RELIABILITY AND QUALITY RATING: * * *
The Sportage engine range consists of proven units that should be durable and long-lived. Our test cars also exhibited good visual build quality, with consistent panel gaps, doors that closed with a reassuring 'thunk' and paintwork that appeared free of orange peel or inconsistency. The only hiccup was slightly skewed tailpipes on a couple of cars, always a danger when makers opt for square exhaust tips. Inside, the perceived level of quality has been vastly improved compared with the old car. That said, some of the trim plastics (particularly those on the door trim panels) felt cheap and tacky to the touch. And on the higher-grade models, the chromed plastic of the door-pulls felt lightweight and cheap, really letting the car down. Elsewhere in the cabin, Kia has really closed the gap with the competition, although a gap does still exist. IMAGE RATING: * *
The simple truth is that in the UK, the Kia brand has no real presence. Driving a Kia conveys the message that you couldn't afford a better car, but weren't prepared to go the nearly-new route. At best, it sends a message that you don't care about brands and manufactured image. At worst, it tells the world that you're a pensioner driving his last new car. There has been, though, one fairly bizarre benefit to having such a low profile. During a discussion about how Jeremy Clarkson always refers to Koreans eating dogs in any discussion about Hyundai, somebody asked a Kia spokesman if they were also victims of that jibe. The response was "no, we're so far under his radar that we don't even register."
It's a better looking car than the weedy first-generation model, though. The best angle is from behind, where the Sportage looks amusingly like a scaled-down Volvo XC90. DRIVING RATING: * * *
The new Sportage is a much better driving proposition than the old model. With independent suspension all-round, standard fit 16-inch alloy wheels and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, the Sportage can be hustled quickly over challenging roads. The handling feels secure and predictable, and the steering allows the driver to place the car accurately through the corners. That said, the car does feel big on tight roads and the steering feedback isn't very communicative. Overall, the Sportage wouldn't be a car you'd choose to charge over a favourite country road.
We tried the diesel variant and found the ride to be absorbent over the rougher stuff and perfectly acceptable on fast motorways. Body roll wasn't dramatic, but was much more noticeable than that exhibited by the V6 we tried. The trade off seems to be ride comfort, which the V6 had less of than the diesel.
The four-wheel drive Sportage will revert to front-drive only unless it senses a loss of grip at the back wheels. Then, it will divert drive power to the back axle. For more serious offroading, though, there is a '4wd' button that sends power permanently to all four wheels. As with its competitors, the Sportage isn't really a serious off-roader. Indeed, in some markets the Kia will be sold as front-wheel drive only, although the UK will only get four-wheel drive models. PERFORMANCE RATING: * * *
The Sportage's turbocharged, 2.0-litre direct-injection diesel develops 112bhp, but the really important figure here is the 181lb ft of torque (pulling force) developed from a low 1800rpm. That's gives the diesel Sportage strong low-rev urge and a relaxed but responsive-feeling performance. Indeed, the four-wheel drive diesel Sportage does feel quicker than its 0-62mph time of 13.8sec would suggest. The diesel is available with a five-speed manual gearbox that feels mechanically precise and is good to use. You can also specify the diesel with a four-speed auto, but we feel that that blunts performance to an unacceptable degree.
If you crave more performance and petrol refinement, the 2.7-litre V6 Sportage will get you to 62mph in 10.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 110mph. It's only available with a four-speed auto, and while it does provide a refined motorway cruise, it does get quite thrashy when pushed. You'll pay a high price at the pumps, though: Kia claims a combined fuel consumption of 28.3mpg, which will probably be lower still in the real world. SAFETY AND SECURITY RATING: * * *
Kia is confident of a four-star score in the EuroNcap crash test regime, which is good for a small SUV. Six airbags are available on Sportage, with front driver and passenger units, side airbags and curtain airbags to protect from head and neck injuries. To help avoid the accident in the first place, there is traction control and an Electronic Stability Program (ESP). ESP monitors the attitude of the car, and if it detects a slide at the front or rear of the car, it'll brake the appropriate wheel to bring the car back into line.
The Sportage is equipped with an engine immobiliser, remote central locking and a theft alarm. RUNNING COSTS RATING: * * *
The biggest single cost of ownership for Kia customers will be depreciation, or the fall in value of the car as it ages. It's that lack of image and innate desirability that count against the Kia here, and people spending their own money will need to think hard about this aspect of ownership.
Servicing and maintenance costs, though, are likely to be among the lowest in the business. And the most frugal engine in the line-up, the 2.0-litre diesel, returns nearly 40mpg on the combined cycle. The V6 is the least attractive model from an ownership standpoint, though, thanks to poor fuel economy and, for company car tax payers, a high 237g/km CO2 rating. COMFORT AND EQUIPMENT RATING: * * *
With the new Sportage, Kia will continue its tradition of packing in the equipment, even on the lowliest model. So expect standard-fit air conditioning, alloy wheels, roof rails, a CD player and electric windows all round. Higher grade models will gain extras such as leather seat trim, although there isn't likely to be a satellite navigation option from launch. That's something Kia is still working on, apparently.
Kia is also claiming a best-in-class gong for interior space. Indeed, two large six-foot-plus blokes can comfortably sit one behind the other, and there's plenty of shoulder room for two abreast in the back. The rear seats, which sit high enough to give occupants a panoramic view forward, have a function that Kia calls Dive & Fold (not to be confused with 'Duck & Cover' in case of a nuclear attack…). When the 60/40 split folding rear seatback is lowered, the seat squab actually moves forward and down into the footwell. That means the seats fold flush with the floor for a flat and level load area. It's a neat trick and works well.
The driving position is fine, although the wheel adjusts only for rake, not reach. Major controls are intuitively located and easy to use. It's easy to see out of the Sportage, too, and judging where the corners of the vehicle are isn't difficult. Which isn't always a given on an off-roader.