The Kia Sportage is more SUV than hatchback, with family appeal and value to commend it

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The Kia Sportage is the Korean firm's offering in the SUV/hatchback crossover market. You can question the purpose of this segment but you can't doubt its success. Any major car manufacturer worth its salt wants a slice of the sales action in this increasingly lucrative class.

This is the third-generation Kia Sportage. The first one, a basic SUV based on Mazda mechanicals, appeared in the UK in 1995 in five-door form only and remained on sale until 2004, by which time Kia was ensconced within Hyundai.

The Sportage faces some tough rivals, such as the popular Skoda Yeti

Second-generation Sportages were based on the same platform as the Hyundai Tucson, and this version was introduced in late 2010 as part of a raft of sharp-looking new models penned by German designer Peter Schreyer.

For a vehicle with such clear SUV DNA, you might wonder where the 'crossover' element comes from. Indeed, the Kia Sportage is actually a well-priced compact soft-roader, but it has been given the attention-seeking looks and marketing blurb to move it into the same territory as the Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Kuga and Skoda Yeti.

The engine line-up consists of 1.6 and a 2.0-litre petrols and diesels of 1.7 and 2.0-litre capacity, with the latter powerplant available in two states of tune.

Lower-powered engines come with Kia's ISG (Intelligent Stop and Go) stop-start system, while the brace of 2.0-litre units get four-wheel drive. Automatic transmissions are available as an option with the 2.0-litre engines. 

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Trim levels are simple: 1, 2, 3 and 3 Sat Nav on the two-wheel-drive cars and KX-2, KX-3, KX-3 Sat Nav and range-topping KX-4 on the all-wheel-drive models.


Kia Sportage front grille
The grille is meant to be reminiscent of a tiger’s nose

Stand-out styling cues include the 'tiger nose' front end, which was first seen on Kia's 2007 Kee concept car. It's arguably the most successful element of the Sportage's look, because the sharp headlight design translates well into a big SUV shape.

The back of the car is perhaps less successful in its appearance, although the narrow, raked-back rear screen is set very high so it doesn't hinder the practicality afforded by the deep, vertical tailgate, even if it does reduce the driver's rear visibility. 

The Sportage has the bold looks that many buyers want

Another distinctive design element is the rearward cant of the C-pillar. This not only adds an appealing angularity to the window-line but also allows more light and visibility for rear passengers.

Crucially, the design erases memories of its outdated predecessor and gives the Sportage the bold looks that many buyers want in this class. 

The scallops in the leading edge of the roof are the one detail that Kia's design chief, Peter Schreyer, had to insist made it on to the production Sportage. They maintain the profile of the grille, and follow suit by being higher at the edges than at the centre.

Kia has increased the Sportage's steel-to-glass ratio through the use of a high and rising waistline. The narrow side windows are intended to project a dynamic image. The  Sportage also has a lower ground clearance than the old model, suggesting that it's a crossover rather than a conventional SUV. It makes it easier to get in and out of, too.


Kia Sportage dashboard
The high-set seat makes the Sportage feel very much like the SUV it is

Sit in the Kia Sportage’s driver’s seat and it’s clear that some cost saving has gone on in the cabin, but only in areas where it matters very little, if at all.

The base specification Sportage is competitively equipped. All models come with alloys, climate control, electric windows, a leather-covered steering wheel and gearlever knob, front fog lights and cornering lights, automatic rain-sensing windscreen wipers, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel.

The cabin is a pleasant place to be

When that is taken into account, there should be few complaints about some shiny plastic on the dashboard.

Even with these cheaper materials in view, the Kia’s cabin is a pleasant place to be. The high-set seat makes it feel very much like the SUV it is, and it has a broad range of manual adjustment that makes it easy to get comfortable.

There’s also ample head and legroom in the back, although some families may regard it as a disadvantage that the Kia lacks the individual sliding, or even removable, seats that are a feature of some of the Sportage’s competition. 

The fixed 60/40 split-fold rear bench doesn’t compromise practicality by much. The big, conveniently shaped boot can hold up to 564 litres with the seats up, or 1353 with them folded, and that despite a full-sized spare wheel beneath the boot floor. That load capacity isn’t the best in this class, but it’s very good next to rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai (410 litres) and Skoda Yeti (416 litres).

Visibility is less ideal. The rear view is quite poor because of the letterbox-shaped rear windscreen, while the chunky, raked-back A-pillars also prove obstructive.


Kia Sportage diesel engine
The Sportage's chassis is good enough to cope with all of the power on offer

The range-topping Kia Sportage KX-4 is the model to consider if you want your crossover to possess sporting pretensions.

Available in four-wheel drive only, it uses an uprated version of the 2.0-litre CRDi engine that produces 181bhp and 282lb ft; it's also equipped with a manual gearbox. 

The Sportage measures up fairly well against its rivals

A revised variable geometry turbocharger, higher-pressure piezo injectors and new software mapping are responsible for the manual Sportage KX-4's 47bhp increase over the 134bhp version of the 2.0-litre diesel.

The KX-4 completes the 0-60mph dash in 9.4 seconds and, when fitted with the six-speed manual transmission, top speed is 120mph. 

This variant is also available with an automatic transmission, which has 289lb ft of torque available. But don't discount the lower-powered 2.0 CRDi, which doesn't equip itself too badly by class standards.

We bettered Kia’s claimed 0-60mph of 10.9sec by 0.4sec, and our 30-70mph time of 11.3sec also shows that there’s plenty of mid-range pull. These figures are not the best in this class but they’re competitive. 

In everyday use, the 2.0-litre diesel Kia Sportage never feels like a particularly rapid machine. The chassis feels good, but it responds well and provides enough poke to make fast progress easy and even relaxing if the engine isn’t asked to spin into its upper ranges.

The 1.7-litre diesel acquits itself well with a modicum of pace and impressive economy and emissions. Like the bigger unit, it’s not that flexible and needs a fair bit of stirring of the manual gearbox (itself not the slickest shifter) to get the most from it. The trouble is, it’s not that refined, so if you do rev it hard it can get disappointingly clattery at times. It’s not that quiet around town, either.

The entry-level 1.6 petrol might be a better option, especially as it’s significantly cheaper than the diesel and only falls shy of the 1.7 CRDi’s economy by about 10mpg. The 1.6 is a smooth unit that’s reasonably brisk for it’s size and is certainly a better bet than the 2.0-litre petrol which, saddled with four-wheel drive, drops its claimed average economy with no significant performance advantage.


Kia Sportage cornering
Sportage's performance figures are not the best in this class but they’re competitive

The Kia Sportage is certainly a soft-riding car, but in normal conditions it manages a better compromise between body control, handling response and ride comfort than any other Kia currently on sale.

Tackle a typical British B-road with some gusto and the Sportage will reward you with good roadholding and quick steering response. It is by no means a thrilling steer but it is stable, predictable and confidence inspiring.

It manages a good compromise between control, response and comfort

Some progressive but pronounced body roll occurs at speed, with awkward cambers or more severe surface intrusions causing the body to continue rocking for a few seconds on its soft springs. But that is merely a niggling flaw worth living with for the cushioning ride quality.

The steering is no match for a Ford Kuga’s but is perfectly fit for purpose. Around town, where the Sportage is expected to spend most of its time, the light steering is quite useful, if quite inert.

Admittedly, the electrically assisted speed-sensitive system would benefit from having a broader range of weighting to make it heavier at higher speeds. Although electric assistance does tend to remove any true feedback, a more convincing simulation of the connection to the front wheels would be welcome.

With its slack steering and soft ride, the Kia Sportage feels much closer to a traditional SUV in the way that it handles than many of the more nimble rivals do, but this is not a criticism, just a different approach to the class of car.

For many buyers, it will be of no concern that the Sportage falls short of the pointy, hatchback-like handling offered by some other compact soft-roaders; it will matter far more that it is comfortable and safe. It’s complete enough to manage all the likely duties with ease and flair.


Kia Sportage
Kia’s well priced compact soft-roader has been given attention-seeking looks

There are many reasons unrelated to money that would tempt a buyer into the Sportage, but the most persuasive deal-clinchers are Kia's low buying and running costs.

The Sportage costs around the same as a Ford Focus – less in many instances - and has such a comprehensive specification that only the Hyundai iX35 comes close to matching its value for money, and even that doesn’t get the rear-view camera as standard or the seven-year warranty (limited to 100,000 miles).

The most persuasive reason to buy a Sportage is the buying and running costs

Every model gets alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth with voice recognition, MP3 connection and air-con.

Most get a full length panoramic sunroof, too, while the Sat Nav models get a decent navigation system (as you might have guessed) which includes that rear-view camera. Full leather upholstery is standard on 3-spec models along with seat heating not only for those in the front, but also in the back. In short, every model is sumptuously equipped.

CO2 emissions are competitive and company car tax for those in the lower band is reasonable. There’s no extra ‘showroom tax’ for private buyers, who will also pay a low annual VED rate. Depreciation also looks competitive, thanks to Kia’s ever-improving reputation and helped by that seven-year warranty that can be transferred from owner to owner.

Fuel economy is a mixed bag: seriously impressive in the 1.7 CRDi, pretty good in the 1.6 petrol, not too bad in either variant of the 2.0-litre diesel but nothing to write home about in the 2.0-litre petrol.


3.5 star Kia Sportage
There’s a lot to like about the Kia Sportage, particularly its drivability and cabin

There’s a lot to like about the Kia Sportage. It’s a well judged package in terms of its driveability and the usability of its cabin. And in today’s market where buyers are more cost-conscious than ever, the value on offer is hard to ignore, especially when attached to a car that offers real style and comfort.

Even on lower-specification cars you'll get a level of kit that is extremely competitive for the money, plus the benefit of Kia’s excellent seven-year warranty package. Ask nicely and you might even squeeze a discount out of your Kia dealer.

The Sportage comes very close to being the best in class

Were it not for the slightly loose body control, overly light steering and disappointing fuel consumption of some of the models, it could well be best in class. As it is, it comes very close.

Some rivals offer a more hatchback-like driving and ownership experience, but the Sportage’s classic SUV character will appeal to many buyers. A big, soft, high-riding car that is easy to drive, cheap to buy and interesting to look at could, with the full range of engines in place, be a threat to everything from a Ford Focus to a Land Rover Freelander.

It’s not an involving thing to drive, but it is a very complete family car with a kerbside appeal that many more conventional rivals lack. Few manufacturers would hope for more than that.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Kia Sportage 2010-2016 First drives