The Kia Sportage is better than ever after a 2018 facelift and various updates, so we took the opportunity to drive the latest addition to the range – the 2.0 CRDi 48v (or mild hybrid) in flagship GT-Line S trim.
We drove it in two locations – first, close to Kia’s European manufacturing facility in Zilina, Slovakia, and later on UK roads.
Unusually, Kia has chosen to pair its EcoDynamics+ mild hybrid system with a diesel engine, rather than a petrol.
The new Mild-Hybrid Starter-Generator (MHSG) unit switches seamlessly between ‘motor’ and ‘generator’ modes.
In ‘motor’ mode the (0.44 kWh) 48-volt lithium-ion battery gives the engine extra oomph and reduces emissions. Under deceleration – when braking, or coasting towards a junction or downhill – the MHSG switches to ‘generator’ mode, recuperating energy to recharge the battery on-the-go.
In theory, its Moving Stop & Start function allows the diesel engine to turn itself off when not under load, then restart immediately when the accelerator pedal is pressed.
The new powertrain is paired with an all-wheel drive system and eight-speed automatic transmission, which can be left to its own devices or you can change manually using the paddles behind the steering wheel.
It’s no slouch, with 182bhp which powers it to a 0-60mph time of 9.2 seconds and a maximum speed of 125mph, while fuel economy is 48.7mpg and CO2 emissions are 152g/km.
Exterior changes to the latest Sportage are subtle, but for the record, there’s a redesigned front bumper with new fog lamp housings, a tweaked ‘tiger-nose’ grille, new LED headlamps and daytime running lights, while silver painted front and rear skid plates are fitted to higher spec models.
At the rear, there’s now a C-shaped LED light signature and the reversing lamp is integrated into the new rear bumper with longer reflectors positioned below and extra chrome.
There are also new alloy wheel designs and paint colours, while the GT-Line spec and above get unique details such as a twin-exhaust rear diffuser.
The tweaks inside include a new steering wheel, plus revised driver instrument cluster and air conditioning controls, while GT-Line and GT-Line S models are available with new black leather seat trim with red accents.
So far so good, but how does the mild hybrid drive?
To be fair, much like a regular Sportage. It’s easy to drive and surprisingly dynamic on the road. The engine feels punchy enough with plenty of mid-range grunt, making it ideal for cruising and zipping around town.
On the move, we weren’t aware that the engine had shut it itself off entirely – even for a few seconds. We also struggled to get close the claimed fuel economy in everyday driving.
Now, considering our test car would set you back £34,545 (the cheapest mild hybrid in the range is £32,545), we wonder whether it’s worth the extra outlay.
Why? Because as part of the refresh, Kia has also replaced the old 1.7-litre diesel with a 134bhp 1.6-litre unit which can return up to 54.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 137g/km in GT-Line trim and costs just under £30,000.
So, the mild hybrid is a step in the right direction to electrification, but we’re not convinced that the performance/efficiency gain over the standalone 2.0-litre diesel is worth the extra money – let alone the 1.6 CRDi which looks like the sweet spot in the range on the diesel front.
That said, the Kia Sportage generally is still one of the best mid-sized SUVs in its class. Affordable, spacious, safe, comfortable, fun to drive and well built, it’s also blessed with a generous seven-year warranty. No wonder it’s Kia’s best-selling car in the UK by a large margin.