Kia's reintroduction of the Sportage in 2010 was a real masterstroke. A compact SUV -- Kia likes to use the currently on-trend definition 'Crossover' -- the Sportage was catapulted from a poor-driving, dreary back-marker to serious class contender in one edgily-styled, fine driving package.
The car changed the brand, too, turning Kia from a brand for budget-conscious pensioners to a desirable mainstream alternative. Three engines and the choice of front- or four-wheel drive give plenty of choice, but the 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel in front-wheel drive is the best all-rounder, and starts from around £19,000.
Yummy mummies with Range Rover Evoque aspirations but more modest budgets should seek out the Sportage. The first of Kia’s models to be introduced under its new design director -- who has Audi’s revolutionary original TT in his CV -- the Sportage appeals with its bold Kia grille and neat, detailed lines. There’s a solidity to its looks and stance that make it stand out, its on-road gravitas punching way higher than its price bracket. Much the same is true inside, Kia’s quest for mainstream respectability taking its interior fit and finish to levels once the preserve of that mainstream bastion of fine interiors -- Volkswagen.
Crossovers are the darlings of family set MPV deniers wanting hatchback practicality and space, but wrapped up in a chunkier, lifestyle statement package. Like its key Nissan Qashqai rival, it’s not actually that much bigger inside than a conventional hatchback, like a VW Golf or Ford Focus, but the added height does make getting in and out easier. That’s not just true for you, but for strapping in kids or chucking detritus into the boot. The boot itself is well-shaped and dropping the seats gives a large and flat-floored loadspace. Passenger head and legroom front and rear is decent, too.
Performance & handling
That Crossover stance inevitably means the Sportage isn’t quite as sharp as its conventional rivals on the road, but it’s not far off. The 2.0-litre CRDi is the fastest, and can be had in four-wheel drive, but for the majority the front-driven 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel provides plentiful grunt mixed with palatable day-to-day economy and running costs. The steering is nicely weighted and quick in its response, though it does feel slightly numb.
Ride comfort is more important in a vehicle such as this, and we're happy to report the Sportage excels here. Even when specified with the largest optional alloy wheels, the Sportage does a good job of smoothing out our less than perfectly surfaced roads. Grip levels are high, and you’ll not need four-wheel drive unless you live somewhere gritters don’t reach in the winter.
Economy & environment
Chose the two-wheel drive models if economy is your goal. Both the petrol and diesel engines come with stop-start technology to eek out every last possible mile per drop of fuel. The smallest diesel is, unsurprisingly, the most economical. It delivers 54.3mpg and 135g/km CO2, which is respectable among its class rivals. In the real world you’ll be lucky to get mid-40s mpg, but that’s also true of its competition.
Kia is still a brand with value at its core. The Sportage has 20,000 mile service intervals and a very generous 7 year, 100,000 mile warranty.
Equipment & value
Kia’s shift to mainstream respectability has done nothing to alter the general impression it's a brand that prides itself on value. So you can buy your Sportage safe in the knowledge that it’ll be specified on a level that’s better than virtually all its rivals. Simply classified as 1, 2 or 3 - with KX added to 2 and 3 trims -- even the entry-level 1 specification comes with air conditioning, electronic stability control, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control. Jump to 2 and you’ll gain part leather seats, rear parking sensors and climate control, while top-level 3 and KX3 come with leather seats among the extensive standard specification list.
Standard stability control and plentiful airbags mean the Sportage should protect you well should the worst happen. It achieved a five star result in the independent Euro NCAP crash tests. Its scores across the Euro NCAP spectrum -- including adult, child and pedestrian protection -- are all good. ISOFIX child seat fittings are standard, too.
You could buy a Nissan Qashqai and join the masses or opt for the stand-out Sportage instead. A good-looking, highly credible alternative in the crossover class, it’s a rival for mainstream and premium hatchbacks too. If you like its looks -- and what’s not to like -- and appreciate value it’s a hard package to ignore. Compact MPVs are ultimately more practical for the family market that the Sportage is likely to sell into, but if you’re not quite ready to give up on looking good over ultimate practicality then you could do a lot worse than the sharply-styled, fine driving Sportage.
Model tested: Kia Sportage 2
Engine: 1.7-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 11.9 seconds
Top speed: 107mph
Emissions: 135g/km CO2