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Test Drive: We take the Kia Sportage on a surfin’ safari

Our Kia Sportage in Number One Beach, Seal Rocks NSW Australia

24/09 update: Now with drone video

Just before Covid-19 hit we test drove a Kia Seltos to Stradbroke Island near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. Since then, the Seltos has gone on to become the most successful recent nameplate launch in the world, shooting up to #42 worldwide over the First Half 2020 and toppling the VW T-Cross (#53). The Seltos has been such a runaway success that it already threatens the larger Sportage (#40) as the best-selling Kia in the world, and this only a little more than a year after its launch. It was only logical then, that our first Test Drive after the first Covid-19 travel restrictions lifted would turn out to be a Kia Sportage. Can the Sportage hold its ground against its new kid on the block little brother the Seltos? Let’s find out.

Our itinerary and what caught my eye as I stepped into the Sportage.

We will be driving a Sportage GT-Line Diesel AWD equipped with a 1995cc engine, weighing 1.736 kg and priced at AUD$50.210 (30.800€ or US$36.615). For comparison, the Seltos GT-Line AWD we drove was priced at AUD41.990 (25.800€ or US$30.600). Kia has capped kms for its Test Drives, which is as well, given Australian interstate borders remained closed at the time of this Test Drive in late June 2020. We will therefore stay relatively close to Sydney and head northeast towards an area famous locally for its surfing beaches: the Myall Lakes region. The Seltos impressed us with its up-to-the-minute safety alerts, head-up display and AWD capabilities. Stepping into the Sportage, we find the same intuitive steering wheel commands (audio and cruise control), very luscious seats and some sporty pedals, all pictured above. So far so good.

Sportage snaps

The additional AUD$8.000 the Sportage is charging does afford a distinctly more premium cabin than the Seltos, apart from the analogue tacho and speedo. The inside door materials are now on-par with the rest of the cockpit, and the overall quality perception is a lot higher than you would expect coming from a Kia. The panoramic sunroof is a welcome addition as well. Exterior-wise, this 4th generation of Sportage has been around since 2015, but a 2018 facelift has helped keep it current. Aggressive LED headlights, superb 19″ alloy wheels and a redesigned front bumper even make it look sporty. The driver’s seat position feels a lot more spacious than the Seltos but the boot is surprisingly short with the spare tyre taking an inordinate amount of space. Beware families as the Sportage may not be able to accomodate all your suitcases.

The “surf side” of Myall Lakes National Park

Positives inside also include a large touchscreen, Apple Car Play connectivity and a sound system of sound quality. We love the “Smart Power Tailgate”: you just need to stand in front of the boot with the key fob in your pocket and the boot will open automatically. Safety alerts are there, such as rear cross traffic alert and lane assist, but there is no road sign recognition, no head-up display and by and large the Sportage is a lot less “techy” than the Seltos on the safety aspect which is disappointing given its higher price. Yes this is connected to the fact the Sportage is an older model, but these high-tech features could have been added further into the life stage of the model. Dynamically, the Sportage betrays its weight, feeling wobbly in windy mountain roads and imposing a definite lag when accelerating. It’s high on the road, for sure, but not as sporty as a Peugeot 3008 or as dynamic as a Toyota RAV4 hybrid and feels like an old generation SUV. The Sportage is a good all-rounder, it does everything well but I didn’t feel it delights in anything either.

The “lake side” of Myall Lakes National Park

We’ve taken the Sportage to one of the most beautiful spots in Australia. The Myall Lakes National Park incorporates a patchwork of lakes, islands, dense littoral rainforest and beaches. To get there, it’s 220 km (135 mi) following the Pacific coast northbound from Sydney to get to Tea Gardens. This tranquil town alongside Hawks Nest are a true hidden gem. Tea Gardens’ charm is its river culture, and the Boatshed Restaurant (pictured above) allowed for a peaceful yet spectacular sunset. The lakes support an incredible quantity and variety of bird life including white-bellied sea eagles. Advertising for the Tea Gardens to Nelson Bay ferry, which starts on the Myall River then crosses the Karuah River, says dolphin spotting is guaranteed. And indeed I spotted one massive dolphin very quickly coming up to the surface just in front of the boat.

On the Tea Gardens – Nelson Bay ferry. Drone action

After an incursion into Mungo Brush, it’s back on the Pacific Highway to then take the Lakes Way, shadowing the northern edge of Myall Lake to reach Seal Rocks. The best beaches and surf in the area are around Seal Rocks, notably Beach Number One, pictured at the top of this article. The beach has emerald-green rock pools and golden sand. Why Seal Rocks? It’s actually named after a series of islets where Australian fur seals can sometimes be spotted. Humpback whales also swim past during their annual migration but I didn’t spot any. A little further north is Blueys Beach, and the weekend vibe here is definitely reminiscent of Hawaii with young starry eyed surfers parking their utes filled with surf boards nearby and swarming the one coffee shop in town. You can almost hear the Beach Boys singing along… We are really taking the Sportage to a surfin’ safari.

The Myall Lakes National Park is koala habitat.

Myall Lakes National Park is a protected koala habitat and many road signs kindly ask to take care when driving. Thankfully I didn’t see any suicidal koalas attempting to cross the road during the entire week I was there. In any case I already patted a koala at the amazing Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary during our Kia Seltos Test Drive. The only place in the world where the koala can be found is eastern and southern coastal areas of Australia in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, covering an area of 1 million km2 (390.000 sq mi). An estimated 30.000 koalas died during the 2019-2020 bushfire season in Australia and the species is now classified as vulnerable, so it is more important than ever to take care of these beautiful creatures.

Myall Lakes National Park… local car parc

Although we are not in the outback but merely on the Pacific Coast, the single fact of leaving the big smoke means the local car park already skews heavily towards pickup trucks, and it’s a good opportunity to spot the likes of the Toyota Land Cruiser 70 pickup and Ram 2500 as pictured above. So can the Kia Sportage hold its own vs. the new Seltos? I’d say no. The Seltos brings a lot more safety tech and isn’t confined to city streets as it demonstrated some solid AWD capabilities. If you need more cabin space the Sportage is for you, but I’d say the boot might disappoint if you are a family. To be fair, we are catching the Sportage at a particularly bad time as it is due to be completely renewed shortly, in line with the new Hyundai Tucson that was just unveiled. If it was my decision, I’d wait for the new generation Sportage before making a choice between Seltos and Sportage.

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