► New fourth-generation Kia Sportage
► Latest version of Kia’s biggest-selling UK model
► We test the launch-model First Edition
In your mind, how many cars can get away with self-aggrandising stickers on their flanks? We’re pretty confident a ’73 911 Carrera 2.7 RS can. But a Kia Sportage?
Never mind that for now. You’re looking at the fourth-gen version of Kia’s most important model, and it’s gone through quite the transformation. Kia's UK product people think there’s such a buzz about owning a Sportage now that the public is now prepared to go full fanboi and order them with First Edition plastered down the sides.
Perhaps that’s not without reason. To say this is an important car for Kia in the UK is an understatement. It accounts for nearly a third (29%) of all Kias sold in the UK and the Sportage is rapidly becoming as well known as the ubiquitous Qashqai in the mid-sized SUV market.
The third generation, launched in 2010, set the standard here. Over 96,000 were sold in Europe during 2014, and nearly as many found homes in Britain over the six-year on-sale period.
With such big shoes to fill, Kia has chosen to ramp up the quality for the fourth-gen version.
How does the 2016 Kia Sportage drive?
Surprisingly well. It employs MacPherson struts up front and a multilink rear, all mounted on new hydro-formed subframes using bushings rather than solid mountings. The net result? It’s far more refined.
The ride was on the firm side due to the 19-inch alloys our test car was fitted with, but the damping is exceptional so there’s no issue with secondary vibrations or wallowing – things more likely to unsettle passengers. There’s a bit of bodyroll on turn-in – it’s still an SUV after all – but it’s predictable, manageable and controlled. It feels like a solid car.
We’re pleased to report a dramatic improvement in the steering, too. It’s still electronically assisted (like all its rivals) but Kia has moved the power assistance motor from the column down to the rack, and this alone has prompted significant improvement in the way the Sportage drives.
It’s not feelsome in the way a Porsche Macan is, but it’s closer to that end of the spectrum than it ever has been. Don’t forget we’re talking about a Kia here, side graphics or not.
Anything new in the engine department?
Not especially, in this version at least. The engine is a lightly revised version of the old Sportage’s 2.0 diesel, and thanks to the well-insulated cabin you can barely hear it working. Our test car was fitted with a slow-shifting automatic that actually seems to suit the car marginally better than the manual on offer, even though it’s slightly worse on fuel and tax.
There’s a twin-clutch ’box coming to address these issues but for now it’s only available with a new turbocharged petrol 1.6 – also tested on the launch and largely incongruous for most buyers since it has to work so hard to make progress that it’s difficult to drive efficiently.
Certain models are available with part-time all-wheel drive, which can send 40% of torque to the rear axle when the front wheels slip. Realistically, we found that there’s so much traction available in front-wheel-drive models that it feels unnecessary.
As you can read from the pictures, the model we’re testing here is a First Edition. That means it’s everything a Sportage can be, and it’s why the list price sits firmly on the wrong side of £30,000.
That’s quite a chunk of change but thankfully the build quality seems to stack up with that price point. We found the front seats particularly good – supportive but not too firm – and while there are still a few scratchy plastics around, piano-black trims draw the eye and interior panel gaps are impressive in their uniformity. It’s a quality attempt; a marked step up for this company.
Yet another kit-laden Kia
Still, being a Kia, the list price includes huge amounts of kit. One spec highlight is the powered tailgate for the 491-litre boot (up 26 litres, still superior to the Qashqai), though we thought it a shame the rear seats don’t fold completely flat. The folding rear seats are also fiddly to operate. They drop via a lever on the side of the rear seat bases, meaning you have to open both back doors to fold them down, unlocking the maximum 1480 litres of luggage room.
The First Edition does help out in other respects, though. It’ll steer into parking spaces at the touch of a button, the front seats are heated and ventilated, there’s a steering wheel warmer and a raft of driver assistance systems.
Any advanced tech on board?
Yep. If you've a suitably specified smartphone it’ll charge your mobile wirelessly – strangely something that’s currently available in more cars than there are compatible phones on sale.
The touchscreen sat-nav is a game of two halves. On the one hand the graphics look ten years old already, but on the other the screen is very responsive and clearly the hardware installed is sturdy enough to scroll quickly through the menus and features on offer, which incidentally includes online services such as traffic information. This Sportage will even read and remind you of the speed limit.
Unfortunately if you buy a First Edition Sportage, you can’t have one without the graphics (though we were told you could remove them yourself if you have a hairdrier) and you’re limited to black or white paint.
If you’re after a car of this size, the Sportage is a great bet and should definitely make your shortlist. We’d steer well clear of this specification though. Lower trims offer far better value for money, with only the second of six levels (known as ‘2’) getting sat-nav, a reversing camera, cruise control and parking sensors.
It’s also £9.5k cheaper with the 1.7-litre diesel engine and manual gearbox, which also costs less to run and realistically is just as good to drive – but with lower tax and fuel bills. Provided you can live without an automatic option, it's a no-brainer.