What is it?
The facelifted Kia Sportage – a car whose success, both in the UK and throughout Europe, has been remarkable these last few years.
More than a quarter of Kia’s UK sales last year were of Sportage – and given how fresh and handsome the car still seems, it's obvious what folks are responding to. But the car will need more than good looks to continue to thrive in a segment with a brand new Nissan Qashqai in it – more, perhaps, than Kia’s just armed it with as part of a 2014 facelift.
Regular readers may remember how comprehensively the Kia was trounced by the new Qashqai in a group test earlier this year – not least on refinement, quality and dynamic wieldiness.
Kia’s response is to fit the Slovakian-built crossover with some new interior trim plastics, a new audio system, a new instrument pack and some fresh seat upholsteries.
A thicker windscreen has been fitted as well, and under the skin there’s a new variable-assistance steering rack, new front subframe bushes, revalved dampers, softer anti-roll bars, a new symmetrical driveshaft and a new transmission mounting.
What's it like?
The new Kia Sportage is better in some ways, but not by enough to return the car to its formerly commanding position in a developing class.
The changes make for a big gain on mechanical refinement. It’s not an entirely fair comparison, but the 2.0-litre CRDI we sampled was so much better mannered than the 1.7 CRDI driven a few months ago that you’d scarcely believe the difference.
Both engine and suspension noise are greatly reduced; not to the same level as the class-leading Nissan, but enough to put the Kia back into contention.
Inside the cabin, while the trim updates are welcome, you don’t get the same occupant space or quality of trim fit-and-finish as in the best-in-class alternatives.
The seats are still quite flat under thigh, and headroom remains particularly disappointing. Boot space is good, but that’s about the only way the Sportage offers a great deal more than a normal family five-door.
Go for the top-of-the-range 181bhp diesel auto flagship Sportage and you’ll get a car with a reasonable turn of speed, but not once you’d call sporting. The car’s generous portion of torque combines nicely with its slick-shifting auto ‘box, however, and gives the car a certain air of polish and authority on the move.
The standard four-wheel drive system can only split power 60:40 at speeds greater than 28mph; even if you press the button to lock the split 50:50, you’ll be overridden when you exceed that speed. Most of the time the driveline sends power predominantly forwards.
Our test car wasn’t fitted with Kia’s Flexsteer system. It steered well enough, but little meaningful progress has been made in the way the car handles. The Sportage still seems larger and a shade more cumbersome than many of its rivals.