What is it?
Kia has undergone a significant transformation over the past decade, helped in significant part by the Kia Kia Sportage SUV.
Once the manufacturer of worthy but dull cars, the input of German designer - and current president - Peter Schreyer has helped the Korean brand become much more desirable.
When the Sportage was unveiled back in 2010, it was a big departure from the awkward-looking 4x4 that preceded it.
It's no surprise that Kia has worked hard to improve performance and reduce emissions on this fourth generation car. More interestingly for fans of zesty petrol power, there’s also a new 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine available in more aggressively styled GT-Line trim. We try it in the UK for the first time.
What's it like?
The 1.6 T-GDi petrol engine comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. The combination gives respectable performance, with 0-60mph taking a claimed 9.2sec and a top speed of 126mph achievable with a long enough stretch of road.
You can opt for a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox for a £1300 premium (which also knocks 0.4secs off the 0-62mph time), but one thing you can’t have is front-wheel drive, because this engine only comes on models with all of their wheels driven. Up to 40% of the engine’s torque can be shuffled to the back axle, although there’s a 4WD lock mode that splits torque 50/50.
Performance may seem decent enough on paper, but in the real world the 1.6 T-GDi feels more pedestrian. Those figures are believable, but achieving them requires you to explore the upper reaches of the rev range. The engine does at least prove smooth and not too coarse if you do stretch it.
The manual gearbox is precise but long of throw and the Sportage's handling doesn’t really encourage enthusiastic cornering. There’s plenty of grip from the sizable tyres fitted to standard 19in wheels, but there’s also a fair bit of body roll.
The steering is accurate enough while cornering, but it suffers from vagueness in a straight line. This means you spend a fair amount of time correcting its trajectory on motorways. As for feedback, it’s virtually non-existent.
Push hard and you’re treated to a nose that will always wash wide before the rear tyres relinquish their grip. Overall then, it’s safe, secure and grippy. Exactly what you’d want from a family-friendly SUV, but not a vehicle you'll ever drive for the sake of driving.
It’s also not the most comfortable of small SUVs; the suspension doesn’t feel as sophisticated as you’d get in a Nissan Qashqai and the big wheels mean you feel a lot of the road’s surface beneath you. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t the most relaxing vehicle to pilot across our terrible UK Tarmac.
Step inside and you’re treated to an interior that is both easy on the eye and built with plenty of pleasing plastics. The top of the dash and doors are both hewn from squishy materials and all the controls work in a precise manner.