What is it?
This is a drive in a somewhat unfinished prototype of the all-new Kia Sportage, which goes on sale here next February.
We’re here to witness - and take part in - some hot weather testing in California’s Death Valley, which is the car makers’ go-to location when consistently searing temperatures are needed in order to exercise a car’s cooling systems - for both powertrain and cabin - to limits unlikely to be seen by any Sportage sold over here.
Britain’s liking for the current Sportage is a fine demonstration of the ingredients that are priorities for many car buyers. It looks stylish. It’s good value for money. It’s on trend, being a crossover. And it’s safe to buy from its relative newbie maker because it comes with the back-up of a seven-year warranty.
That it’s stylish and fashionable have a lot to do with why it has become Kia’s best-selling model and, unusually for a value brand, sits close to the top of the range. If you’re a marque pitching cars on value, it’s more often the models at the lower end of the range that sell best.
And yet the Sportage is actually rather an average machine. It doesn’t do anything badly, but it doesn’t do much especially well, either. Had it looked nondescript, it’s highly likely that it would have been an also-ran. So the style of the next Sportage is very obviously vital to this crossover’s continued success.
Not that we’re much wiser about how it will look today, because the prototype we’re driving is artfully disguised with glassfibre and a vision-dizzying body-wrap.
What's it like?
Cooling systems apart, there’ll be no testing anything to the limit on this drive. That’s partly because these cars are a long way from representative in any area except their (excellent) air conditioning systems, and partly because the nature of the tests requires us to travel at no more than 50mph, and very often at speeds well below that. It’s harder on the cooling systems that way.
Nevertheless, it is possible to glean a few useful impressions of how this new Sportage will be. The interior has a better finish, benefitting from higher-quality materials and a more sophisticated look. It’s a little roomier, too. The boot’s occupation by a bulky suite of temperature-monitoring hardware made it harder to judge its size, however, and there was no folding of the rear seats to inspect the resulting loadbay. But they certainly appear adequately scaled.
The cabin’s civility appears to be matched on the road, too. This being a test for North American vehicles meant that there were no diesels, only petrols that we may not get. The most interesting of these was a 2.0 GDi turbo. This engine serves its urge smoothly from usefully low speeds, although high revs sounded busy in this prototype. The automatic transmission, meanwhile, shifted gears with the vigour of a sleepy pensioner. It’s clearly a work-in-progress, and we didn’t get the chance to try a manual.
By contrast, this new Sportage’s steering is usefully sharper than before, and the chassis produces keener responses, while the rim weights up more consistently under load. However, European Sportages will get their own variable-rate steering system, making these observations a little less relevant. But we’re very likely to see the improvement in precision nevertheless.