The fourth-generation Kia Sportage, going through final development work ahead of its impending launch. And it would seem the Korean firm is determined to put the emphasis on the first syllable of the mid-sized crossover’s model name this time around.
Because Kia took us to no less a location than the Nürburgring to drive two pre-production examples of the all-new car. Like many manufacturers, Kia has a permanent R&D centre situated next to the track so that it can hone its vehicles on the world’s most famous 13 miles of bumpy tarmac. That should ensure it can cope with the sort of lumpen inner city roads you’d find in, say, the back streets of Slough, a slightly less glamorous location than the Eifel Mountains.
Surely a crossover like the Sportage doesn’t need to do endless laps of the Nordschleife?
Quite the contrary. Sitting in Kia’s garages next to the D258 – the road that runs alongside the longest straight on the circuit – was a very basic specification Mk4 Sportage that had done 6,000 miles, or more than 460 laps, of the track at high speed. It looked pretty cool, actually, given its front alloys were absolutely thick with the accumulated brake dust of the hard miles.
OK, so has this worked? Is the new Sportage an SUV that majors on the ‘S’?
Well, we’re not about to call it a mini-Macan, but it’s certainly a lot sharper than the outgoing Sportage. Body control is impressive enough that a couple of quick laps of the GP circuit didn’t turn into a tyre-howling mess and yet out on the roads and Autobahns leading to and from Frankfurt airport, the Kia proved to have a very comfortable ride. The brakes are impressive in terms of bite and pedal feel, while the two engines and transmissions we tried were excellent.
Which drivetrains were they?
A 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine mated to the new seven-speed DCT twin-clutch gearbox and the familiar 2.0 CRDi diesel with a six-speed manual. We spent more time in the diesel but what we can tell you about the petrol/DCT is that it’s a smooth operator, the small-capacity engine more than capable of shifting the Sportage’s bulk and the transmission light years ahead of Kia’s current self-shifters.
And how about the CRDi?
It’s the winner. The 2.0-litre unit has the same basic architecture as that which has gone before, but Kia has worked hard to improve its refinement in all departments. Whether hammering the Sportage to its redline through the lower gears, or simply holding a steady 120mph cruise on the Autobahn, the diesel never becomes loud and uncouth. In fact, so quiet is it that when we hopped out at one point for a driver change, we were so convinced that the engine had gone into start-stop mode that we almost tried restarting the CRDi when it was still running. Whoops.
What’s the interior like?
Superb. As good as the Mk3 Sportage’s cabin was, it still had one or two bits of haphazard switchgear and hard plastics. In the new car, any such items are eradicated and as a result it feels like a thoroughly premium product. The instrument cluster displays are sharp and attractive, the touchscreen satnav features clear graphics and it’s a very pleasant place to be. Masses of room in the back and the boot, too.
Is there anything you don’t like about the Sportage?
Well, while the crisp exterior styling is largely successful, we’re not 100 per cent convinced by the Kia’s face. Separating the headlights from the ‘tiger nose’ grille is clearly the firm’s latest design direction – it looks like the forthcoming Niro hybrid will get the same treatment – and yet it gives the car a slightly bug-eyed, gormless expression. Also, Kia still hasn’t got the hang of its variable mode steering, as no matter which setting you opt for, it feels lifeless.
OK, I can live with that. What are the prices and trims like?
The core trim line-up will run KX-1 to KX-4, with this GT Line – a sportier spec of the car, featuring the quad ‘ice cube’ LED daytime running lamps and various styling addenda – sitting slap bang in the middle of the KXs. At launch, there will also be a First Edition limited run Sportage that tops the tree, costing from (gulp) £31,645, although more reasonably the Kia crossover begins at £17,995.
Should I buy one?
Well, we’d need to drive the finished article for a little longer on UK roads to place it definitively within its class, but the early signs are positive. If you can live with that front-end styling, that is.
1995cc, 4cyl, 4WD, 134bhp, 275lb ft, tbc mpg, from 119g/km CO2 (on 1.7 CRDi), 0-62mph tbc, tbc mph, tbc kg