WIND back the clock 165 years and the land was literally sitting on a goldmine. Downtown Ballarat was the place to be for those hunting their fortune, and it was symbolic we were in the Victorian township this week.
You see, sports utility vehicles have become the automotive sector's gold rush. Buyers are gravitating to the high riding offerings in unprecedented numbers.
The Sportage has been pivotal in Kia's Australian popularity surge…and the marque saw overall sales improve 20% last year.
Turning heads with its groovy styling, the previous generation Sportage really put Kia on the map as something other than cheap and cheerful. This all-new update comes with higher pricing, starting from $28,990 and book-ended by the range-topper at $45,990, but the extra coin comes with additional kit.
Available in three trims - Si, SLi and Platinum - there are two petrol and one diesel powertrain options.
More soft-touch materials adorn the dash in a cabin which now has extra space.
Internal styling remains basic and functional, maintaining a black colour scheme in Si and SLi variants while Platinum has a two-tone grey combination option available with some external colours along with a glossy facia finishes.
Compared to the outgoing model, a longer wheelbase means greater head and leg room front and back. Lowering the floor by 40mm has provided a higher rear bench hip point. It's now more comfortable for adults in the back with changes to the C-pillar allowing for extra rear glass which creates a more open ambience. Children may still struggle to see over the sill but the area is far less claustrophobic.
The seats feel comfortable with well positioned bolsters, whereas the rear pew is much flatter.
Improvements have been made to lessen noise intrusion courtesy of extra insulation.
On the road
Nicely planted and confident, this new variant builds on what was an already capable foundation.
The base 2.0-litre petrol is serviceable and accomplished, able to kick down without much fanfare for rapid overtaking and acceleration, but for those who want extra punch they are better served by the 2.4-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel.
With a hefty 400 Newton metres pf torque, the oil-burner is the outstanding performer from the engine trio. It pulls beautifully when summoned, and combines well with the six-speed automatic for easy and timely shifts.
Steering now feels more direct courtesy of a 32-bit processor and less forgiveness around centre.
Kia has thankfully beefed up the brakes. The old model was soft when the anchors were applied, most notably the rear disc brakes growing from 262 to 302mm.
What do you get?
Entry-level Si models come with an 8.9cm LCD dash display, 17.7cm touch-screen infotainment system, full Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, 160 watt six-speaker stereo, reverse parking sensors, rear view camera with parking guidelines, cruise control, automatic lights, six airbags and expected safety gear such as stability control, anti-lock brakes and hill start assist.
SLi gains sat nav, 10.6cm colour TFT driver information monitor, dual zone air con, front parking sensors and leather seat trim.
Platinum ticks all boxes, with a special GT external touches, flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, sunroof, power tailgate, electric front seat adjustment with heating and cooling function, Qi wireless phone charger, along with an excellent array of active safety gear such as blind spot warning and lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, along with the ability to park itself in parallel and 90-degree spots.
There are 12-volt and USB plugs along with dual cup-holders in the front and back, and bottle holders in each door.
Boot space has only grown by one litre, although the luggage area is 35mm wider and the boot lip lowered by nearly 50mm which is designed make it easier for loading heavy gear or getting animals inside.
It's still not class leading boot size, and dropping the back seats 60-40 has to be done from the side and frustratingly can't be done from the back.
Standard fare is a full-size spare alloy wheel, a rare feature nowadays.
Fuel consumption is relatively thrifty across the range, but the diesel is thriftiest.
And there are no arguments about the best warranty in the business, seven years with roadside assist and capped price servicing.
With a noticeably more detailed bonnet with some aggressive creases on the outer edges, the new Sportage's headlights are higher and the tiger-nose grille wider. Platinum models are the best lookers, getting the GT-Line treatment with a dual exhaust, 19-inch alloys and metal-effect rear underbody diffuser.
Seven colours are available, standard is white while all others carry a $520 premium including white pearl, two shades of silver, red, blue and black.
Improvements have been made in all vital areas with this latest Sportage and it is testament to Kia's growing stature.
The powertrains are more advanced, but the best buy remains the diesel-powered SLi.
With smooth power delivery and a good range of kit, the Sportage has been one of the most underrated SUVs on the market. For those who give it a try, it could be their eureka moment.
What matters most
What we liked: Standard equipment, strong diesel performance, quieter on-road manners.
What we'd like to see: Boot-mounted lever to drop rear seats, optional safety pack with all the cool gizmos for Si and SLi.
Warranty and servicing: Seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist. Servicing intervals are 15,000km or annual. Capped price servicing is available at dealers with average prices over seven years 2.0-litre petrol $420, 2.4-litre petrol $456 and diesel $527.
Model: MY16 Kia Sportage.
Details: Five-door five-seat mid-size sport utility vehicle two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 114kW @6200rpm and peak torque of 192Nm @ 4000rpm; 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol 135kW @ 6000rpm and 237Nm @ 4000rpm; 2.0-litre diesel 136kW @4000rpm and 400Nm @ 1750-2750rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.1 litres/100km (combined average); 6.7L/100km; 5.5L/100km.
Bottom line: Si 2.0-litre petrol $28,990, Si 2.0-litre diesel $33,990, SLi 2.0-litre petrol $33,990, SLi 2.0-litre diesel $38,990, Platinum 2.4-litre petrol $43,490, Platinum 2.0-litre diesel $45,990.