'Our various testers have found the interior to be a useful improvement on what went before. The boot's better too....'
Kia is one of the world's fastest-growing car makers. Why? Well because it tunes in more effectively than many of its rivals to what buyers actually want. And what many of them clearly want is something like the Sportage Crossover model we've been running on our long term test fleet for the last few months. It certainly seems to tick a lot of boxes, this fourth generation model offering strident looks, accomplished driving dynamics and a much nicer cabin. It's a car the Qashqai-class certainly seems to like and to find out why, we've been clocking up the miles on one for the last few weeks. Kia has provided a new 1.6 T-GDI petrol engine fr the MK4 model range, but more buyers continue to want a diesel. Possibly the entry-level 114bhp 1.7-litre CRDi unit but more likely the 134bhp and 182bhp 2.0-litre powerplants you have to have if you want 4WD. It was the 2.0-litre 4WD version we elected to try. Prior to this test, we'd had quite a lot of experience of the previous third generation Sportage, so when venturing out in this MK4 model, the stiffer chassis, re-tuned suspension and redesigned steering system were immediately obvious. All these changes have been made in pursuit of a firmer, sportier, more European-feel at the wheel and that's broadly what's been achieved. Just be aware that the experience is very different to what was on offer previously. As are the looks. Strong aesthetics were high on the list of reasons why customers bought the previous generation model. This fourth generation version doesn't perhaps quite have the elegance of that car but arguably, a bit more streetside presence has been introduced this time round, particularly at the front end, which seems to remind many of a junior league Porsche Cayenne. Trademark Sportage touches include the windscreen's castellated top edge and the way that the raked-back C-pillar contrasts with the angled rear window. This is in short, a confident piece of penmanship.
Our various testers have found the interior to be a useful improvement on what went before. It's slightly easier to get in and out for a start, because the floor has been lowered by 40mm and once behind the wheel, you get a driver-centric fascia that's a little more angled towards the driver, with flush-fitting fixtures and trim, soft-to-the-touch materials and smart detailing like the silver trim used around the airvents. It's a big step forward from the cabin of the previous model, which we thought wasn't really able to match the sophistication of the exterior styling. Here, though you still wouldn't imagine you were in a premium brand product, it's a world away from the kind of thing you'd have found in a Kia even five years back. Helping in this regard is a reduction in the number of switches and buttons thanks to the installation of a centre dash infotainment touchscreen, a standard feature providing you avoid entry-level trim. In the back, my kids have noticed that the seats are more comfortable than they were before. They offer firmer side supports and softer foam, plus my teenage daughters were delighted to find that they reclined for greater comfort on longer trips. Headroom's reasonable too, despite the sloping roofline. Not so good is the rather claustrophobic feel created by the dark trim and the narrow side windows - also a problem with the previous generation version of this car. Kia has mitigated things a little this time round though, with a wheelbase increase that significantly enhances legroom by around 16mm. There's no change in cabin width though, so three adults continue to be as closely aligned as they usually tend to be in this class of car. At least here, things are helped a little in that regard by a relatively low transmission tunnel. Boot space seems to be a strongpoint of this Sportage too. We've appreciated the 26-litre increase over the MK3 model - the total is now 491-litres with a temporary spare wheel in place, a feature by the way that's standard across the range, providing you avoid the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol engine. A lot of other rivals in this class fob you off with fiddly tyre mobility kits - and still can't match the cargo space on offer here. A Nissan Qashqai, for example, has 61-litres less, while comparable Crossovers like Ford's Kuga and Subaru's XV are even more restricted than that. Another key Sportage selling point we've had a chance to muse over is the much-trumpeted 7 year / 100,000 mile package. Most cars in this class come only with an unimpressive three year/60,000 deal. It's worth pointing out though, that when you read Kia's small print, you discover that you only actually get seven years of cover on the engine and gearbox: it's 100,000 miles and five years for everything else. Still, the overall package remains a great thing to be able to offer customers on the secondhand market, one reason why residual values of this car out-smart those of most direct rivals. Overall, our expectations were high when we took on this fourth generation Sportage - and it's satisfied many of them. It's a product with greater quality that's safer, better equipped, more media-savvy and nicer to drive. Plus, whatever you think of the looks, you have to admit that the car now has a more significant degree of streetside presence. Of course, there are still boxes left for Kia to tick, but many of them will be when the brand rejuvenates its engine technology. In the meantime, we think what's on offer here is enough to keep this model competitive in a way that will probably lead to further sales success in this segment. It's a certainly a confident car, firm in stance, in ride and in the value proposition it offers - exactly in fact, the sort of thing many Qashqai-class buyers will be looking for. Yes, you could pay much more for a Crossover of this kind. But after trying a Sportage, you might well end up questioning the need to. Which says it all really.
Facts at a Glance
FACTS AT A GLANCE CAR: Kia Sportage PRICES: £18,000-£31,650 - on the road INSURANCE GROUPS: 11-21 CO2 EMISSIONS: 119-177g/km PERFORMANCE: [2.0 CRDi AWD 134bhp] 0-62mph 11.3s / Max Speed 112mph FUEL CONSUMPTION: [2.0 CRDi AWD 134bhp] (Combined) 44.8mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front side and curtain airbags, ESC, trailer stability, tyre pressure warning, ABS WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: Length/Width/Heightmm 4480/1855/1635mm WHO TO SEE: