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First drive: Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.

First drive: Kia Sportage
Kia moves the fourth-generation Sportage seriously upmarket.

   



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pre-production Kia Sportage

4 4 4 4 4

Kia's Sportage SUV is a crucial model to the brand and one that has been pivotal to the marque's transformation from bargain alternative into genuine mainstream player in recent years. So the Korean firm decided that for the fourth generation, due to launch in the coming weeks, it was going to pull out all the stops and attempt to push the car to the top of the class. We took a late pre-production model for a thrash along German autobahns and around the Nürburgring to find out if it's mission accomplished...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi (pre-production)
Pricing: from £17,995 to £31,645
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: four-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: from 119g/km (on 1.7 CRDi 115hp model, 2.0 CRDi tbc)
Power: 136hp at 4,000rpm ('Low power' 2.0 CRDi)
Torque: 373Nm at 1,500- to 2,500rpm

What's this?

Kia's big-selling mid-sized crossover, the Sportage. It has been around since 1993, but really it was the current third-generation car (launched in 2010) that altered the model's image from cheap 'n' cheerful also-ran into serious challenger in a hotly contested market segment. So this new and improved Mk4 version should simply fly out of the Kia showrooms, all things considered.

The aim has been to make the car more premium feeling inside and out, while also improving its manners when cruising. Whether Kia can actually pull off the ultimate trick and also give the Sportage a decent chassis that will entertain the keenest drivers is what we're here in Germany, driving two as-good-as-ready examples of the Kia, to find out. So confident is the carmaker that is has laid on access to both the Nürburgring's intimidating Nordschleife and the GP circuit in order to prove its point.

On hand are two representatives of the predicted Kia UK line-up. The first car totes a 1.6-litre GDI petrol unit mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). The second Sportage is a diesel, likely to be the biggest sellers in the UK. Kia is going to offer the old 1.7-litre unit with 115hp as an entry level, then likely split the 2.0-litre CRDi into 'Low' and 'High' power examples; we know the Low will have 136hp and 373Nm, while the High is likely to be in the 184hp ballpark while producing similar torque. What we don't know yet are any confirmed performance or eco figures, aside from the fact the Sportage will kick out at least 119g/km as a base 1.7 CRDi manual model with stop-start.

We can talk a little more about specification. Both the petrol and the diesel models we tested were GT Line examples, a new grade that will sit above the KX-2 and below the KX-3 in the middle of a trim hierarchy that will run KXs 1 to 4. That's all familiar stuff from the old car. The GT Line, meanwhile, is a sportier model and has equipment all of its own, while it's easily identified from its aluminium-adorned exterior styling and those quad 'ice cube' LED daytime running lights in the front bumper. Topping off the line-up in the UK will be a £31,645 First Edition, which is dripping with all the toys, although the best part of 32 grand for a Sportage might be a bit much for people to stomach. Various new features that will be seen on the Kia include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Kia Connected Services featuring TomTom software, an eight-speaker JBL premium sound system and wireless mobile phone charging.

Which leaves us with the looks. The interior is glorious. Kia has made huge strides forward on this score in recent years, but even so, the Sportage's cabin is the new pinnacle. There's not a single bit of switchgear nor trim finish nor digital display that doesn't look classy, expensive and capable of mixing it with the likes of Volkswagen, never mind Ford et al. It's spacious within, the semi-command driving position is a delight and even the boot has been improved, with a lower floor and better shaping of the cargo area to take its basic capacity past 500 litres. This is a properly premium cockpit and we heartily approve of it.

Outside, it's a slightly different story... and, of course, also wholly subjective depending on your own personal tastes. For what it's worth, in the main we love the crisp, sharp look that Peter Schreyer and his team of designers have bestowed on the Sportage, while GT Line trim really works well too; but it's those headlights that bother us. Kia has deliberately separated them from the tiger nose grille and it's clearly going to define the 'corporate family face' of the brand on models to come, but such high-set lamps are very reminiscent of a Nissan Juke and we're not convinced the front of the car is as attractive as that which is being phased out. Still, each to their own, eh?

How does it drive?

Let's keep calm about the Green Hell links for now - we hardly took the Kia for a 'sub-nine-minute bridge-to-gantry' blast of white-knuckled terror. In fact, we hardly got out of fourth gear on the Nordschleife, as bits of it were being resurfaced, so it was more like a genteel safari tour, but without any significant wildlife. Save German tarmac repair gangs. However, we were free to drive it a bit harder on the GP circuit and it was there that the Sportage most impressed.

Completely out of its comfort zone lapping a track used for Formula 1 races, the Sportage nevertheless proved to be extremely well-sorted. The body control was excellent, the brakes were strong and it seemed keen to turn in and hold a decent line. The multimode steering remains a Kia weak spot, as cycling between Sport and Comfort settings didn't seem to do anything in terms of feedback and instead merely made the wheel feel even less connected to the front tyres. Apart from that, though, the whole car was much better than expected - it has a lovely gearbox and clutch, too.

So, that irrelevant bit of the circuit-based test drive tomfoolery out of the way, how was the car on the road? It was supremely composed. The ride is supple at all times, tyre and wind noise are well suppressed (even at over 100mph on the autobahn) and Kia has worked wonders on the 2.0 CRDi engine. It might be a carry-over item from the old car but the company has made significant improvements to both its smoothness and how much of its noise enters the cabin. The diesel also feels muscular and happy to rev, while the performance is strong.

As for the petrol version, we didn't have as long behind the wheel of that car, although we can tell you the DCT gearbox is light years ahead of Kia's recent automatic transmissions in terms of the fluidity with which it changes gear, while even the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine didn't feel lost in the Kia's sizeable body. All in all, even when not driving the finished article, the Sportage looks like it is going to be a serious contender for class honours.

Verdict

We're going to refrain from giving the Kia Sportage Mk4 anything more than four stars for now, mainly because there are still a few things we need to find out about its character on more varied tarmac and in trickier traffic conditions, while we also want to hear the full run-down of each model's data. But aside from its slightly gawky face and inert steering, there's not much at this stage that we dislike about the fourth-gen Sportage. For that reason, we're really looking forward to driving the finished product.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 26 Jan 2016



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2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.



2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.
 

2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.
 

2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.
 

2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.
 

2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.
 

2016 Kia Sportage. Image by Kia.
 






 

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