From £16,6707
Mid-life updates fail to do much for handsome but uncompetitive crossover. Charming but showing its age

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 Nissan 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 Kia 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.

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It’s pleasant enough to lope along in and quite comfortable, but one-dimensional with it. The Kia's no longer a dynamic benchmark, in other words.

Should I buy one?

At this price point, you’d probably need your head examined if you did. £29k isn’t too far off BMW X3 or Range Rover Evoque money, after all.

Lower down in the model catalogue, the Kia Sportage makes a better case for itself. It looks as great as ever, it’s well equipped for the cash and – now – it should prove more pleasing to live with.

But what was once our crossover class favourite has undoubtedly become an appealing alternative, thanks mainly to the strides of improvement made by other cars, in what’s probably the most important segment in the European car market at the moment.

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDI KX-4 Automatic

Price £29,495; 0-62mph 9.8sec; Top speed 122mph; Economy 39.8mpg; CO2 187g/km; Kerb weight 1601kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbodiesel; Power 181bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 289lb ft at 1800-2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd automatic

Join the debate

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The Apprentice 22 March 2014

The problem with the new

The problem with the new Qashqai is the price. They are playing the discount game which makes things tricky in the fleet market. A mid spec Nissan is £25K putting it up against bigger cars like the CX-5, Honda CR-V. Nissan will discount it down to £19K however but despite good emissions it still leaves the company car driver with a hefty tax bill as its based on the £25K BIK value.
I think the IX35 is actually the one to watch, spec is now very good even on a base SE and it has also had various improvements. Cleverly Hyundai offer it in trendy off-White for free. Nissan want £750 for this on the Qashqai - the most expensive colour option! Having had an IX35 (previous gen.) as a hire car for 2 weeks it was very good daily user, an improved one should only be better and its a LOT cheaper.
fadyady 21 March 2014

The new Sportage

does not move the game forward by much. The new Nissan Qashqai offers improved interior, cabin, luggage space and class leading levels of economy and emissions.
Kia's MPG is nothing to write home about. All in all the only areas Kia Sportage leads the class is in looks and warranty.
Einarbb 21 March 2014

Doubt the average driver drives such cars like sport cars,,,

,,,so perceived dynamic shortcomings probably aren't important to the average buyer. If as appears to be the case, refinement issues have been rectified and moreover as appears to be the case show room appeal has also been improved. The car continues to look good. So as long as Kia continues to offer this car at competitive prices. It should continue to sell quite well. Implying that it's a major contented, not an alternative or an also ran.