Kia's improved fourth generation Sportage is at its most afforadable in base front-driven 1.6-litre Gdi petrol form. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Kia's improved Sportage is stiff competition for both Qashqai-like Crossovers and RAV4-like compact SUVs. Even in entry-level front-driven 1.6-litre GDi form, it's a very complete - and surprisingly desirable - family car.
Family SUVs - Nissan Qashqai-like family hatches with car-like dynamics and running costs that belie their crossover-style looks and optional 4WD - are big business in Britain these days. From almost nowhere a few years ago, this class of car now accounts for over 15% of the UK market. Such a lucrative sector is it that today, we have all kinds of models claiming to be 'SUVs'. Some, like the Qashqai of course and Peugeot's 3008, clearly are more family hatch than 4x4. Others, like Ford's Kuga and Skoda's Karoq, look far more like the kind of model that until a few years ago, we would have classified as a soft-roading SUV. Visually, Kia's improved fourth generation Sportage falls somewhere in between these two extremes.
The current enhanced version of this car is basically a development of a smart predecessor that transformed Kia's sales in this segment. All that car needed was a smarter interior and a bit more technology, things this redesigned version is well ready to deliver. Most of its buyers will be quite happy with the 2WD models that make up the majority of the range, variants like the most affordable 1.6-litre GDi petrol version we look at here.
Behind the wheel, the feeling is far more RAV4 SUV-like than the more ordinary family hatch-like feel of the Nissan Qashqais and Peugeot 3008s that Kia says this car competes against. A lot of buyers will think that a very good thing. It's certainly impressive the way that the designers have managed to combine a commanding driving position with a seat that's easy to slide in and out of. High-sided flanks, a nose invisible from the driver's seat and a small rear window do make this a car that demands a little adjustment if you're trading up from something more conventional, but once you adapt, you should find the Sportage to be an easy thing to live with.
Of course, the car isn't intended for those planning a jungle expedition. It'll be equally ineffective if you want to corner Lewis Hamilton-like on your door handles, a pastime far more suited in this sector to cars like Ford's Kuga or Nissan Qashqai. So what exactly does it offer? Well, something that's probably far better suited to the kind of driving that most potential family buyers will actually do: a softer, more relaxed approach that balances body control, handling response and ride comfort aided by hi-tech multi-link rear suspension in a very impressive fashion. If the Koreans could make the variable assistance power steering a little more feelsome, it'd be even better still. The 1.6-litre GDi variant's petrol engine isn't any ball of fire, but rest to 62mph in 11.1s en route to 113mph should be enough for most.
There are no further visual changes to this updated Sportage: there didn't need to be as the range was aesthetically updated as recently as Autumn 2018. 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. At the rear, top versions get full-LED tail lamps with a special illuminating 'C'-shaped signature. This Kia is a fraction larger than the SUV C-segment class norm. The standard version's 4,485mm-length makes it 91mm longer than a Nissan Qashqai and 122mm longer that a SEAT Ateca. The 'GT-Line' variants are 10mm lengthier still.
There is an important change inside though. All versions in the Sportage range now feature the Korean maker's most sophisticated 'frameless' eight-inch touchscreen satellite navigation system, which comes with the brand's latest UVO Connect telematics system, plus as before, there's 'Android Auto'/'Apple CarPlay' and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity. Otherwise, it's as before. The exterior dimensions lead you to expect a decently spacious cabin, which is what you get, with plenty of head and elbow room.
And at the back? Well if you've previously owned or test driven a rival comparably-priced Qashqai or Ateca, you should notice how much extra leg room is freed up by that slightly lengthier body; it really is significant and aided by scalloped front seat backs. The rear bench backrest reclines and headroom's reasonable too, despite the sloping roofline. Out back, boot space is rated at 491-litres in petrol models, extendable to 1,480-litres if you fold the rear seat.
The Sportage 1.6-litre GDi petrol model is offered only with base '2'-level trim and pricing that sits respectively at either £23,500 for '2'-trim or around £26,500 for plusher '3'-spec. The asking figures represent a saving of around £1,600 on the equivalent 1.6-litre CRDi mild hybrid diesel version. This normally aspirated GDI petrol derivative, like most entry-level family SUVs, only comes in 2WD form and can only be had in front-driven manual guise. This improved fourth generation Sportage is looking to nick sales from the likes of Skoda's Karoq and maybe also its close cousin, the Hyundai Tucson - and if early data is anything to go by, it can also attract buyers looking at slightly pricier cars like Ford's Kuga, Mazda's CX-5 and even Toyota's RAV4.
Both models come well equipped. Even the grade '2' variants come with alloy wheels, heated front and outer rear seats, dual automatic air conditioning, privacy glass, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain sensing front wipers, automatic light control, electrically folding, adjustable and heated door mirror, cruise control with speed limiter and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
In addition, there's Trailer Stability Assist (TSA), Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC), Downhill Brake Control (DBC) and cruise control. Plus lots of camera safety kit. This includes a Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) to alert a tired driver who may be about to stray into the path of a vehicle approaching from behind. Plus High Beam Assist (HBA) to switch between full and dipped beam automatically when there are other vehicles in their vicinity on unlit roads. And a Speed Limit Information Function (SLIF) within the instrument cluster.
Customers have much higher expectations of family SUVs these days when it comes to running costs - but this Sportage struggles a bit here. This GDI unit is one of Kia's older engines and that shows when it comes to the WLTP stats. The next powerplant up in the line-up, the 174bhp 1.6 T-Gdi petrol turbo engine, is actually hardly any dirtier than the 130bhp 1.6 GDI normally aspirated unit (183g/km as opposed to 177g/km). The base 130hp powerplant manages an unremarkable 36.2mpg on the combined cycle.
Like the rest of the Kia range, the Sportage is sold with the excellent seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty. It is fully transferable should the car be sold before the time or mileage limits have been reached. Fixed cost servicing also brings additional peace of mind via the Kia Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing package, offering retail customers inflation-proof servicing for the first three or five years.
Kia hasn't made a huge step forward with this enhanced fourth generation Sportage model, but the improvements are certainly welcome. The 7-inch infotainment screen of the earlier version has been updated and there's certainly a greater dose of the kind of technology that modern buyers tend to want nowadays.
Best of all is this car's value proposition. The fuel and CO2 returns aren't anything to write home about in this 1.6-litre Gdi petrol guise but the major drawcard of this entry-level model is its affordable price. Around £24,000 gets you a quite lot of car.
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