► Petrol, diesel and hybrid options
► Platform shared with Hyundai Tucson
► Front and four-wheel drive
Think what you will of the Kia Sportage, but there’s no doubting the importance of this all-new fifth generation model. Its predecessor was Kia’s best-selling car worldwide and the UK’s ninth most popular new car in 2021. Considering the wide array of £30k-£40k crossovers and SUVs vying to be your family’s next means of transportation, that’s no mean feat.
You can now choose from regular internal combustion, mild hybrid, full hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, with all electrified models getting the option of all-wheel drive. You can even get the mild-hybrid, 48-volt tech on a frugal 1.6-litre diesel, as well as on the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol that also features (in various power tunes) in the full- and plug-in hybrid.
There is, it seems, a Sportage for everyone regardless of the level of electrification you’re comfortable with, short of pure electric. Similarly, with five trim levels ranging from spartan, through sporty and up to sumptuous, you should be able to balance luxury and affordability to suit your bank balance.
So far we’ve only sampled the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine in regular, mild hybrid and full hybrid guises. Starting at the bottom, the conventional petrol is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox with a longish but easy shift action. With 148bhp, 0-62mph is a tepid 9.9 seconds according to official figures.
On the road there’s enough poke at sub-2000rpm engine speeds to make relaxed if not brisk progress. It’s a hushed companion when you’re pootling along if a little coarse when you wring its neck. Economy hovered around the mid-thirties, making this an engine that can’t quite match the Volkswagen group 1.5-litre TSI Evo for thirst or thrust.
If you want an automatic gearbox or plush ‘4’ trim you’ll need at least the mild hybrid version of the 1.6. It knocks 0.6sec off the official 0-62mph time although you won’t notice much of an uptick in performance on the road. Still, the smooth shifting auto suits the easy-going nature of the Sportage while the reduction in CO2 emissions will please company car choosers. Just don’t expect real world economy to be a great deal better.
Going full hybrid
Hybrid versions of the Sportage get a more powerful 178bhp version of the 1.6, which combined with a diddy battery pack and chunkier electric motor bring power up to 227bhp and 0-62mph down to 8.3 seconds. That makes the Sportage feel usefully quicker, with plenty of poke for easy overtakes should the need arise.
Refinement is excellent, with pure-electric running kicking in smoothly and frequently around town. It’s only if you go for an all-out burst of pace that the six-speed auto starts to chase its tail and leave the 1.6 turbocharged petrol four-pot sounding very shrill.
Even the most powerful all-wheel drive, full-hybrid HEV that we tested isn’t going to have you gunning for a good road. Like all Sportages, the steering is light and disconcertingly lacking in bite, even if you engage Sport mode and while grip is strong, it never feels particularly agile or entertaining. But it makes for a wieldy town car and a calm motorway cruiser.
Comfort, not corners
The Sportage is unashamedly comfort focused. It’s just a shame that you occasionally get a shuddering thump through the cabin over bigger potholes especially on the larger wheels of plusher models.
We also like Kia’s newfound, upmarket-style swagger. The bold and rather fussy exterior styling is undoubtedly a bit divisive, but the interior is great. It feels classy, and the 12.3-inch touchscreen that comes with all but entry ‘2’ trim is one of the best. It’s logically laid out, the graphics are sharp, and when the touch-sensitive panel beneath the screen isn’t being your air-con controls, it has nifty shortcuts to hop between sat-nav, radio and the like.
There’s oodles of space for two adults in the rear seats. You can also recline the seat backs or split and fold them in a 40/20/40 format. The boot is a fairly cavernous 587 litres (591 in the mild hybrid, and 540 in the PHEV), so you’re talking about usefully more space than a Nissan Qashqai or Ford Kuga.
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Kia Sportage: verdict
There’s no mistaking that the Sportage is now appealingly upmarket in its appearance, powertrain, tech and perceived quality. The problem is that its price has gone up, too. You can get a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid for less than a Sportage HEV, and the Sportage PHEV makes the Ford Kuga and VW Tiguan equivalents look cheap.
Yet the Sportage is better than ever, in most of the ways that matter. It’s just that it’s not getting any cheaper or entertaining to drive.