David Motton

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Kia is a popular brand with caravannners, but what tow car ability does the fourth-generation model have? We've hitched up to this 134bhp model to find out

Overview

We’ve tested every generation of the Kia Sportage over the years, and we’ve run the latest model on our long-term fleet.

Our example has the makings of a very capable tow car, with a torquey diesel engine, four-wheel drive and a healthy kerbweight. In KX-3 spec, the Sportage comes with a long list of standard equipment, too.

At £27,000 it’s reasonably priced and has Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

So, what tow car ability does this Sportage have? Caravanners know Kia best for the big Sorento 4x4, but the smaller Sportage outsells its big brother.

Is Kia’s smaller SUV a capable tow car in its own right? And is the less powerful of the two 2.0-litre diesels strong enough? Read on!

Towing

Kia quotes a spread of kerbweights for its models, varying on the level of equipment fitted. For the Sportage 2.0 CRDi 4x4 manual, Kia gives a range of 1662-1831kg.

We’ve taken a cautious approach for outfit matching and used the lower of the two weights, which gives an 85% match figure of 1413kg. That’s well within the 2200kg legal towing limit.

If you prefer an automatic gearbox to a manual, the kerbweight range increases to 1690-1859kg, although the legal towing limit drops to 1900kg.

Either way, the noseweight limit is a reassuringly high 100kg.

We matched the Kia Sportage to a Swift Expression 626 with a Mass in Running Order of 1423kg.

The SUV coped well with a caravan of this size and weight, and at motorway speeds we have no complaints about the Sportage’s stability.

Clearly, a twin-axle van such as the 626 is more stable at speed than a single-axle tourer, but even allowing for this it was an eye-opener to see just how secure the Kia felt at 60mph.

The lane-change test proved a tougher challenge, but the Sportage coped reasonably well.

At times it seemed as if the Sportage had to bully the Swift into changing direction, and we could feel the caravan tugging at the back of the car. But the Kia always won the argument and we didn’t feel on the edge of control.

The Sportage is available with three diesel engines, and our 134bhp 2.0-litre diesel sits in the middle of the line-up.

It’s better suited to towing than the economy-focused 114bhp 1.7-litre, but it gives away a lot of poke to the 182bhp 2.0-litre unit.

In everyday towing, though, we didn’t feel too short-changed by the mid-powered engine.

While 134bhp may not sound like much to tow a 1400kg tourer, it’s torque that really counts and the engine has lots of the stuff – 275lb ft to be precise.

Accelerate flat-out and you notice the shortage of top-end power, as the steady but dogged 30-60mph time of 17.2 seconds shows.

But this is a flexible unit, and in most circumstances it feels stronger than its acceleration at the test track suggests.

Certainly, we had no trouble holding 60mph on the motorway in sixth gear, and the Kia Sportage pulled up steep hills with determination.

If you need to stop and start on a slope, it should be unfazed. The manual handbrake held car and caravan still on a 1-in-10 gradient, and with some balance of clutch and throttle the Sportage pulled with ease to the top of the hill.

In dry conditions the hill start wasn’t much of a challenge for the Kia’s 4x4 system, but it’s reassuring to know it’s there to help when the surface is greasy.

In normal towing the brakes were easy to apply smoothly, and they provided good power when stopping in a hurry: an emergency stop from 30mph took a respectable 10.4 metres.

For such a violent manoeuvre the braking test was undramatic, with car and caravan pulling up straight and true without any shunting from the tourer.

Overall the Sportage is a very capable tow car, and for the most part we’re thoroughly impressed.

Everyday driving

So now we know what tow car talent it has, but what is it like as a daily driver?

The Sportage drives well enough without a caravan in tow, but it’s not as polished all-round as a Seat Ateca and less entertaining than a Mazda CX-5.

Show the Sportage a twisty road and it corners with little lean and decent reserves of grip but, while the steering is direct and accurate, it feels numb. It conspires to make the Sportage capable rather than fun.

At motorway speeds a little less road noise would be welcome, but the same is true of most of the Kia’s rivals.

Other sources of noise aren’t too intrusive, unless you work the engine hard. It’s quiet enough when cruising, but becomes vocal under hard acceleration.

The Kia Sportage’s weakest point in solo driving is its ride comfort. KX-3 cars have 19-inch alloys which look good, but contribute to a stiff low-speed ride.

Perhaps it’s a price worth paying for the Sportage’s stability when towing, but a Renault Kadjar is noticeably better at smoothing lumps and bumps in the road surface.

Space

Kia has made great strides with interior quality over recent years, and that’s evident here.

The plastics are well finished, the gloss black trim looks smart and the switchgear has a solid feel. There are some hard plastics on the doors, but the same is true of the Kia’s main rivals.

There’s a good range of height adjustment to the driver’s seat, so you can choose to sit relatively low to the floor or very high, so even short drivers should get a good view out.

The seat’s electrically controlled lumbar support is a welcome feature, the pedals are well positioned and the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and height.

In summary, most drivers should be able to get comfortable in the Kia Sportage.

There’s reasonable rear-seat space, too, with similar head- and legroom to the Hyundai Tucson and Seat Ateca.

The transmission hump for the four-wheel-drive system isn’t especially intrusive, and the seats can be reclined if passengers want to take a nap.

Throughout the cabin you’ll find plenty of storage space, and there are USB and 12V sockets in the front and the back, plus an aux port in the front.

Four-wheel-drive versions have slightly less boot space than front-wheel-drive Sportages, but there’s still 491 litres with the back seats upright.

That’s about average for the class, albeit dwarfed by the new Škoda Kodiaq’s 720-litre capacity. The Škoda is a slightly bigger car, but can be bought for similar money.

Fold the rear seats and there’s 1480 litres for bags. Again, that’s broadly on the money for an SUV of this size.

Running costs

Kia tends to equip its cars well so, unless you must have every possible toy as standard, a mid-range model such as our KX-3 offers a good balance of price and kit.

For £27,250 (or around £25,500 if you haggle, according to What Car?) you get 19-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch touchscreen sat-nav, black leather upholstery, heated front and outer rear seats, an eight-speaker stereo, rear parking sensors, a rear parking camera, roof rails, dual-zone air-conditioning and more.

Safety kit hasn’t been forgotten, with front, side and curtain airbags, stability control, Trailer Stability Assist, a Lane Keep Assist System and High Beam Assist.

However, it’s a shame that autonomous emergency braking isn’t standard with this trim level.

Another item that’s a surprising omission is a stop/start system. It’s only fitted to the least-powerful 1.7 CRDi diesel.

Even without it, the Sportage 2.0 CRDi 134bhp manual achieves a respectable 54.3mpg on the combined cycle. While towing on A-roads and motorways, the Kia returned 26.5mpg.

After three years on the road, What Car? predicts the Kia will be worth 47% of its original price. That compares well with rivals.

If you hang on to your cars for longer than three years, the seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty is reassuring.

Technical specs

Engine size1995 cc
Kerbweight1662 kg
85% KW1413 kg
Towball limit100 kg
Maximum towing limit2200 kg
Power134.0 bhp
Torque275.0 lb ft
Official MPG54.3 mpg
CO2139 g/km
30-60mph17.2 seconds
30-0mph10.4 m

Verdict

In everyday driving, the Kia Sportage is a solid car. The ride is overly firm, but otherwise it handles neatly and performs energetically.

But the Kia doesn’t do anything conspicuously better than its many talented rivals.

As a tow car, though, the Sportage really comes together. Although the 30-60mph time looks modest, the Kia feels quicker than it is, thanks to the engine’s prodigious torque.

Most of the time we didn’t miss the extra muscle of the higher-powered 182bhp 2.0-litre diesel. Only when overtaking with our foot to the floor did we find the less powerful engine wanting.

We’ll take stability over speed any day, and this is the Sportage’s hallmark as a tow car.

At motorway speeds it tows with great composure. Yes, towing a twin-axle tourer will have helped, but we also tested a Sportage at the Tow Car Awards last year – that car was pulling a single-axle tourer and was similarly unflustered at high speeds.

Inside, the Sportage is spacious enough to make a practical family car. There’s enough room for adults to travel in the back, and sufficient luggage space for holiday bags. The Kia has plenty of practical features, too, such as the rear USB and 12V ports.

Kia’s days as a budget brand are long gone, but the Sportage still represents good value. Your £27,250 buys a long list of toys, lots of safety kit, and a five-star rating from the safety experts at Euro NCAP.

The Kia Sportage has some tough competition, but as a tow car it certainly holds its own.

Conclusion

Pros

  • As a tow car, it is very stable
  • The cabin is smart and solid
  • It's practical with a competitive amount of luggage space
  • It is a good value-for-money option

Cons

  • Some rivals are more accomplished as solo drives
  • There's no start/stop or emergency braking systems
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