29,190 Sportage S manual and runs all the way to the Sportage GT-Line at $49,690. 

Within this line-up there’s the choice of two naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrols – a 2.0-litre (114kW/192Nm), and a 2.4-litre (135kW/237Nm) – and a turbocharged 2.0-litre four diesel (136kW/400Nm). 

Transmission choices are six-speed manual on the S and SX, a six-speed auto on the full line-up of 2.0 and 2.4-litre petrols, and an eight-speed automatic available exclusively on the turbo-diesel variants. 

Choosing auto adds a reasonable $1000 to the drive-away pricing of the models where a manual is offered – which might partially explain the sales weighting towards this more user-friendly format – while choosing the eight-speed diesel-auto option over a six-speed petrol auto adds between $4000 and $8500, depending on the variant. 

2019 Kia Sportage Si

Buyers shopping for a mid-sized SUV like the Sportage are also likely to be looking at rivals including category heavyweights the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5. 

Other popular models include the Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Tucson, with the Sportage ranking seventh in overall sales in the 23-strong category. 

Despite missing some of the electronic niceties such as electric seats and tailgate, the Sportage SX comes well-equipped with standard features like LED daytime running lights, a JBL premium sound system, front and rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera with dynamic parking guidance. 

Its 8.0-inch LCD multimedia touchscreen also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, DAB Digital radio and satellite navigation with SUNA traffic updates.  

Standard safety features include a full complement of six airbags plus the expected ABS antilock brakes and electronic stability control.

The SX also gets autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and driver attention alert. However, you need to step up to the pricier GT-Line to get blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.   

Package-wise, the attractively designed Sportage feels right-sized for compact families, with a roomy five-seat cabin that’s easy to get in and out of, with contemporary looks and a logical layout of major controls.

Materials quality is consistently good throughout, even if this model features humble cloth seats with manual height and reach adjustment. 

2019 Kia Sportage Si

The central touchscreen is intuitive and easy to navigate, with the simplified row of manual switches below the screen for radio and HVAC controls seeming a better choice to us than housing everything in the screen menus, as some brands now do.   

The split-fold rear seat will seat three abreast in decent comfort, with adjustable backrests, fold-down centre armrest with cup holders, rear air vents, a 12-volt charger and a USB point. There are also restraints for up to three child seats behind the seats, and two ISOFIX points. 

The boot space is flat, wide and fully carpeted, with a generous 466-litre capacity that expands to 1455 litres with the second row folded. A valuable inclusion is the full-sized alloy spare wheel located beneath the cargo bay floor.      

The six-speed manual transmission won’t go down in history as one of the great gearboxes. 

It’s smooth and notch-free but also slightly imprecise, so you’re never quite sure if you’ve engaged the gear.

Fortunately, the clutch is light and the relationship between clutch and gearbox fairly easy, so it’s not a challenging car to drive.

The naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is impressively smooth and free revving, but somewhat bland in its delivery, being neither especially torquey, nor offering much towards the top of its rev band. 

It’s flexible, but given the preponderance of turbos these days you do notice its lack of oomph below 2000rpm, especially with the manual transmission which requires judicious gear selection at lower speeds when faced with anything even vaguely resembling a hill.

2019 Kia Sportage Si

Ride quality on the standard 18-inch alloys with 225/55-section tyres proved nicely compliant, with predictable handling courtesy of the McPherson strut front, and multi-link rear suspension arrangement.

The steering is light and easy with nothing especially notable about its weight or feel and, aside from a bit of body roll when cornering, the vehicle feels entirely safe and predictable through the bends. 

Overall the SX is clearly calibrated to prioritise comfort over dynamic prowess, which is as it should be for this style of vehicle.  

Curiously, there is no overall fuel consumption advantage in choosing the 2.0-litre petrol manual over the automatic, with Kia claiming identical combined cycle consumption of 7.9L/100km for both.

On closer inspection, the manual is slightly better in the urban cycle, with the auto reversing the tables in extra urban driving, resulting in a deadheat. Our own figure over 200km of mostly urban driving was a fairly respectable 8.9L/100km.     

With its modest sales of just 28 units so far this year, the Kia Sportage SX manual is clearly somewhat neck-of-the-bottle in terms of the broader Sportage model mix. 

With the six-speed automatic costing just $1000 more and delivering identical fuel consumption, we can understand why most buyers choose the petrol auto. 

What our week with this model did remind us of – apart from how to drive a manual – is just how practical, civilised and family-friendly the Sportage is. 

It’s a solid choice for anyone looking for a mid-sized, five-seat SUV with Kia’s excellent seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty providing a tempting ownership bonus. 

Key stats:  

MLP:  $31,690 (drive away) 

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder  

Power/torque: 114kW@6200rpm/192Nm@4000rpm

ANCAP safety rating:  5-Star (2016)  

Tailpipe CO2 (g/km): 225g/km (7.9L/100km) 

For

Good package size, nicely refined, excellent warranty.

Against

Vague engagement of manual transmission, engine lacks grunt at lower revs.