Kia Sportage GT-Line: Part of the Kia (GT) family

Filipino car buyers are a cruel, finicky bunch. When Kia’s then distributor launched the fourth-generation Sportage in 2016, they brought along a well-loaded GT-Line trim equipped with a diesel engine and all-wheel drive. It sure had all the ingredients for success until everyone saw the price tag: P1.795 million. After that, the complaints rolled in: too expensive, ill-equipped, etc. Well, here’s news for you: three years later, the refreshed Sportage is out, now sold by Kia’s new Ayala Corp. distributor. Guess what? It’s actually more expensive, and that’s not even considering it’s lost all-wheel drive in the process.

It sure elicits a strong “what are they smoking” reaction, especially those considering a compact crossover with good punch. But then, look at the two other compact crossovers in the market offering a diesel with a 2WD layout: the Honda CR-V S Diesel and the Hyundai Tucson GLS CRDi. It dawns on you: holy moly, the Sportage GT-Line is now the most affordable top-trim (ish) diesel-fed compact crossover on the market today.

For sure, the loss of all-wheel drive will be lamented by some, but for 99 percent of Sportage buyers, the tradeoff is worth it simply because the heaviest trailing they’ll be doing is climbing up parking inclines. In return, this Sportage GT-Line remains largely inflation-proof while keeping all exterior and interior goodies, which put it, at least, at par with the competition.

Outside, the changes are fairly minimal. The Macan-esque front-end is far less of a Porsche facsimile thanks to the revised lower front bumper, new grille, and headlights. That said, the new lighting signature — four LED dots in the headlights and the slit-like pattern in the taillight — are much more in line with what Stuttgart churns out these days. Deliberate Teutonic connection or not, it is undeniably handsome. Even in subdued shades like Mercury Blue, this GT-Line ticks all the right boxes from its aggressively offset 19-inch wheels to its right mix of lines and curves. It doesn’t look as boxy or bulky as most other crossovers, yet maintains a sense of gravitas enabling it to play with the big boys.

Inside, though, tells a very different story. It’s clear that Kia wanted to create a minimalist cabin, but what they came up with is something somber and cold. The experience can feel particularly discontenting for the passengers, front or back, who’ll have to stare at an empty plastic dash or plain door trims; devoid of any trim. After a while, you’ll start to wish for a panoramic sunroof (removed with this update), fake wood, or carbon fiber just to bring light in and break the monotony. And that’s a shame because start poking around and the cabin is actually well-constructed with well-damped switchgear, quality leather, and soft-touch plastics.

The experience is very different for the driver. With all the instrumentation and controls canted towards him, he’ll feel immediately in control. The ergonomics are solid with ample adjustments to the steering wheel and seat, and clear view of the instrumentation and ginormous infotainment screen. Visibility is alright, but the thick A-pillars do tend to obstruct cyclists and motorcycles from time to time.

Despite its compact exterior, the Sportage is actually roomy. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, while the back row is spacious with ample foot, leg, and knee room. There’s no power tailgate here, but open the cargo hold and there’s an impressive 491 liters. The cargo hold is wide and long, but not nearly as deep as its rivals. Thankfully, it can be expanded up to 1,480 liters with the rear seats folded. There are also plenty of storage options too, and a commendable amount of USB and 12V charging ports.

Carried over from before is the Sportage’s 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine. Making 185hp and 400Nm, there’s always plenty of punch. In the urban confines, it moves briskly off the line, with the eight-speed automatic working effortlessly to keep things moving. The shift quality is smooth and close to imperceptible. You’d be hard-pressed to tell it’s a diesel.

Great as it is in the city, the Sportage feels even better out on the open road. The powertrain makes eating miles effortless, with enough grunt to surge it forward against slower traffic effortlessly. It’s also mighty refined too, with just the coarse tire noise being the only chink in its armor.

Gone unnoticed, the Sportage gets a tweaked suspension that improves ride and handling. It handles well enough — solid, planted, and predictable. It also rides out pockmarked roads with aplomb despite the 45-series rubber.

Feature-wise, the Sportage GT-Line is solid, but not astounding. Aside from the sporty exterior trim and 19-inch wheels, it has everything you’d consider as “must-haves” in this price category: LED headlights, power front seats, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirrors, and all. The removal of the all-wheel drive and sunroof are forgivable, but there’s a missed opportunity here to add driver-assist features or even a simple three-point seatbelt for the middle rear occupant. As it stands, it does get a full complement of airbags, ABS with EBD, and stability control.

As solid as its road manners are, and well-spec’d as it is, are Filipinos finally ready to accept a P1.820-million Sportage? Based on the price tag alone, it is expensive, but look at it more and you begin to realize that, at least among other compact crossovers, it’s well-spec’d. And now, with two other Kia GTs joining the line-up — the Forte GT and Stinger GT — the Sportage GT-Line doesn’t feel as alone. There’s a chance that some of that magic will rub on the Sportage GT-Line, and that may make consumers take a chance.

Ulysses Ang

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