Corporate / Design & Technology / Product

A wolf in sheep’s clothing (All-new Sportage Turbo GDI test-drive) May 6th, 2011

Last time I test-drove the all-new Picanto. Today, I’d like to introduce Kia Buzz’s second test drive story featuring the all-new Sportage Turbo GDI (or Sportage T-GDI)!

The Sportage made its debut as an urban SUV in 1996, breaking out of the existing mold where the four-wheel drive market focused on off-road SUVs. Even before the launch of the third-generation Sportage, this vehicle has been one of Kia’s most popular models and has attracted much attention from around the world.

The all-new Sportage T-GDI features the ThetaⅡ Turbo GDI engine, an engine of high interest for many car fans these days. As I’m quite interested in high-performance cars, I immediately looked into arranging a test drive and was able to try out the Sportage for four days. Let’s see what makes the Sportage T-GDI special.


When it comes to appearance, there is not a big difference from the non-turbo all-new Sportage. This could be either a positive or negative trait according to the consumer tastes. Drivers like me who don’t like vehicles that are too showy with their high-performance capabilities would appreciate this fact. On the other hand, drivers who want to differentiate their cars and show off their high-performance features may be disappointed. The Sportage T-GDI includes subtle sporty differences. For example, the front radiator grille has been replaced with a black, glossy honeycomb grille and the design of the 18-inch machine finished alloy-wheels has changed slightly. The biggest difference is that the Turbo GDI hints at high performance with a dual muffler, while the non-turbo version has the muffler hidden under the rear bumper. Additionally, an emblem on the back of the T-GDI shows that it is a turbo vehicle.

Let’s compare the new model with the second-generation Sportage.

In terms of the overall design, the third-generation and the second-generation models are completely different. The third-generation model gives the same impression as a man in a fine suit, as 4×4 off-road details have been eliminated and new finer lines and a clean surface have been added. The Sportage now fully reflects Kia’s new design language and image. Its coupe-like roof line in particular gives it a very sporty look, unlike the previous Sportage. My satisfaction with the exterior design is pretty high.

Now, let’s move on to the interior and its convenience features!

Interior & Convenience Features

Although the interior and convenience features are the same as those offered in non-turbo new Sportage, shall we still take a look?

This vehicle came with a single-tone black interior. Though I personally think the orange package is quite attractive, the single-tone black interior is good because it’s simple and never boring.

The design of the dash board and center fascia makes for easy-to-use controls. The double-deck divided center fascia offers especially good visibility and operation. A good-sized floor console tray right below the air conditioning control panel is wide enough to put my iPhone and a smart key. Furthermore, the tray floor is made of soft materials such as urethane, not hard plastics. This allows for minimum movement and sliding around of personal items.

The rear seating space is also spacious. A three-point seatbelt in the center seat is included to enhance safety.

What do you do when you first get behind the wheel? I usually check the steering wheel grip conditions and whether the seats are comfortable or not since these are the parts I have to deal with the most and for the longest while in the vehicle. If I don’t like them, I can’t help but feel stressed throughout the duration of the ride. The Sportage T-GDI has very comfortable seats that are positioned lower than other SUVs. While this vehicle still provides an excellent view of the road ahead (a special advantage of SUVs), the side supports of the seats are not as high as expected. Hence, there could be some body movement when making sharp turns.

As for steering wheel, I really loved its grip. It felt like my hands fit right onto the wheel thanks to its compact size and thumb rests. I also like its design a lot.

The dashboard provides good visibility even in the daytime with a supervision cluster. The large LCD cluster in the center displays a lot of information about the vehicle, and it’s easy to view it all in one glance. When it comes to the design, the use of white and red from Kia’s brand symbol gives it personality and a sporty feel. Additionally, pointer marks on the major speed units (like 20Km/hr, 40Km/hr, etc.) give a more exciting visual.

The organ-type pedal is very comfortable and my ankles did not experience any fatigue even through a long drive. My current car does not have this type of pedal, and it is uncomfortable on my ankles during long trips. The organ-type pedal lets me put my heels closer to the floor, resulting in less ankle strain. I’m going to miss this feature when I return the car.

Next up is a look at the Active ECO features, the Downhill Brake Control and ESC off button. When the Active ECO is turned on, the ECU modifies the operation of the engine and transmission for improved fuel economy. In short, it works to find the best RPM level by continuously shifting the transmission up and lowering the engine’s RPMs as much as possible to optimize fuel economy. The downside is that you can’t feel the powerful Turbo GDI engine during the ride. However, you can get as much output as you want by kicking-down the accelerator.

Moving on to DBC, driving down a curvy or sharp mountain path for a long time strains the brakes and can result in a possible accident due to vapor lock. Drivers also become tired as they have to continue to step on a brake pedal. The solution for this is the DBC system. Once drivers push a button, DBC automatically maintains engine braking and saves drivers the effort of continuously pressing down on the brake pedal.

When the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is turned off, the vehicle is released from the control functions and can move at the driver’s will. However, I don’t recommend it unless you’re trying to learn how to become a drift racer.

Thanks to the big-sized side mirrors, it’s very convenient for drivers to see what’s happening behind the car while they don’t detract from the exterior styling.

The new Sportage comes with a heated steering wheel option, which is also available on the all-new Picanto. It’s now spring, but the weather is still chilly, and this option was nice to try out during the test drive. It’s really a necessary option in the winter.

One of the new Sportage’s biggest strengths is ample cargo space.

As you can see, there is still plenty of room left even with my tripod and a small travel suitcase. There is also a detachable cargo screen, which helps to hide the items in the trunk and prevent possible theft.

Folding down the second row seat provides even more cargo space. I think there is enough room to fit moving boxes and luggage. Can you get a feel for how big it is?

I wanted to directly show how wide the space is! I’m about 5 feet 6 inches tall, so you can get a good estimate.


Finally! Consumers purchase the Turbo GDI version mostly for its performance!

Output rises to 261ps at 6,000RPM with a maximum torque of 37.2 kg/m at 1,850 to 3,000 RPM. The most surprising point is that it runs on regular gasoline. At a time when oil prices are surging, the Sportage’s high performance on regular gasoline is an attractive factor to consider.

In comparison with the VW Tiguan 2.0TSI, which has a maximum power output of 200ps at 5,100 to 6,000 RPM and maximum torque at 28.6 kg.m at 1,700 to 5,000 RPM, we can imagine the power of the Theta Ⅱ Turbo engine. This excellent engine is combined with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel efficiency is good as it records 11.2 km/l (2WD) and 10.8Km/l (4WD) according to Korea’s fuel efficiency standards.

Let’s see the 0->100 km/hr video below (recorded with my iPhone) to get a feel for the power of the engine.

The engine records 6.8 seconds with my iPhone stopwatch. This is similar to the official mark of 7.1 seconds. I think it could be even faster if the car more broken in more and the tire grip was better. The acceleration is terrific. Let’s watch another video.

Passing acceleration (60km/hr ->120km/hr) is absolutely remarkable at around 6 seconds which is equal to other high-performance vehicles. Lastly, take a listen to the engine sound.

So what about ride and handling? The Sportage focuses more on a comfortable ride than sharp cornering and firm suspension. A sporty driving feel is not solely based on an engine’s high output. Drivers can experience a sporty feel from exhaust sound, sharp handling and ride characteristics. So if you are thinking the new Sportage T-GDI will feel like a sports car, you may be disappointed. But the Sportage T-GDI is still a fun and comfortable vehicle. For me, when I drive my Forte Koup, I easily get tired after a long drive due to the firm suspension and sensitive braking. However, that wasn’t true for the Sportage T-GDI. In other words, this vehicle is a car that can provide both high output and a comfortable ride. For example, you can enjoy the same acceleration levels as other sports cars or hot hatches just by stepping on the accelerator or you can drive the Sportage T-GDI comfortably like a regular SUV. That’s why I titled this post, “A Wolf in Sheep´s Clothing.” While the Sportage might seem like a normal SUV, it will surprise you by going far beyond your expectations.

In conclusion, the Sportage Turbo GDI is perfect if you’re looking for a SUV that offers driving comfort, spacious cargo room and ample convenience features, competitive high-output engine and high-performance transmission.

Thank you for reading this long story. I’ll be back with a more interesting test drive story next time. See you!

※ Editor’s note: Sportage T-GDI is only available in Korea and the North America market.

  • Attaboy

    the sound is not good (for me) we did not hear the blow of valve poping and the caracteristic “Pshhh” when releasing gaz pedal !

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  • Attaboy

    Why Kia did pull down the power from 274 ps to 260 ps on the Theta II 2.0 T GDI engine?

  • Thanks for the 0-100 kph and passing power videos. Plus always love an engine compartment start-up video! I always like the sound of gasoline direct injection. Great write-up about a very awesome crossover!

  • Giraff2010

    What about the second-generation Kia Sportage?Won’t they be releasing?

  • Giraff2010

    What about the second-generation Kia Sportage?Won’t they be releasing?

  • anoncanuck

    Available in Canada?

  • Seafred

    Is the drop in power compared to the sedans due to restrictive exhaust system (which can be cured) or de-tuning of the engine?

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  • SX

    I would seriously consider Sportage as my next car if only Kia had decent petrol motors to offer here in Finland (Europe). Kia please bring SX to Europe ! 

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  • I’m already a (lucky) owner of a Sportage 3 2.0 CRDI. On the a.m. pictures of the T-GDI we can see a nice serial double exhaust. This integrated solution of this double exhaust looks really stylish. Of course, in Germany we can buy accessory exhausts, but they somehow look like attached, not integrated. What I like to know, why is the stylish serial double exhaust not available as optional original car accessory (in Germany)? From the several discussion boards I saw, that also other Sportage owners look for such an exhaust. perhaps it’s worthwile for KIA to think about offering such an exhaust also in Germany!