Kia Sportage review

Fifth-generation compact SUVs do refinement, handling precision and technology well. Although the hybrid powertrain is limited in versatility and offers average economy, it does offer some good features.

It has been fascinating to observe the development of Kia over the past two decades.

It was a pioneer in European car design and then a master. There are a variety of showroom models from Stonic to Soul, Proceed to Stinger to Ceed, to Proceed to Stinger. You’ll be able to spot them immediately, and for the right reasons. The company now has a history; there is nothing to lose. What now? If a premium brand that makes beautiful cars thinks a polarizing, super-distinctive design is more valuable, then perhaps Kia is finally here. Personally, though, I prefer where the company is at this moment to where they seem to be heading.

It’s not afraid to take risks. If the Sportage compact SUV’s new design is any indication, it might be called ‘boldly avant garde’ instead of’studiously practiced and accomplished’. Although the fifth-generation Sportage is not a pretty car, as it was intended, it is a statement, just like the third-generation model. Its design is said to be inspired by nature. It is meant to appear “sophisticated but organic”.

It is certainly predatory. The car’s bursting, angular main features look a lot like something an oily Sigourney weave might have used to throw a flamethrower at. The sci-fi aesthetic is completed by a contrasting black gloss body trim. It’s distinctive. You betcha. You can call yourself a “Assertive” even if Kia prefers it. Attractive? But I am not convinced.

It will take a while for the car to become more comfortable. The car is very busy and contrived looking to me. Even after our two-hour test drive, it still gave me a visual jolt. Maybe that will change. When your canvas is a rather boxy and bluff SUV body it’s difficult to invent. It’s much easier to achieve this feat when you have a lower silhouette and a new EV skating platform, as the sleeker and more original EV6 shows.

The Sportage is a bold car both in terms of design and technology. It adopts the N3 platform from the larger Sorento SUV. This means it has a lighter and stiffer chassis. There are two fully electrified hybrid powertrains with four-wheel drive, as well as a pair of fully electric motors. For those who prefer something simpler, it retains both the mild-hybrid diesel and petrol engines from the previous-generation car.

This time the Sportage has been engineered and tuned in a dedicated-European-market, short-wheelbase form for production at Kia’s Slovak factory at Zilina, and yet useful gains on five-seat occupant space versus its predecessor are still claimed. The interior is more luxurious and packed with digital technology. The value-oriented buyer is not forgotten. Both entry-level petrol- and diesel versions will be available on the market in the first quarter of next year for as low as PS28,000.

Kia brought left-hand-drive, German-market-specification examples of the all-new 1.6-litre hybrid version of the car to the UK to generate some first road test impressions. They were comparable to the GT-Line S-trim Sportage models, which will arrive in the UK in the early part of next year.

The Sportage is a very pleasant car to drive. The Sportage’s flight console, which combines ultra-thin instrumentation with infotainment displays and widescreen ultra-thin information displays, curves in front of the driver. Lower-grade cars will have more conventional instruments and a smaller central display. It is also bracketed by unique fin-shaped air vents. The trapezoidal loop-shaped interior doors release pulls will be obvious too. The interior is designed to be as eye-catching as the exterior, and it does so well.

It is also a full-featured device that uses digital technology, but it is not the dominant one. Although they are a little more difficult to use initially, the ventilation controls can be used independently from the main touchscreen. A physical input device would be a good addition to the infotainment system. The car’s fixtures feel sturdy, secure, and robust. However, the car’s switchgear feels unashamedly plasticky at times. Some of Kia’s decisions about where to use soft-touch moldings and where to not bother are still a mystery.

The Sportage offers a lot of space in the cabin, but it is not the most spacious family car. You could spend between PS30,000 to PS40,000. Even for 6-footers, the back seats can be comfortably sized and comfortable enough to fit three children. The boot is comparable to or even better than what you would find in key competitors like the Skoda Karoq or Peugeot 3008. Although the hybrid model has nearly the same carrying capacity, the plug-in hybrid is more powerful.

The engine lineup of the mid-sized Kia SUV is unusually diverse. I wonder if the hybrid version will suffer from it. It is a hybrid. And the world wants one. It doesn’t have the same fuel economy as the mild-hybrid Sportage models. It’s also not much cheaper than the PHEV version with its significant potential economics and emissions gains. And, while it should be able to deliver some performance with 227bhp, and plenty of torque, it is a little short in that department. The hybrid system, which is familiar from the equivalent versions of Hyundai Santa Fe and Sorento, is very refined and smooth. It makes plenty of torque to roll-on responsiveness and easy roll-on. However it performs better when being driven at a more relaxed speed than when driving harder.

The Sportage can be left in Eco mode to seamlessly switch between electric and combustion-powered running. It can pick up speed at low speeds with high performance and then work its way up to 40 MPG in real-world situations.

You can use Sport driving mode to make the car more responsive to your inputs. The engine will be noisier at high speeds than you would like. And the gearbox’s operation may seem slow and a bit blunt. You won’t get a car that is as enjoyable to drive as you would like.

For a UK-spec test car, we should wait to make a judgement on the car’s ride and handling. This compact SUV should be one of the best-handling vehicles in the set, provided it has the right tyres, dampers, and is lighter than the full hybrid.

The vehicle feels wide but is still able to control its body movements. It handles well and has a minimum of agility. However, it doesn’t roll or heave like an SUV. The steering is a little numb and filtered, but it’s still intuitively-paced. While the Sportage rides a bit firmer and is more responsive than its competitors, it may not be for you if your preference is for a soft, absorbtive character for a large family car. However, it does require a complex road surface to upset it.

Although the car’s driving experience can seem a bit muddled at times, it works well enough to satisfy the needs of an interested driver in certain ways. I wouldn’t call this “plain or ordinary” given how this car looks. This car is a new face in a highly competitive market segment. It feels fresh and worth another look, regardless of how you view it.