Why it's more of the same from KIA's Sportage - and the taxman
I've a feeling that reviewing this week's car is a bit like preaching to the converted. That's because, purely on the basis of sales statistics, there is a good chance quite a few of you have owned or driven one. So maybe this should be directed more at those who haven't.
The KIA Sportage, just after undergoing a midlife facelift and revision, has become something of a byword in the world of compact SUVs. It is mentioned in the same breath as the Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen Tiguan, Hyundai Tucson, etc. That doesn't come about by accident. The Sportage, in its many guises, has been around for 25 years so it has earned its stripes.
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But before you assume this is going to be a praise-fest, let me tell you it has serious challenges ahead - as well as owner critics. I know of a couple of cases where people thought of switching to something else for a variety of reasons but pulled back at the last minute: the Sportage still ticked sufficient boxes to retain loyalty.
It's fascinating to hear such stories from owners. It just goes to show how contextually small things can drive someone away - or keep them.
One area where modernisation was needed was with the old 1.7-litre diesel engine. It came in for the occasional critical rasp. Happily, that is where they have responded strongest with this midlife facelift.
They now have a new 1.6-litre diesel - it was imperative to meet tighter emissions and performance limits. The regulators seem to raise the bar a notch or two every year. Which is one reason people are fearful of diesel in the midterm: meeting such increasingly stringent standards can be costly. And that cost is, ultimately, passed on to you. Yes, this refreshed Sportage costs more.
Of the basic €1,200 increase (due to extra spec, etc) up to €500 is as a result of meeting more stringent emission figures. They are also having an effect on how much road tax you pay. And then there is the additional 1pc VRT Budget surcharge on new and imported diesels. See what I mean about challenges?
Yet, on the other hand, people are clamouring for SUVs. That should be good news for the likes of the Sportage. It is, but it's also a more crowded, competitive field now as all marques vie for SUV buyers. Which means more choice for you hopefully.
Anyway, KIA claims the 1.6-litre is the cleanest diesel they have made - ever - even though it still costs more. Ironic or what?
I'll spare you the technical details of why it's cleaner except to say it has active emissions control technology to reduce NOx and diesel particulates.
On a brighter note, I think this new engine made a significant difference to how the car felt and behaved. I drove it a lot with, and without, loads and passengers. There was plenty of room for those in the front and rear but it impressed mostly because of the engine's quietness (I had the 115bhp version; €270 road tax) and good response. Never take such things for granted; there are too many diesel SUVs of all sorts and sizes that growl too much for my liking in city driving especially.
The cabin has been updated a bit, too; I had a high-spec version (K3 they call it); there's upgraded infotainment and active driver aids. Obviously they have taken on board the adage that if it isn't broke, why fix it? But it's certainly smarter now. I'd call it a moderate overhaul.
A small whinge: I'd love it if more car companies paid a bit more attention to how you most conveniently close the rear tailgate when you have the shopping or luggage lobbed in. I want a handle or a deep groove for grip and ease of closure. Please?
Outside, they've given it a crisper look but it is still classic Sportage SUV in profile. And even though it was roomy, I found it particularly easy to park.
I wish we could park taxation on cars for a while. As I said, the Sportage is costlier - as are several rivals - due to the new emissions regime. Now you may think you did okay in the Budget, but if you think about what you have to pay for a new car next year, I'm betting any gains will be well washed out.
It is a serious point and one that will be reinforced with more anticipated increases over the next year or so. But what can we do? People need cars and many need diesels for the distances they cover.
A bit like preaching to the converted, owners of Sportages, we are being served the same old diet of stealth taxes that have plagued us for years.
Facts & figures
KIA Sportage compact SUV:
1.6-litre 115bhp diesel; road tax €270. Sportage range from €29,815.
Spec on K3 trim model (€32,294) includes several air bags, spread of driver safety and comfort aids such as Lane Keep Assist, rear-view camera, cruise control, 7ins satnav, foglights, roof rack; also seven-year warranty, trailer stability assist, heated seats, 60/40 rear-seat split.