The new 2010 Sportage is the first fully modern Kia, we reckon. The first styled wholly under chief designer Peter Schreyer (he of Audi fame), who's only now making his influence felt after four years in charge of styling the Korean cars.
So take note of this new Kia Sportage. It's the most comprehensive look yet at the new face of Kia. Tiger-snout grille? Check. Crisp, almost Germanic surfaces? Yep. Complex headlamp graphics, Audi-esque LED day running light ticks and chrome tinsel to move Kia gently upmarket? Those too.
The new Sportage launches in the UK with the range-topping 2.0 CRDi First Edition, available only as this well equipped £20,777 diesel 4wd. Joining the range in November 2010 will be a 1.6 petrol and a smaller, 1.7-litre diesel - both available with front-wheel drive.
So what's the new 2010 Kia Sportage aimed at?
Think Nissan Qashqai. This is Crossover Central, a market that's leapt to a fulsome 8% of the total UK retail market worth 130,000 sales a year. There's much respect at Kia for the Qashqai's market saturation and they aim to repeat its rich mix of engines and transmission options. No +2 version though. In the fullness of time expect a downsized petrol turbo Sportage and even a hybrid option.
For now, we're stuck with the 2.0-litre diesel in 4wd guise. It's loaded with kit. The only option is an auto transmission (we're testing the manual), but this First Edition comes with leather, climate control, reversing camera and Kia's new market-leading seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Looks crisp and stylish...
It does. Schreyer's tiger-nostril detail pops up everywhere on this design, from the prominent grille to the windscreen graphic (noticed how the top edge of the glass rises up on either side? A subtle but cool detail). It's repeated inside too, the dashboard running the same motif.
The design works well and I like the look of the Sportage. It's telling these launch cars come in a vibrant burnt copper colour. Reminds me of a certain Qashqai paint scheme, not to mention the zingy orange of the original Range Stormer concept...
Makes you realise just how far Kia has come. The Ceed and its ilk are now firmly in the European mainstream, and the new Sportage only accelerates that shift in emphasis. Guess that's what happens when you employ a German design chief.
>> Click 'Next' to read more of CAR's first drive review of the new Kia Sportage
What's the Kia Sportage like inside?
Roomy. The front is spacious and elegant enough. Gone are the hard plastics of the old Sportage, replaced by more premium materials that are mostly soft to touch and classy to behold. Keep things in perspective: everyone, even the French, now employ such fripperies, but the Kia's cabin is attractive and simple, in an uncluttered, understated way.
Good news in the Sportage's back row: there's plenty of space for two or three passengers, and even on this four-wheel drive model, there's little intrusion from the transmission tunnel. The boot's not bad either, although we found the handle positioned too low for easy access.
Start her up! What's the Sportage like to drive?
Fire up the four-cylinder and note a diesel-ish hum. This 2.0 is some way off the pace with 134bhp from its 1995cc, in an age when many Germans are cranking out way over 170bhp from theirs.
Still, performance is brisk enough and you surf along on the ample 236lb ft of torque. The six-speed manual on test is pleasingly light of touch and accurate of gate. Perhaps inappropriately, we even found ourselves heel 'n' toeing on day two in the Sportage.
Traction is peerless, thanks to Kia's new Intelligent All-Wheel Drive. The Sportage shares the architecture with Hyundai's iX35, but Kia has gone to Magna Steyr to develop this new 4wd that is said to have a much faster response than Hyundai's system. Having not tested the two back to back, we can't vouch for that yet. We can report that you won't get the wheels to slip in the dry, though, and Kia promises that CO2 and mpg are way better than before thanks to more frequent running in FWD mode.
Ride and handling?
The First Editions come on fetching polished 18in rims which look the nuts. They do, however, instil a slight fidget that's felt more at high speeds than urban running. Much like Kia's styling, there's a hint of Ford in the chassis compliance: that firm damping and underlying control to smother road bumps and body agitation alike, yet it's not as polished as a Kuga's control.
The Sportage isn't a car to drive hard, despite that name. It can be hustled along back roads, but feels more comfortable at a sedate family cruise. The steering is quick witted enough and our only real dynamic flaw was a brake pedal that fouled our size 11 brogues. An annoying shortcoming, but trainers proved less troublesome on day two with the car.
The new Kia Sportage is further confirmation that the Koreans have arrived. Mask the badge, and the car's qualities - and downright quality - should be enough to persaude most European buyers to consider one of these in place of the default offerings.
We're not What Car? Magazine, but even we have to respect that enticing seven-year warranty. Some of you will question the Sportage's authenticity, its wannabe purloining of existing Euro design cues. But we can't help but be impressed by the sum of its parts, to be honest.
Just imagine the potential of the next generation of sports cars under development. Given the rate of change at Kia, we wouldn't bet against them cracking the desirability conundrum one day soon.