From £24,8158
Lowly petrol Sportage handles neatly and cuts a refined figure, even if the downsized engine gets raucous

What is it?

With the arrival of the new Kia Sportage, it's clear that the comapy execs at the apex of Kia’s corporate hierarchy apparently don’t like to dwell on the company's heritage, and perhaps that's understandable.

Kia's rapid transformation from dumpy, irrelevant duckling to unambiguous class leader (hello Kia EV6) borders on the stuff of industrial legend. Conversely, the people now tasked with marketing the company as a high-tech neophyte and legitimate premium-brand challenger feel that the less the public knows about its rustic back catalogue, the better.

Sure enough, the original Sportage – built on a Mazda Bongo van platform – is no Benz 540K, but it’s worth looking up simply to appreciate the progress that Kia has made since designer Peter Schreyer arrived from Audi in 2006. The bold new Mk5 Sportage, built on a proprietary platform honed for European roads, won’t be to all aesthetic tastes, but it possesses things its predecessors didn’t: flair, personality, perhaps a little controversy, a reason to look at it in the first place. Yes, all that in a sub-£30,000 Kia crossover.

A rival to the Mazda CX-5 and Peugeot 3008, it will eventually offer an unusually wide range of powertrains. This opens with 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines that can be had in straight ICE form or with 48V mild-hybrid assistance. Next up is the 226bhp 1.6-litre hybrid, before you get to the flagship plug-in hybrid, which makes 261bhp.

You can combine any of the hybridised cars with four-wheel drive and either a torque-converter or dual- clutch automatic gearbox. However, only the basic ICE cars offer a manual.

Having already driven the hybrid (a left-hooker with adaptive dampers and four-wheel drive), it’s the basic petrol manual we’re testing here, in mid-range 3 trim, with front-wheel drive and the passive dampers fitted to every UK-bound Sportage, no matter how high its specification.

What's it like?

So, is simplest best? Quite possibly. The mechanically most basic Sportage is surprisingly good to drive. There’s a consistency to the steering, pedal and gearshift weights and responses that makes the experience feel cohesive.

Despite being larger in every dimension than its predecessor, it also changes direction in assured and easy-going fashion, some of which will stem from the fact there’s just 1598cc behind those piercing DRLs. Cornering isn’t what you would call fun, but it is satisfying.

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The theme of basics being done well extends to the accuracy of the steering, the neutral handling balance, the tractable powertrain and the simplicity of the gearshift.

Truth be told, the basic Sportage appeals in the same way that unexceptional Ford Focus variants do. There are few bells or whistles and not an awful lot of power or torque, but what is there has some polish to it, the car moving with just a hint of a spring in its step.

The suspension is particularly nicely tuned. The rates are on the sportier side for a crossover of the Sportage’s ilk, but it’s a pliable flavour of firmness. On 18in wheels (an inch larger than standard), the car responds well to quietly enthusiastic B-road driving but at the same time doesn’t seem compromised in terms of low-speed ride or motorway cruising.

I would be surprised if the heavier hybridised Sportages – particularly those also fitted with rear driveshafts – in general feel so fluid.

Kia’s 1.6-litre T-GDi engine is less inspiring. It’s responsive enough for a small turbocharged unit and doesn’t constantly feel overwhelmed in the face of 1500kg, but it remains only averagely efficient on paper and is a touch gravelly compared with rivals.

That’s a shame because, barring some conspicuous hard plastics, the Sportage’s new cabin is refined and attractive, with the Mercedes-style instrument-and-infotainment panel feeling less offensively vast than it might. Second-row head room is also excellent (but leg room only so-so), although the seats themselves don’t do anything clever in terms of layout, as they do in the Honda HR-V.

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Should I buy one?

All told, the entry-level Sportage is a convincing act. It’s spacious enough and well mannered; and while it was never going to be some great entertainer, its manual gearbox and neat handling offer a degree of driving pleasure that you normally struggle to unearth in this class.

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Add a comment…
FastRenaultFan 11 February 2022
@Overdrive I totally disagree. Have you seen one in the metal? I have. It looks fantastic. Best looking and classiest Kia yet.

but it possesses things its predecessors didn’t: flair, personality, perhaps a little controversy, a reason to look at it in the first place.

What a load of rubbish. The MK iii was one of the best looking in its class and still looks great.

The MK IV did have controversy. It took its looks from a Porsche. So yes when they came out at first lots of people thought is that a porsche untill they got up close.

Overdrive 9 February 2022

Capable enough vehicle to get you from A to B, but to my eyes that front end looks a mess! It's ay too fussy and looks as if the car has had a shunt!