The Kia Sportage GT-Line S – Punches above its price tag

In Car Reviews, Kia by Kieran Bicknell

The Kia Sportage has recently undergone a mid-life refresh and with alterations to the Sportage line-up for the 2021 model year, it seems the perfect time to take an in-depth look at the multi-award-winning SUV.

On test is the Sportage 1.6l T-GDI GT-Line S model, the top model in the celebrated Sportage range and one which feels far more ‘premium’ than its price tag suggests.

Since the UK has only just started emerging from its lockdown, I’ve been itching to get back behind the wheel and doing what I love most – driving. Since Kia were kind enough to loan us a full-size SUV, it seemed right that it should be evaluated doing what SUVs do best – going on a road trip.

With SUV standing for ‘sports utility vehicle’ it was time to put the Sportage through its paces on a ‘sporting’ adventure to the picturesque New Forest.

The first test that the Sportage had to pass was getting to the New Forest in the first place; Reliability wasn’t the testing point here of course – the Sportage GT-Line S being a brand new car – but rather would the Sportage manage to get me to my destination in comfort and allow me to arrive stress-free, as an SUV should do on journeys totalling many hundreds of miles.

I’m pleased to report that the Sportage was a resounding success in ticking this box. Being the GT-Line S trim, the Sportage that I had on test was the perfect choice for devouring mile upon mile of carefree motorways and A-roads. The adaptive cruise-control fitted to the higher-spec models of the Sportage range is easy to use, has a variety of distance settings available and reacts quickly to changes in traffic ahead. Cabin noise was also well-dampened, with only slight road noise becoming apparent on older, uneven road surfaces due to the signature GT-Line S 19” alloy wheels and specially-tuned independent ‘sporting’ suspension found on the GT-Line and GT- Line S models, which offers a firmer ride over the non-GT line models.

Speaking of the cabin, the interior on the GT-Line S is a lovely place to soak up the miles. Leather seats with red contrast stitching, panoramic sunroof and well-thought-out controls make the Sportage an ideal car for the occasion. Power-adjustable front seats make finding a comfortable driving position a breeze, whilst cooled and heated front and heated outer rear seats mean you’ll be happy to rack up the miles whatever the weather. Looking deeper into the GT-Line S trim, you also get a heated D-cut steering wheel with GT-Line S badging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity (which is also standard on all Sportage models) and even wireless charging if your phone is compatible.

In the rear, there is enough legroom for even fully-grown 6ft+ adults (or especially lanky teenagers) to fit comfortably, whilst there are also both 12v and USB sockets in the rear to allow rear-seat passengers to benefit from on-the-go charging for their devices whilst they are whisked along under the panoramic glass roof seen in the GT-Line S. Entertainment is also very good, with the GT-Line S model having a premium 8-speaker JBL sound system complete with central speaker and external subwoofer. I can confirm that this particular feature was extensively tested during my time with the car, and I can indeed say that the audio quality, when used in conjunction with Spotify (through Apple Carplay in this instance), was excellent and exceeded my expectations.

So we know the Sportage can handle easy motorway drives with ease, but what about when things get a little twisty? Kia seems to have ticked this box too, at least as far as an everyday SUV goes. The 1.6 T-GDi engine in our test car puts out a respectable 174hp, propelling the Sportage from 0-60 in 8.8 seconds with the 7-speed DCT transmission and AWD ( or 8.9 with the 6-speed manual) – that’s as fast as my 2002 Golf GTI, which is about a third of the size and significantly less practical.

In terms of handling characteristics, the Sportage also surprised me here; Whilst you won’t be able to thread the Sportage through tiny gaps with confidence and move around within your lane, the GT-Line S did prove to be impressively sprightly for its size once I reached the edge of the New Forest itself and onto the bypass roads, with the DCT transmission reacting instantly once I had switched to ‘sport’ mode, with gear shifts barely making themselves known beyond the change in indicated gear on the instrument display. Steering is surprisingly well-weighted without being heavy, which inspires you to turn into corners perhaps a little more aggressively than you would in an SUV, whilst body roll is also far better than I had expected given the size of the Sportage – which would no doubt come as a pleasant surprise to my passengers… If I were allowed any (thanks COVID!) Should you wish to take the Sportage off-road, the AWD system should prove enough for most requirements, whilst the GT-Line S also has hill descent control and a locking centre diff, activated via easy-to-reach buttons on the centre console.

On the numerous single-track lanes that criss-cross the New Forest, the Sportage also proved itself as a worthy choice, inspiring confidence even on the tightest of lanes thanks to its high driving position, good all-round visibility and responsive controls. Backing up for oncoming traffic on these roads can often be a pitfall for even the best cars, but the Sportage GT-Line S had it covered thanks to its reversing camera and 360-degree view camera which made up for the rather large C-pillars obscuring rear 3/4 visibility.

So with the ‘sporting’ box of the SUV acronym firmly ticked, what about the ‘utility’ portion? With a load capacity of 491L with the rear seats up and 1,480 with the rear seats down, you have more than enough room for even the largest of tip runs or most sensible furniture purchases, as I unintentionally tested. A few days after my trip to the New Forest I used the Sportage to transport home a newly-acquired writing bureau, which went into the Sportage with ease thanks to its flat loading bed. The automatic power tailgate on the GT-Line S also deserves a mention here, which can also be activated via the button on the key fob and is useful when you don’t want to stand around in the rain trying to open up the boot and is far better than the ‘foot waving’ sensors seen on other SUVs and MPVs.

At the end of my journey, I had no difficulty at all parking up in a rather tight space at a local farm shop, which gave me time to reflect on my journey with the Sportage whilst stood in a socially- distanced queue. Whilst the Sportage is fundamentally a very good car and would be a perfect fit for a variety of drivers in many ways, it is not without its faults.

Whilst AWD is an immediate killer of economy, I still struggled to get close to Kias quoted combined MPG figure just shy of 35, with the Sportage GT-Line S returning closer to an average of 27-29 during my time with it. There is also the issue of the unique styling, which whilst giving the Sportage plenty of road presence can be quite divisive, with the front end, in particular, being rather ‘snouty’ in appearance, although I must say the updated rear design is very good indeed. At motorway speeds there was some whistling coming from the mirrors (which admittedly was only noticeable after I turned down the excellent JBL sound system) whilst the slab-sided nature of the Sportage also saw it become susceptible to heavy crosswinds when on exposed bridges or roads – all minor faults, but still things to be aware of when considering the Sportage in new or used guise.

At £32,120 OTR as tested, the Sportage GT-Line S is the pick of the bunch in terms of equipment, though the average fuel economy should definitely be factored in, whilst an insurance group of 23 is higher than ‘4’ trim with the same engine and gearbox combination, which comes in at group 19 – if you can sacrifice some of the GT-Line S luxuries but still want the same powertrain, the ‘4’ would be my suggestion.

With the Sportage having picked up numerous awards and outselling the competition such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and VW Tiguan, it isn’t hard to see the appeal here. With premium comfort, quality and technology at a not-so-premium price tag, it seems the success of the Sportage is set to continue well into the 2021 model year.

Car reviewed: Kia Sportage ‘GT-Line S’ 1.6 T-GDi 7-speed auto DCT, on the road price £33120 0-62mph 8.8secs Top speed 125mph Engine 1591cc 4 cylinder unleaded Euro 6 Fuel Economy Low 28.5mpg/Medium 33.2mpg/High 36.2mpg/Extra high 30.1mpg/Combined 32.1mpg CO2 emissions 174g/km Max Power 174bhp@5500rpm Torque 265Nm@1500-4500rpm Transmission 7-speed auto DCT

Kieran Bicknell

Motoring writer

Kieran Bicknell offers his fresh take on car reviews by making the most of his dynamic, yet detailed approach to writing. Having graduated from university with a BA (Hons) in Photography and spending a number of years as a freelance automotive photographer. Kieran is now putting his knowledge and writing skills to use, with the ability to supply both written articles and imagery. Kieran feels at home in anything from small superminis to the latest SUVs, and relishes the opportunity to drive, photograph and write about anything with four wheels.