When Kia launched this new, fourth-generation Sportage last year, the PR team lined the three previous iterations up next to it to illustrate how far this key model has come in recent years.
There has been a steady progression, with each new model improving in terms of looks, build quality and refinement.
The demonstration was a nice touch, but hardly necessary. You don’t need to contrast the latest car with less sophisticated predecessors to come away with a positive impression.
The Sportage is a stylish-looking car, with all the chunky presence you’d expect from an SUV – but without overdoing the pseudo-off-road design cues. Refining Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille now familiar across Kia’s increasingly upmarket range, the front-end nonetheless marks the biggest visual departure over the old model.
The headlamps are now positioned higher, sweeping back along the outer edges of the sharply-detailed bonnet. A lower, wider grille – enlarged to support greater engine cooling – adds more volume to the lower half of the Sportage’s face. The result is a more imposing appearance and a more stable-looking stance, despite the new model retaining the same 1,855mm width as its predecessor.
The interior of our test car, in ‘2’ trim, has something of a traditional Volkswagen vibe to it. Robust design, well put together. Functional and with well chosen materials but lacking the flash of some competitors.
The seven-inch touch-screen infotainment system is relatively small and the user-interface more akin to an early Android phone than the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, but once again it’s function over flash and it proves easy to use and full of all the features you’d expect such as DAB radio, satellite navigation, rear reversing camera, Bluetooth streaming connectivity and hands-free functionality. An eight-inch display is available as an option.
Kia Sportage 1.7 CRDI ‘2’ Eco
Engine: 1.7-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Top speed: 109mph
0-60: 11.1 seconds
It’s not just the infotainment system that’s loaded with tech. The active safety specifications are a dizzying list of acronyms. ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), hill-start assist control (HAC), Intelligent stop-and-go (ISG), Electronic stability control (ESC) with downhill brake control (DBC), the list goes on: SLIF, LKAS, TSA, HBA. Google them if you need to know, but those acronyms combined with a stiff chassis and a long list of safety features mean this Sportage is the safest yet and achieved the maximum possible five-star safety rating in the Euro NCAP crash performance tests.
Cabin space is excellent front and back, thanks to a 30mm growth in the car’s wheelbase on the outgoing model.
Overall the car is 40mm longer and the boot capacity has grown accordingly, with the Sportage now swallowing up 503 litres. A neat touch is the dual-height luggage floor, which allows taller items to fit into the boot and still remain hidden by the boot lid. And if you need a little extra space, you can take the lid off all together and slide it into a neat storage space under the boot floor.
Kia have put a lot of effort into refining the handling and – like other class leaders such as the Nissan Qashqai and the Ford Kuga – it handles pretty much like a C-segment hatch. Sharper than you’d expect for such a big car, the fully-independent front and rear suspension and improved dampers soak up bumps on poor road surfaces.
The Sportage is offered with a choice of front or all-wheel drive. Our two-wheel drive test model was powered by Kia’s 1.7 CRDI engine. The 114bhp unit is a survivor from the old third-generation Sportage, but still a good fit for the car, with plenty of torque in first and second gear and adequate-if-sedate power higher up the gear box.
With small SUVs flying off forecourts, this well-priced, well-built car is an important one for Kia. It accounts for a quarter of the brand’s European sales overall – and it’s not difficult to see why.
Kia have identified the Sportage as their flagship car in Europe because, according to Michael Cole, chief operating officer, it “clearly demonstrates our brand values best”.
Presumably the Sportage was also chosen because it’s a fantastic illustration of how far Kia have come.