This compact SUV has sparkling performance.

The Kia Sportage won the J.D. Power Germany Vehicle Ownership Satisfaction Study, in the hard-fought ‘Compact SUV’ category. The Sportage scored 83.6-percent driver satisfaction.

kia sportage 2014The original Sportage was a ladder-framed part-time 4WD wagon that had low-range gearing, similar to the Suzuki Vitara. Since then, Kia has softened the Sportage, making it more car like, with monocoque bodywork and all-independent suspension.

On-road the current Sportage is a much more modern vehicle than its predecessor, but its off-road ability is compromised by comparison. However, the bulk of SUV buyers these days demand on-road manners ahead of off-road ability.

Our Sportage evaluation machine was a diesel-powered Platinum model, with six-speed auto transmission and all the bells and whistles. The two-litre diesel was a weapon, with 135kW and 392Nm on tap that propelled the compact, two-tonnes gross mass-rated Sportage to illegal speeds very rapidly.

The only issues we had with this potent donk were its relative thirst – averaging 8.5L/100km on and off road – and slight lag when floored in a top-gear overtaking manoeuvre.  The fuel consumption could be a problem for outback tourers, because the tank capacity is only 58 litres.

Ride quality and handling on smooth bitumen were first class, but the Sportage wasn’t so composed on rough bitumen and lightly corrugated gravel roads, where the suspension thumped audibly. However, shift quality was superb.

kia sportage 2014Interestingly, the 2015 model that’s just been previewed in Europe has body and suspension changes to improve noise, vibration and harshness.

The front sub-frame is now bush-mounted, rather than being bolted directly to the body shell, an intermediate shaft is added to the front end, resulting in equal length half-shafts and a new mounting bracket for the transmission reduces resonance.

Other changes from the Sportage we tested are mainly cosmetic and there are also improvements to the sound system. The layered dashboard design is replaced by a smooth-top moulding.

The Sportage is rated to tow 1600kg, with up to 200kg on the towball, allowing it to pull a camper trailer or light caravan. Performance with a trailer behind won’t be a problem with nearly 400Nm available in the 1800-2500rpm band.

Wheel sizes are 16-, 17- and 18-inch, depending on specification level, but all variants can accept a 16-inch wheel, so even our Platinum test vehicle, with its 235/55R18 non-bush-friendly tyres, could be ordered with 215/70R16s that have much taller sidewalls and are better suited to bush driving.

Ground clearance under the east-west engine and transmission is only 167mm, so a slightly taller set of tyres would help. A metal bash plate would be a better option than the standard plastic item.

kia sportage 2014Unlike many of its competitors that have pretend-spares, run-flats or a tyre inflation kit, the Kia Sportage comes with a road wheel and a proper spare tyre.

The Sportage is best used as a four-seater, with occasional five-seat capacity and rear seat legroom is fine for adults, even with the front seats slid backwards.

Cargo space is generous and there’s room in the spare wheel well for additional tool storage.

Fit and finish are superb and match that of vehicles costing twice the Kia’s $35-$42,000 RRPs.

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