PETER Schreyer, the man behind the original Audi TT and the design whizz often credited for turning around Kia’s fortunes, must have been looking at a Porsche Macan brochure the night before he sketched the lines of the fourth generation Sportage.
How else do you explain the flared wheel arches, the curved haunches and even the cuboid headlights, ( standard on all GT Line Sportages) which appear remarkably like they have been pinched from Stuttgart’s styling department.
But that’s about where the similarities end. The Porsche costs over £43,000 and tries to drive like a sports car. The Sportage is a solid, everyday run-around for families who don’t have money to burn – it costs from £17,995 – but appreciate the raised ride height and tough-guy looks of an SUV.
It’s a formula that has proved a success for Kia. The previous model made up nearly 30 per cent of Kia sales in the UK – and across Europe, SUVs are now the best-selling type of car. The company says customers loved the interior roominess, the sturdy build quality and the bold looking exterior; time will tell whether or not the slightly fussy front end of this new iteration will capture buyers’ imaginations so effectively.
Revisions to the model are subtle but the small changes are enough to warrant attention. For example, the wheelbase has been stretched ever so slightly, which frees up room in the back seats so adult passengers don’t suffer bruised knees and children can wiggle legs without kicking the backs of mum or dad’s chair.
The rear seats can be folded flat with the yank of a handle, meaning some 1,480-litres of space is freed up for carrying luggage, Labradors or impending DIY projects. Or, for times when you need to carry passengers and their bags, the back seats can be adjusted forward or back to slightly adjust space in the 491-litre boot.
Families concerned about safety will appreciate a new suite of standard features, which include seat-belt pre-tensioners that activate when the car senses an accident, a roll-over sensor that detects when the car is tipping and deploys the side curtain airbags and Trailer Stability Assist, which uses the anti-lock braking system and vehicle stability management systems to counter-act the possibility of a caravan or trailer snaking in high winds.
Comfort is also typically at the top of an SUV buyer’s checklist and most variants tested here managed to soak up potholes and bumps without disturbing passengers. The 19-inch wheels fitted to the top of the range, 2.0 CRDi models add a little more firmness to the ride comfort, though.
Engine choices are in line with most rivals, and there’s enough depth in the range to tick most boxes. The line-up starts with a re-engineered 1.6-litre GDi petrol, which produces 130bhp and emits 156g/km CO2. Two diesel variants are on offer: a 1.7- and a 2.0-litre turbocharged unit. The former is likely to be the best seller in the UK, as it blends strong performance (114bhp) with low, tax-friendly emissions of just 119g/km CO2.
Most engines come with a slick six-speed manual gearbox but drivers can opt for a six-speed automatic in the higher capacity diesels. Unfortunately, the gearchanges are sluggish and the ‘box generally felt a bit ponderous on the test drive, especially when rolling into and pulling away from junctions or roundabouts.
A dual-clutch automatic transmission, which should be more responsive, will be available on the new turbocharged petrol models, but wasn’t available to test here. Even without a stint behind the wheel, that package appears to be the most tempting for keener drivers.
Kia is also keen to talk about its love affair with technology; at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the car maker said it would have highly autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020.
The self-driving Sportage isn’t quite with us yet but the latest generation does feature some neat tech touches. Higher specification models come with autonomous emergency braking, which can apply the anchors if the car in front suddenly stops or slows, and rear-cross traffic alert, which acts like an extra pair of eyes when exiting parking bays. Features typically seen on more premium vehicles, such as Lane Keep Assist and adaptive cruise control, come fitted to the higher-grade vehicles.
In fact, Kia is so confident drivers will want plusher models that it has a new, £31,645, First Edition trim level that comes ‘fully loaded’. As standard, they get the more powerful diesel engine, that clunky automatic transmission, 19-inch alloy wheels, a full suite of interior tech and some ‘First Edition’ stickers on the flanks.
The First Edition test models also feature an interior decked out in grey leather and grey soft touch plastics. The style is reminiscent of 1980s German saloons.
If the Sportage has caught your eye, the best combination seemed to be the 1.7-litre diesel model in either ‘2’ or ‘3’ trim levels, as these cars prove the most adept on road, represent good value (at £22,050 to £24,750) and come fitted with essentials like sat nav and a decent touch screen infotainment display.
This model can also be specified with Kia’s KX all-wheel-drive system, which features a locking mode that gives a 50:50 torque split at speeds up to 25mph. Perfect for those living in areas that experience adverse weather conditions, or need to tow a horsebox into a gymkhana.
In summary, the latest Kia Sportage remains an enticing package, with enough space to keep all the family happy and rival offerings from Nissan, Honda and Mazda, plus a suite of safety and comfort features, such as a power-lifting tailgate, that represent great value for money in this hugely popular segment.
Specify a Sportage wisely and you’ll likely bring home a faithful and reliable servant – did we mention the industry-leading seven year warranty? – that will ferry the family around in comfort for many years to come. And if anyone asks whether that’s a Porsche Macan you’re driving, take it from us: there’s no harm in simply nodding, knowingly, and smiling.