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.