First Drive: Kia Sportage First Edition

Another month, another medium-sized SUV…

Ever since Nissan turned up with its Qashqai, the family SUV and crossover market has exploded, with competitors from virtually every manufacturer. Kia may have had the Sportage on sale as long ago as 1993, but memories of the capable but agricultural machine have long faded as the market demanded performance, comfort and tech. Off-road capabilities are simply no longer relevant, and the Sportage changed with the market.

There wasn’t a great deal wrong with the outgoing third-generation Sportage, but the market keeps moving forward so Kia had to thrust the fourth-generation car on us sooner rather than later.

It certainly splits opinion at first sight, with its huge grille dominating proceedings. Words such as ‘wide’, ‘frog’ and ‘gopping’ have all been used, but the style grows as you spend time with it. It’s bold, certainly, but works well in the right colours. The First Edition is available in five colours, but the white of this test car works well, especially when combined with black wheel arch extensions and indiscreet graphics along the flanks.

Available with just a 2.0-litre diesel engine, the First Edition also gets the full four-wheel drive system that can send power to any wheel. For those keen to test its off-road limits, a 50/50 front/rear locking diff is standard, but most of the time it’ll be dragging the car along by the front wheels only. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard across the range, but this First Edition gets a slick if not particularly quick six-speed auto.

Step inside and the bold styling gives way to something more muted, with the cabin being pretty conventional. It’s fully loaded with kit, including full leather trim, dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers and lights, self-parking, a neat reversing camera in the rear view mirror, bold 19-inch alloy wheels, a wireless mobile phone charger, a powered tailgate and a lot more. Really, ‘fully loaded’ doesn’t do it justice – I can’t imagine there are any optional extras left to tick, but then it should come with all the toys as the price is on the wrong side of 30 grand.

It’s disappointing then that some of the plastics feel so cheap. There aren’t many that feel bad, but one particular strip that traverses the entire width of the cabin, in full view of everybody, should be better. There’s also a lot of buttons, with four rows of them allowing you to adjust everything you might ever want to adjust.

It’s not difficult to get comfortable, and there’s plenty of space for five and their luggage. It remains comfortable on the road, thanks to Kia striking a fine balance between ride comfort and handling. It’s no sports car, but handles predictably and never feels like it’s going to cause any trouble. It’s almost entirely inert in fact, so don’t go chasing driving thrills, but the flip side is that it remains compliant on seemingly all road surfaces.

Exit any urban area and the 182bhp engine, while sounding like it might be a little underwhelming, actually cruises along nicely. Long gearing means revs remain low at speed, with just a discrete background hum reminding you that there’s something under the bonnet doing the work.

Only tyre noise intrudes, and that’s partly due to the larger wheels. Move down the range to something costing in the lower £20k region and the ride quality gets even better.

Venture off-road and the Sportage should cope pretty well thanks to the smattering of electronic aids, but my time with the Kia was all entirely tarmac based.

While the asking price might seem a bit steep, running costs are more realistic. Yes, financing £31,995 will cost a fair bit each month, but an official mpg figure of 44.8 means you’ll be using less fuel than you might expect, while a CO2 emissions figure of 166g/km means road tax is a realistic £205 per year. Company drivers will be facing a 40% tax bill of around £338 per month, thanks to that list price, but it could be worse.

All of which makes the new Sportage a pretty compelling package. The Ford Kuga is a more engaging motor, but SUVs are rarely driven in the style of a getaway car, so most buyers can overlook that.

With the reassurance of a seven-year warranty included in the price along with everything else, the Sportage First Edition offers an awful lot of bang for quite a lot of buck. It’s worth a look, but our money would be spent on one of the lower spec models in the range.

It may be yet another SUV, but this one has certainly earned its place towards the top.

Model Tested: Kia Sportage First Edition 2.0 CRDi 182bhp Auto
Price: £31,645
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel
Top speed: 125 mph
0-62 mph: 9.2 seconds
Power: 185 PS (182 bhp)
Torque: 400 Nm (295 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 44.8 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 166 g/km
VED Band: H / £205 per year
Car insurance group: 21A
Kerb weight: 1,690 kg
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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