By Dominic Parkes
Such was my eagerness to review another Kia product I forgot it had only been about nine months since I’d previously caressed a Kia steering wheel.
A lot can change in nine months, as we all know. But not here. Another chance to witness the enormous strides that the South Korean car company has made in recent years is no hardship at all.
If you are keen to see how far they have travelled, just type ‘2006 Kia’ on the internet search engine of your choice and prepare to pull a sad face. The rise of Kia has coincided with, or perhaps stemmed from, the recruitment 10 years ago of Peter Schreyer, who designed the Audi TT.
The last generation Sportage launched in 2010 showed Kia could make good-looking, stylish and great-value cars, all backed by a 100,000 mile or seven-year warranty.
The fourth-generation car builds on these strengths and pushes the Sportage towards the top of the small SUV class. It combines a high quality, tactile and well- thought-out cabin, and with its elevated driving position and heated seats, it made the Christmas journey (if not destination) a pleasure.
I struggled to find absolute comfort in the driving seat but I think that was more to do with me not spending enough time playing with the multi-directional electric seats to get it spot on. Too much choice, I guess.
Rear seat room is very generous, and the large glass roof makes it feel very airy. The boot and split folding rear seat enabled us to get a seven-foot Christmas tree in, without the two back-seat passengers being uncomfortable.
Available in just one five-door body style, the Sportage does, however, come with a choice of two- or all-wheel-drive, and a relatively broad spread of petrol and diesel engines.
An automatic is available and would probably have been better suited, but the six-speed manual I had was fine, and ultimately, it depends on your driving style.
The all-wheel-drive model I had made for a very confident and secure-feeling journey on Wiltshire’s wet and greasy December roads. On the motorway, it felt reassuring and not at all heavy and ponderous.
Nice to see a differential lock button beside the gear stick – so if I did venture off road, I’d stand a good chance of not getting stuck and looking a numpty. On road it has a smooth and strong power delivery with well-spaced gear ratios. The brakes, cornering-ability and steering are very good.
A lot of new vehicles have removed buttons and made access for the radio or climate control through a touch screen only. Thankfully, Kia have not followed suit and have supplied a good few buttons and switches to do the job. As a consequence, the Sat Nav is easy to use and does the job beautifully. The rear camera was very useful too.
The engines may not be the most fuel efficient and CO2 friendly in class, but are strong and proven units which feel as if they will provide no trouble for years, which is probably why Kia has the confidence to offer the long warranty.
It also takes styling cues from Porsche. Honestly, just squint a little, and the front DOES look like a Cayenne.
Thank goodness the similarities stop there.