Fashion fix

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Kia’s SUV crossover is certainly a looker, but does it stack up as an all-round package?. Andy Enright reports.

KIA is attempting to break into the lucrative SUV crossover market with its Sportage, a name that many of you will be familiar with. It used to adorn some workmanlike little 4x4s but the latest version of the Sportage has suddenly got rather stylish and targets a completely different clientele.

Style is a fickle thing. As many manufacturers have found to their cost, by the time their car is offered for sale, it runs the risk of looking desperately me-too in a market sector that has gone cold. Kia’s latest Sportage maybe a little late to the party but it is a handsome thing, and sure to get noticed.

It wasn’t always so. Previous generations of Kia’s inexpensive little 4x4 were never really stylish enough to sell in big numbers. The first generation car was the sort of thing you might have bought if you lived on a remote smallholding where nobody would see what you drove. The second generation model was a rebadged Hyundai Tucson that moved things on significantly but wasn’t in any way polished. The latest Sportage looks to have the glitz to mix it with the best crossover SUVs out there at a price they’ll find hard to match. Let’s see if the rest of the package can match up to the eyecatching styling.

Mindful of market requirements, let’s ignore how this Sportage fares in the mud because it’s just not relevant. These cars are usually used as suburban school run specials that have enough about them to take in the odd family holiday to Disneyland Paris or similar.

This Sportage is a little different to the class norm. Whereas cars like the Ford Kuga or the Nissan Qashqai have been engineered to offer a very taut, car-like driving experience, this is an altogether softer-sprung thing. OK, so it’s not as ‘flingable’, but for the sort of urban driving and motorway cruises its target customers will use it for, the Sportage feels a more relaxed comfortable thing.

The four-wheel drive 2.0 CRDi is powered by a 134bhp two-litre turbodiesel that will get it to 60mph in a reasonable 10.5 seconds, but the engine does its best work between 1800 and 2500rpm, where it feels lazily elastic, the turbo spooling up to deliver a very substantial 236lb/ft of torque. It’s deceptively brisk if you can keep the engine in the heart of the torque range, the languid throttle response belying how much shove there really is.

As well as this 2.0-litre diesel, Kia also offers a 1.7-litre diesel, plus 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol engines.

If you were wondering how Kia leapt from functional to funky in one generation, much of the credit goes to one man: Peter Schreyer. He’s the guy responsible for the design of the first Audi TT and he moved to Kia in 2006. In that time he’s been tinkering with facelifting some of their cars but the Soul and now this Sportage have his handiwork stamped all over them. It’s undoubtedly a good looking thing with Kia’s trademark ‘tiger nose’ grille, sculpted flanks, raked back C-pillar and the sharply angled rear window.

Inside, it’s just as stylish. The dashboard has some very nice design touches like the cowled instrument cluster with the big speedometer mounted centrally. And there’s tonnes of adjustment for both the driver’s seat and the steering wheel. The chunky windscreen pillars and slot-like rear window aren’t great for visibility but you do feel as if you’re in a very well built vehicle.

There’s lots of headroom all round and the virtually flat floor in the back helps rear seat accommodation. The only fly in the ointment is that the rear seats don’t fold totally flat, but the 591-litre load area is huge and Kia has done well getting this much space into a vehicle that’s 9mm shorter than the Vauxhall Astra.

The compact 4x4 was once a niche market product but these days, it’s unquestionably part of the mainstream. Prices start at under £17,000 for a 1.6-litre petrol model, but most customers will prefer to stretch to a diesel, for which you’ll need at least £18,000. The flagship all-wheel drive 2.0-litre models start at over £22,000. The Sportage is looking to nick sales from the likes of Skoda’s Yeti and Suzuki’s Grand Vitara - and if early data is anything to go by, it can also attract Ford’s Kuga, Nissan X-Trail and even Land Rover Freelander buyers.

All 1.6 and 1.7-litre versions feature Kia’s Intelligent Stop and Go (ISG) technology and while the new Dymax intelligent all-wheel-drive system is standard on every 2.0-litre model. Even the entry level model is well equipped, getting alloy wheels, air-con, rain sensing wipers, Bluetooth and cruise control. At the top of the range get a fully integrated 7-inch touch screen satellite navigation with built in reversing camera and an upgraded audio sound system.

Safety features on all Sportage models include front, side and curtain airbags, as well as active front head restraints, along with Isofix child-seat mountings for the outer pair of rear seats. Stability control and a hill-start system come as standard, too.

If you’re looking to save a bob or two - as most Kia owners traditionally have been - the front-wheel-drive Sportage models are the ones most likely to appeal. The 1.6-litre petrol is the most affordable and manages 44.1mpg and emits 149g/km of carbon dioxide. But spend another £1500 up front and the 1.7-litre diesel will give you loads more torque, making it more relaxing to drive, and also average over 54mpg with just 135g/km of CO2.

That said, the 2.0 CRDi tested here has all-wheel drive and a big-hearted 134bhp diesel engine that will return nearly 50mpg and manage 149g/km. This engine is also offered with an automatic gearbox but this bumps the CO2 figures up to 179g/km, dents fuel economy and can only really be recommended if you are driving the car in nose to tail traffic for a good proportion of its life.

Otherwise it’s hard to fault the Sportage’s financial proposition. Residual values are looking very sunny, insurance is reasonable with group ratings from 10 to 15 out of 50 across the line up, and then there’s the seven year/99,000 mile mechanical warranty that attracts so many to the Kia brand.

As long as you’re not expecting an off-roader in the traditional sense of the word, it’s hard to see how the Kia Sportage would disappoint. It’s well built, rides smoothly, offers a strong range of engines, a choice of front or four-wheel drive and - the clincher for many - it looks great.

Kia has made huge strides in design sophistication, engine efficiency and marketing savvy in recent years and this is reflected in the latest Sportage. With Kias of the past you used to need a spreadsheet to explain the rationale behind your buying decision. Now all you need is a photo.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

CAR: Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi

PRICE: £22,320

INSURANCE GROUPS: 14

CO2 EMISSIONS: 149g/km

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 10.5s / top speed 112mph

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (combined) 49.6mpg

STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: ESP, ABS, six airbags

WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length/width/heightmm 4440/1855/1635