What is it?
A brand new Korean entrant in what’s known by car industry bigwigs as ‘the global SUV-C segment’: this is the Kia Sportage.
About to enter its third model generation, the Sportage was one of the founder members of a class now populated by johnny-come-latelys like the VW Tiguan, Ford Kuga and Peugeot 3008. This one’s different from its forebears, however: lower, wider and more car-like, it’s being billed by Kia as a medium-sized urban crossover SUV – so it’s meant for metropolitan families, not mud-plugging fanatics.
At just under 4.5 metres long, with a wheelbase of 2640mm, the new Sportage is slightly longer than a VW Tiguan, but shorter than a Honda CRV. It will be available in the UK later this year, with a choice of two petrol and two diesel engines. Four-wheel drive will be available as an option on the two more powerful engines, but less than 10 per cent of Sportage buyers are expected to want it.
We travelled to Korea to sample a range-topping 134bhp 2.0-litre CRDi, complete with electronically controlled all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic gearbox, and to get a flavour of what British buyers should expect of this cut-price Qashqai come the summer.
What’s it like?
Unusually handsome for such a big, upright car. Gone are the bulbous haunches and ungainly proportions of the last Sportage, and in comes a car with fresh, chiselled, clean-cut looks.
The Sportage’s driver’s seat is at a convenient height to ease your entry into the car: high enough to save you from sitting down into it, but not so high that you have to climb up to it.
Once you’re in, you’ll appreciate the efforts that Kia’s design team, led by ex-Audi man Peter Schreyer, has expended to improve the fit, finish, material quality and cabin ambience of its small SUV. Matt black plastic fascia trim contrasts with textured plastic, making almost all of the Sportage’s cabin surfaces tactile and solid-feeing. This is an attractive fascia to behold too, with a contemporary design and glinting chrome-look accents.
The Sportage’s driving environment is not perfect though. The car we drove had no reach adjustment on the steering wheel, making the ideal driving position tricky to adopt. And with the optional panoramic glass roof fitted, our test car was a little short on headroom for a 6ft 3in driver. That shallow, car-like roofline makes the Sportage a bit of an oddity in that regard: an SUV that’s not particularly suitable for tall people.
Tall or short however, you can’t really fault Kia’s latest on either performance or engine refinement. Powered by the Hyundai/Kia Group’s new ‘R’-family 2.0-litre diesel engine, complete with balancer shafts, third-generation commonrail high-pressure direct injection and a variable geometry turbo, the Sportage felt smooth, punchy and responsive on our test route. It only became slightly noisy at very high crank speeds.
Performance is plentiful from low rpm, and that engine is well-matched to a six-speed automatic gearbox that’s quick to lock up and equally quick to kick down when you want it to.
The handling, ride and steering of our test car was marginally less impressive, but Kia UK have a plan to retune the Sportage’s chassis and electric power steering system to suit British roads and tastes. They’ll need to: our Sportage had decent but not outstanding body control, but did not absorb lumps and bumps well. On the move, that chassis was clunky and wooden at times. And the Sportage’s steering, though quick and accurate, felt over-assisted and a little too eager to self-centre.
Should I buy one?
It’s still too soon for decisions like that. Once Kia’s decided on a price for its new small SUV, and sorted its dynamics for UK roads, we’ll be in a better position to tell you.
Don’t rule it out, though. It may not be as dynamically talented as a Ford Kuga – even after those chassis tweaks – nor have the brand allure of a VW Tiguan. But on first impression the Sportage seems to be a good-looking, well-built, quite refined and unexpectedly desirable family option that’s likely to offer better-than-average value for money, low costs of ownership and that seven-year warranty. Plenty to appeal to both sides of your brain, then.