A much better-value alternative to the usual compact SUV suspects

What is it?

A brand new Korean entrant in what’s known by car industry bigwigs as ‘the global SUV-C segment’: this is the Kia Sportage.

About to enter its third model generation, the Sportage was one of the founder members of a class now populated by johnny-come-latelys like the VW Tiguan, Ford Kuga and Peugeot 3008. This one’s different from its forebears, however: lower, wider and more car-like, it’s being billed by Kia as a medium-sized urban crossover SUV – so it’s meant for metropolitan families, not mud-plugging fanatics.

At just under 4.5 metres long, with a wheelbase of 2640mm, the new Sportage is slightly longer than a VW Tiguan, but shorter than a Honda CRV. It will be available in the UK later this year, with a choice of two petrol and two diesel engines. Four-wheel drive will be available as an option on the two more powerful engines, but less than 10 per cent of Sportage buyers are expected to want it.

We travelled to Korea to sample a range-topping 134bhp 2.0-litre CRDi, complete with electronically controlled all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic gearbox, and to get a flavour of what British buyers should expect of this cut-price Qashqai come the summer.

What’s it like?

Unusually handsome for such a big, upright car. Gone are the bulbous haunches and ungainly proportions of the last Sportage, and in comes a car with fresh, chiselled, clean-cut looks.

The Sportage’s driver’s seat is at a convenient height to ease your entry into the car: high enough to save you from sitting down into it, but not so high that you have to climb up to it.

Once you’re in, you’ll appreciate the efforts that Kia’s design team, led by ex-Audi man Peter Schreyer, has expended to improve the fit, finish, material quality and cabin ambience of its small SUV. Matt black plastic fascia trim contrasts with textured plastic, making almost all of the Sportage’s cabin surfaces tactile and solid-feeing. This is an attractive fascia to behold too, with a contemporary design and glinting chrome-look accents.

The Sportage’s driving environment is not perfect though. The car we drove had no reach adjustment on the steering wheel, making the ideal driving position tricky to adopt. And with the optional panoramic glass roof fitted, our test car was a little short on headroom for a 6ft 3in driver. That shallow, car-like roofline makes the Sportage a bit of an oddity in that regard: an SUV that’s not particularly suitable for tall people.

Tall or short however, you can’t really fault Kia’s latest on either performance or engine refinement. Powered by the Hyundai/Kia Group’s new ‘R’-family 2.0-litre diesel engine, complete with balancer shafts, third-generation commonrail high-pressure direct injection and a variable geometry turbo, the Sportage felt smooth, punchy and responsive on our test route. It only became slightly noisy at very high crank speeds.

Performance is plentiful from low rpm, and that engine is well-matched to a six-speed automatic gearbox that’s quick to lock up and equally quick to kick down when you want it to.

The handling, ride and steering of our test car was marginally less impressive, but Kia UK have a plan to retune the Sportage’s chassis and electric power steering system to suit British roads and tastes. They’ll need to: our Sportage had decent but not outstanding body control, but did not absorb lumps and bumps well. On the move, that chassis was clunky and wooden at times. And the Sportage’s steering, though quick and accurate, felt over-assisted and a little too eager to self-centre.

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Should I buy one?

It’s still too soon for decisions like that. Once Kia’s decided on a price for its new small SUV, and sorted its dynamics for UK roads, we’ll be in a better position to tell you.

Don’t rule it out, though. It may not be as dynamically talented as a Ford Kuga – even after those chassis tweaks – nor have the brand allure of a VW Tiguan. But on first impression the Sportage seems to be a good-looking, well-built, quite refined and unexpectedly desirable family option that’s likely to offer better-than-average value for money, low costs of ownership and that seven-year warranty. Plenty to appeal to both sides of your brain, then.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
jelly7961 24 May 2010

Re: Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi 4x4 Auto

Autocar wrote:
a class now populated by johnny-come-latelys like the VW Tiguan

I actually think it looks a bit like a 'cartoonised' Tiguan. At least the boot looks a bit bigger than the VW - dirty weekend material only! I see that you can get this or the ix35 at least with a 180hp engine
PMinAU 22 May 2010

Re: Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi 4x4 Auto

Thanks for this review: great to have a first drive opinion on this new vehicle. See this article for a comaprison of the Kia and sister car Hyundai ix35.

The Apprentice 19 May 2010

Re: Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi 4x4 Auto

nicksheele wrote:

The Apprentice wrote:
Like in its sister the IX35, the new R diesel engines are a generation more advanced than VW have got to play with, so you can at last have 4 wheel drive and low emissions. Most the other manufacturers have had to abandon the rear drive to manage that, Skoda only just scrapped under 160 4wd by making the Yeti a mini-me!

BMW X1, 2 litre diesel, 174 hp, 4WD, 1.7t weight, 0-60 mph 8s, 49 mpg(153g CO2). Don't crow too soon Apprentice. This dog-botherer's out of the Ark.

I draw your attention to the word most in "most the other manufacturers" BMW X1 costs a heck of a lot more for a high spec. x-drive, and according to our fleet department is expensive to run (tyres, servicing) Its not really anywhere near the same group for comparison, of course BMW are out there ahead in the distance by some way with engines, but your paying for it!

Anyway Nick, I thought you were a VW fanboy? shouldn't you be telling us why a Toerag is worth 3 weeks of your generous salary?