The 1.7-litre diesel engine feels like it’s from a time when entry-level oil-burners seldom transcended their humble beginnings.
Unfortunately for Kia, several of those kinds of engines now do have transcendent talents – Honda’s 1.6 i-DTEC, PSA Peugeot-Citroën’s BlueHDi 1.6, BMW’s three-cylinder 1.5 and Mazda’s Skyactiv 1.5 to name a few.
The Kia’s engine has only a meek answer for the flexibility, refinement and economy of any of them. It will serve the Sportage well enough to escape the ire of most owners, but it does very little to provide a real selling point – or to do justice to Kia’s broader attempt at repositioning the car.
Roused to a prickly idle, the motor wastes no time at all in introducing its biggest failing: coarseness. Although it’s tolerably smooth, the engine is always noisy, even under light throttle openings and at low crank speeds.
At high revs, it feels asthmatic, but so do most of its direct rivals. So on outright performance, there’s a mixed, undistinguished picture to report. A Qashqai 1.5 dCi accelerates slightly more quickly to 60mph from rest but is slightly less flexible from 30mph to 70mph in fourth gear.
On refinement, aside from the engine noise, the Sportage suffers with a fair bit of road roar, too, although suspension noise is tolerably well controlled. Average wind isolation completes a showing that Kia will need to improve if it wants people to take its upwardly mobile status seriously.
In other ways, though, the Sportage does show signs that its driving experience has been laboured over. The shift action of the six-speed manual gearbox is positive and nicely weighted and pedal weights match the substantial heft of the steering. Credit where’s it due, then, but still plenty of room for improvement.