Sportage loses sense of style as Kia's favourite grows up
THE Kia Sportage that sashayed into showrooms in 2010 was a proper breakthrough car for the ambitious Korean brand, writes William Scholes.
It wasn't just the fact that it was a voguish crossover, or that it had a seven-year warranty, or even that it had a value-for-money price tag.
No, what really made the Sportage school run catnip was its stand-out styling; it looked chunkily brilliant and good enough to eat, like a Yorkie bar on wheels.
It sold faster than chocolate at Easter, too. And with a new Ceed following hot on its heels, Kia was well on its way to joining the mainstream, where it is now firmly ensconced.
The Sportage is big business for Kia, representing around a third of the cars it sells in the UK and a quarter of its European sales.
Replacing such an important car is clearly no easy task, yet that is what Kia has finally plucked up the courage to do for 2016.
While improving the car in key areas - it now feels more robust and built of better quality materials, for example, and it is roomier and drives with more polish - it's hard to argue that the styling has been changed for the better.
The front of the car is particularly, erm, challenging. More than one member of the Drive car park and school run juries said Kia had made a big mistake with the odd headlamp and grille arrangement.
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder and you may think the latest Sportage is quite the looker. It is, at least, distinctive and who knows, perhaps it will all make more sense when the passage of time has softened the transition from catwalk frontrunner to also-ran.
Things are a lot better inside. Quality has ramped up several notches, there's more room for passengers and luggage and up-to-the-minute technology is available, such as wireless phone charging, automatic parking and a panoply of safety kit.
It is nicer to drive, too. The steering in particular is richer in feel than most other cars in this segment, the suspension is more sophisticated than before and the engines, revised versions of those found in the last Sportage, offer a decent range of driveability, performance and economy.
That being said, the test car's combination of the most powerful diesel engine and automatic gearbox is perhaps best avoided if frugality is top of your wish list (see At a glance panel).
The general air of improved refinement indicated by the posher cabin trim continues on the move. The engine is quiet and wind and road noise is decently suppressed.
It's still no sports car, but that strikes me as a well-judged decision on Kia's part; the Sportage is, first and foremost, family transport, where comfort is rightly a greater priority than the ability to corner on your door handles.
The test car was in so-called First Edition trim, a near £32k confection of everything Kia will let you load on to a Sportage. That means it gets luxury car goodies like a heated steering wheel, powered tailgate and heated and ventilated seats.
To be honest, there are better cars with superior engines and gearboxes available for that sort of money, and the Sportage makes more sense lower down the range - a '2' with the 1.7-litre diesel engine is probably the sweet spot at £22,050.
It is also worth noting that the game has moved on considerably since the last Sportage arrived.
The list of crossovers competing for customers' cash these days is long and accomplished.
The Nissan Qashqai is a perennial rival, but newer rivals include Renault's excellent Kadjar and the Hyundai Tucson.
In this exalted company it is no mean achievement to say that Sportage should be considered as one of the class leaders, and on your crossover test drive list.
It's a more polished, roomier and better quality car than before, but it's just a shame that the haute couture styling of the previous Sportage has been replaced by something a bit more high street.
:: AT A GLANCE
Kia Sportage 2.0CRDI First Edition
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, six-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 182bhp, 295lb/ft
Performance: Top speed 125mph, 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds
Fuel consumption: 44.8mpg (EU combined); 30.8mpg (real world)
CO2, road tax, benefit in kind: 166g/km - £300 in first year, then £210 annually - 33 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (90/83/66/71)