Kia’s Sportage closes gap on its rivals

The new Kia Sportage has seen upgrades to its exterior and interior design, new powertrains have been introduced and a lot of new technology has been added to the mix, writes Declan Colley

THERE is no doubt that Kia is a motor company on the move in the right direction. They had two truly important launches last year — the Ceed and the revised and upgraded Sportage and both indicate that the company is now imbued with a lot more of the DNA necessary to make their cars popular with European tastes.

The Ceed was even the recipient of a highly-valued Examiner Motoring Car Of The Year award in the mid-range family car category on the basis that while it was not yet near perennial class leaders the Ford Focus and the VW Golf, it was a lot closer to these industry icons that at any time in its history.

It is a car that is going to sell in big numbers across Europe on the back not only of a seriously upgraded driving experience, but also on the basis of specification and price. That it has been specifically designed and fine-tuned to European tastes is a big help.

In this regard, Kia is hoping that the Ceed will follow in the footsteps of the mid-range Sportage crossover/SUV which has been a massive success for the company globally with over 5m of them sold since the car was introduced in 1993.

Peak sales for the Sportage here in Ireland occurred in 2017 when more than 3,000 of them hit the streets and while last year’s figure did not quite match that target (2,875 units registered), this could be explained by the fact there was a new one on the way as well as there being slightly more than a 4% overall drop in sales year-on-year on the Irish market.

Anyway, a new Sportage has arrived, or newer, at least. The exterior and interior designs have been upgraded, new powertrains introduced and a lot of new technology added to the mix.

To all intents and purposes, this has given the car the ammunition to get it back into an arm wrestle with class leaders such as the Hyundai Tuscon and the Nissan Qashqai.

Now the Sportage, like many of its rivals and especially including the two mentioned above, is primarily a family car and one which will never set your senses on fire with its all-round brilliance in respect of their driving or on-road behaviour.

But what it has always done really well is to provide a no-worry, no-fuss and hugely practical family driving experience. It might have been the essence of mediocrity — in the same way its rivals also are — but it has proven largely bombproof in terms of reliability and a very good car with which to do business when it came to trading it in.

It has been a massive success story for Kia — and deservedly so — and having recently driven the latest version, there is no reason to believe that anything will change in that department.

And there is every reason to believe that its appeal will broaden on the back of those revised powertrains, the improved interior and exterior designs and the extra kit that now comes as standard.

On the looks front, Kia had something of a problem moving things up a gear, mainly because the older version was pretty handsome anyway, but they have tried their best to keep the visual appeal by not tinkering too much with the overall appearance of the car.

Certainly they have brightened up the exterior look with a new front bumper, a new “tiger nose” grille (which can be had with either matt or gloss black finishes), revised LED headlights, new fog lamps and new gloss black or chrome inserts between the fogs and the air intakes.

At the rear Kia has done a similar makeover to smarten things up and the Sportage now also comes with a choice of 16, 17 or 19in alloys and the GT Line specification package adds even further visual fripperies. None of the changes, however, has altered the car dimensionally; height, width and wheelbase remain unchanged.

Essentially the interior remains unchanged — and it is still a tad on the gloomy side, so easy on the black and grey plastics next time guys — but there is a new steering wheel and instrumentation binnacle and the controls for the air con and ventilation have been revamped. The thing was, though, that while everything is a little dull to the eye, all the major controls are easy to hand and swiftly assimilated. This characteristic makes the car very easy to live with.

All the toys you expect from a car these days — infotainment, connectivity and so forth — are here and I must compliment just how intuitive and easy to live with these Sportage features are. The whole thing is not exactly an ergonomic triumph, but it is very good.

On the engine front, the tester we tried came with the new 1.6 litre turbodiesel ‘U3’ engine from the Kia/Hyundai stable. Said to be the cleanest diesel the conglomerate has ever made, it replaces the hoary old 1.7 knocker which we had become so familiar with down the years.

Buyers will have the choice of two outputs — 110 or 130 bhp — but I would recommend the latter if you are going to be driving the car over longer distances rather than as an about town family pick-up/delivery/shopper.

In truth, the lower output engine is going to be the main seller, not least because it has a manual rather than an auto ’box and it is decent enough to live with without in any way being spectacular. Top speed is a nothing-to-shout about 175km/h and the 0-100km/h dash is achieved in a relatively glacial 11.5 seconds, but for family drivers those figures will suit just fine.

The consumption figure will suit too, with the Sportage returning a 4.8 l/100km figure (58.3 mpg) over the combined cycle, while the 130g/km of emissions gives you a B1 tax rating for an annual tax bill of €270.

On the handling and ride front, Kia has stuck with the with struts up front and a multi-link rear suspension layout; this delivers a perfectly adequate drive but there is nothing really on offer here that will make you think that you are armed with an instrument from the Gods.

The deal then is this: Kia is anxious to move the brand upwards in buyers’ collective consciousness and with efforts such as the new Ceed and this new Sportage, it has very cleverly done just that without over-egging the recipe and spoiling the end product. Rather, it is slowly repositioning itself as a more sophisticated brand which is perceived as being able to mix it with Europe’s big boys.

This is indeed a paradigm shift in company thinking and it is one which will serve the already popular Sportage range very well indeed as it will further broaden appeal and perhaps even allow the Kia make further inroads against its closest rivals.

Colley's Verdict

The Cost: from €22,695 - €25,696 as tested

The Engine: a burbly and entertaining three pot

The Specification: pretty spectacular, all told

The Overall Verdict: knocking on the big boys’ door


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