What is it?
It’s Kia’s latest generation of Sportage, now available as a full 16-model range after being introduced by the ‘First Edition’, a 2.0 diesel-based variant that showed the new car’s strengths but came fully loaded and well north of £20k.
Four engines are on offer; as well as the 2.0 and 1.7-litre oil-burners there are two petrols, a 2.0 and the base 1.6 litre that we’re testing here. It’s only available with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, and comes with stop-start as standard.
There are two trim levels for this powerplant, confusingly named GDI. The base spec tested here, called 1, comes on 16in wheels but still offers air-con, Bluetooth, electric windows all round and LED daytime running lights that make the most of Peter Schreyer’s sharp styling.
Move up to 2 and you get 17in alloys, part-leather upholstery, reversing sensors and a panoramic glass roof. But if you want to go any further up the Sportage’s scale of plushness you’ll need to switch to one of the larger engines.
What’s it like?
As honest as the day is long, without ever feeling sparkling. The 1.6 lump is keen enough to rev - and that’s just as well, because it needs to be worked to shift the Sportage at anything more than a meagre pace. It has 133bhp and a modest 122lb ft of torque that doesn’t arrive until a fairly heady 4850rpm.
This wouldn’t matter, of course, if it was smooth as silk right round to the peak power revs of 6300rpm - but there’s a metallic twang that jars into the soundtrack from around 3500rpm.
Once you’re up to, say, a 60mph cruise, the engine does fade into the background, becoming a distant thrum. But if you want to push on a motorway you’ll soon realise that 70mph in sixth means 3000rpm, where the motor’s efforts are more audible.
Still, the stop-start works well, and the slick, precise six-speed gearbox means that the frequent ratio swapping (and it will be thus) is pretty easy to achieve.
Throwing the Sportage at corners is an exercise that brings few nasty surprises and little real pleasure. The steering is precise enough and not badly weighted but it’s not particularly communicative, and while body roll is reasonably well contained, it is present. The overall package is extremely competent, without ever becoming involving. At least the ride is comfy; the 1 spec’s 16in rubber definitely helps here, because this car felt considerably more compliant than a 1.7-litre diesel on 18in wheels.
The cabin, meanwhile, is pretty roomy and airy (particularly so with the panoramic roof that’s standard on all but the base spec), and the spec doesn’t feel stingy at this price.
There are a few hard plastics, particularly along the top of the doors, but it’s at least as respectable as a Qashqai or a Kuga. Indeed, the flashes of piano black trim in the Sportage’s functional dashboard look a bit more coherent than some of the ‘brushed aluminium’ plastics you’ll find in Fords these days.
Should I buy one?
It’s worth considering. Bear in mind, though, that while this car seems cheap at £16,645, Nissan will sell you a 1.6 Qashqai (with, admittedly, fewer toys and a five-speed gearbox) for about a grand less.
Still, we can see why the base-level Sportage will find customers. It has striking styling that stands apart from the crossover norm, a spacious, comfortable cabin, a warranty that still attracts the right sort of headlines and a powertrain that will (just about) suffice.
We’d still say that the base 1.7 diesel is a more rounded, more accomplished package - but if the £1500 price gap to that model looks too much, this will serve the purpose.
Kia Sportage 1.6 GDI 1
Price: £16,645; Top speed: 111mph; 0-60mph: 10.7sec; Economy: 44.1mpg; CO2: 149g/km; Kerb weight: 1380kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1591cc, petrol; Power: 133bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 122lb ft at 4850rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual