Rear of Kia Sportage
On the road

Road test: Kia Sportage

From bread fridges and sea cliffs to fresh eggs and rainforest, Elspeth Callender takes the Kia Sportage on a bountiful scenic drive of lunawuni/Bruny Island.

We roll straight onto the ferry with an easy minute to spare, our keep-cupped morning coffees safely nestled in the retractable holders within the console. Parked up behind a truck, I save the current position of my seat that I’ve electrically adjusted right down to lumbar support increments. We then abandon the vehicle for the 20-minute crossing from Kettering to lunawuni/Bruny Island.

Today we’re getting around in a Kia Sportage. With roof rails, long wheel base and 19-inch alloy wheels, this mid-size SUV is more about function than making a statement. “Big on safety, big on tech,” as the Hobart dealership sales executive said, yet its exterior certainly isn’t void of design. For starters there’s the new Kia logo, good-looking grills and the retro-style LED lighting setup.

In preparation for the day ahead, we stop at Bruny Island Cheese Co. for a ploughman’s platter washed down with Tasmanian-made sodas. Not far south from there, at the isthmus, we climb stairs to a lookout named in honour of Nuenone woman Truganini, whose cultural homelands we’re travelling and working on today.

At the bread fridge, only 10 minutes away where Sheepwash Rd meets Bruny Island Main Rd, residents swing by to collect fresh loaves and sweet slice. We all drop our coins through a rusty honesty-system slot. This spot marks the beginning of our clockwise loop of sorts into Adventure Bay then over Mt Mangana and north back here to Alonnah.

A muted and modern interior

Credit: Chris Crerar

My phone’s too old for the car’s wireless charger but, plugged in, Apple Play immediately activates.

The Sportage’s all-dark interior, with grey woodgrain trim, includes a fully digital dash of two 12.3-inch screens set within a sweeping display – an element comparable to luxury brands. On the left-hand touchscreen it’s a simple one-button toggle between climate control and media, including built-in satellite navigation and even voice memo. The speed limit, captured by camera, appears permanently on the dash display and flashes when I exceed it.

Kia cares about rear passengers. In the spacious cabin there’s ample backseat leg-room, reclinable seats, vents, hooks, storage spaces, top tether anchor points, USB-C ports (plus a 12-volt outlet in the 543-litre cargo space) and cup and bottle holders in a fold-down armrest. The eight-speaker sound system extends into the back but ‘quiet mode’ mutes rear speakers and limits up-front volume.

There’s hands-free tailgate control, light steering and an electric handbrake. Smart parking assist allows you to be outside the vehicle and remotely move it forward or back. However, fob buttons seem unnecessarily hard to press and interior door openers are kinder on the eye than the hand. The transmission rotary dial makes you twist your wrist into an awkward position, especially for reverse.

The Sportage is equipped with a string of driver assist safety features including blind-spot monitoring, collision sensors and a 360-degree view of the car that appears on the dash. The act of simultaneously looking outside, in the mirrors and at the screen and listening for warning beeps while reversing is a skill set I’m, personally, still honing. Many features, for safety and otherwise, can be manually customised.

It’s a great open-road vehicle, with plenty of power when required, and the gear-changing paddle shifters on the steering wheel provide engine-braked control as we wind down into Adventure Bay. After scenic stops at Coal Point and Resolution Creek we do a four-kilometre bushwalk to the dolerite magnificence that is Fluted Cape. On the way to Coolangatta Rd, we pull over to purchase farm-laid eggs.

The potholes on the unsealed route over Mt Mangana – the name means black cockatoo – are big enough that I’m relieved we have 181mm of clearance. On the steep clayey sections I shift from drive mode to terrain and choose ‘mud’, which activates downhill brake control. This terrain mode feature, designed to also increase stability in sand and snow, is limited to the diesel AWD.

... I turn on my seat heating and engage high beam assist so it dips those automatically for oncoming traffic

Back on the bitumen at Lunawanna, I return to drive mode and select ‘eco’. The dash display changes with a dopamine-inducing flash and interior mood lighting glows green. Yet, despite the featured colour, this is still an SUV. In 2019, the International Energy Agency found that SUVs were the second largest cause of the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions from 2010 to 2018, ahead of even heavy industry.

From Alonnah jetty, the pink sunset reflects on the silvery sea. Back in the Sportage, I turn on my seat heating and engage high beam assist so it dips those automatically for oncoming traffic. Sensitive touch-lights over the dash mean no feeling around in the dark for cabin light switches. At the terminal, we recline our comfy seats and stargaze up through the panoramic sunroof while waiting for the last ferry to Kettering.

The specs

Pricing: $49,370 driveaway

Safety ANCAP rating: 5-star

Engine type: 2.0L turbo diesel / In-line 4 cylinder, 16 value

Engine capacity: 1,998cc

Max. torque: 416Nm @ 2,000–2,750rpm

Max. power: 137kW @ 4,000rpm

Body style: 4-door SUV

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Drive type: AWD

Seating: 5

Fuel consumption: 6.3L/100km (combined)