Accepting that SUVs have a genuinely purposeful role to fulfil, which more than justifies their increasing numbers on our roads, it is intriguing to note that Kia is addressing the present ‘anti-diesel’ issues by leading its latest Sportage range with a turbo-petrol model. Yet, the Sportage is not exactly the smallest, or most lightweight (1,637kgs) of SUV contenders, which makes its performance envelope all the more outstanding.
In GT-Line S automated gearbox all-wheel drive form, priced (pre-forces discount) at £32,120, it is truly an all-singing-and-dancing family car. However, its engine is Kia’s direct injection, turbo-petrol unit, displacing 1,591cc, which is not exactly the largest in the class. Yet, it develops a more than adequate 174bhp (with 195lbs ft of torque, which is great for towing up to 1.6-tonnes and tackling all manner of terrain) and drives through a deliciously fluent 7-speed, twin-clutch, automated-manual transmission. In fact, its delivery is eager enough to despatch the 0-60mph sprint in a zippy 8.8s, before hitting a maximum speed of 125mph. It is far more ‘warm hatchback’ than I believed was possible.
As to those detail changes, a markedly improved driving position has been achieved within a leather-lined, sportingly red-stitched cabin that feels delightfully upmarket, with its ‘stitched’ and ‘soft-touch’ dashboard. Crystal clear instrumentation is supported by high-quality switchgear and a touchscreen positioned in the right place at the top-centre of the dash. There is nothing ‘missing’ for button fans and a satisfying familiarity and logic exists for the rows of pushbuttons and switchable driver aids.
Externally, revised LED lighting at both the front and rear of the Sportage, as well as a softened radiator grille shape, give it a Porsche-esque appeal (it looks similar to a Cayenne model). Subtle applications of chrome and shiny metal trim are balanced by new 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels that look the absolute business. Of course, Kia has used this opportunity to bolster the number of electronic driver and safety aids fitted to the car, as well as improving connectivity (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth) to keep up to date with the latest developments.
Although the engineering of Sportage remains essentially the same as before, I feel that both suspension and sound-deadening have been doctored mildly, because not only are the ride quality and handling capabilities of the new model improved but the car feels more refined overall. Geared to pull just over 31mph/1,000rpm, the new Sportage’s cruising ability is also improved and, thanks to a moderately slippery outline, it cleaves through the air very well on only a whisker of throttle, which means that 36.2mpg is eminently achievable, although its 174g/km CO2 emissions do equate to a first year road tax bill of £830 (£145 annually thereafter).