Some people are prejudiced against Kia, but I'm equal-opportunity. I love the Soul. And I'm quite happy to make positive noises about the reasonably priced Cerato. I have noted that Hyundai-Kia (they're one company) globally outsells Fiat and Renault combined.
Kia has form in night-and-day reinventions of its cars. So I'm expecting goodness from the Sportage, even though the old one was a clunker. This Sportage has an all-new monocoque platform and engines, both shared with the Hyundai iX35.
It'll make a deep first impression, because of its extremely striking clothes. It's pitched at the more car-like end of the crossover scale and the slit-like side windows take crossover design in a new direction. There's plenty of careful detailing front and back too. Perhaps no great surprise, given Kia's design chief, Peter Schreyer, found his fame at Audi during what I still think was the brand's golden design era.
Indoors, the Sportage's design is a bit fresher than the usual soft-roader cliches too. And roomy, which is what's going to sell it to families. Admittedly, the boot's shallow, but that's only because Kia is kind enough to throw in a full-size spare alloy.
For the moment, you can have it in 2WD with a 2.0-litre or either 2WD or 4WD a 2.4-litre petrol, or a 2.0 diesel, with 4WD, an auto gearbox, and top-end spec: pretty much everything bar satnav is present and correct. Taking into account what's included, this top end one is decent value at $38,990.
And it goes well. The 0-100 is a mediocre 10.2secs but luckily it feels worth more than that, thanks to a wide spread of torque and a six-speed gearbox. For a hard-working diesel, it's refined. In fact, general noise is low.
But for a car that's supposed to compete with the Dualis, ix35, ASX and the soon-to-be-released Skoda Yeti, the Sportage feels big and cumbersome on the road. The ride's comparatively soft, which is no bad thing in itself, but it's combined with a strange corkscrew motion over bumps that gets a lot worse if youput in any sort of sudden steering movement. Which you probably wouldn't do anyway, because the steering is vague and gluey. It feels like it's on chunky off-road tyres, but it isn't. I'm not talking about putting an off-roader through GTI-like extreme cornering, by the way. These are things that manifest themselves at gentle speeds where any of those rivals would be perfectly untroubled.
Distinctive looks, impressive engine, decent value, bit of a let-down chassis? Think of it as the Alfa Brera of crossovers.