The better motoring journalists – and I mean journalists not writers; look for the difference – can be a cynical lot and rightly so. Yes, we can be wrong sometimes, but most of us thought the last Kia Sportage had a style that previously had evaded the Korean car maker. It was clean and cloaked proven mechanicals.
But the fourth generation of Kia£€™s best seller in the UK really moves the game on. There£€™s a much stronger, more distinctive £€˜face,£€™ a sportier look and a much more upmarket interior.
The Slovakian-built Sportage offers a choice of four engines with five different power outputs and three gearboxes. A new 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission are available in the new GT-Line trim models.
With 174bhp it can deliver brisk performance but you need to work the engine hard and my test car recorded 18.6mpg. C02 emissions are quite high at 177g/km. Prices start at £17,995 for the 1.6 litre 130bhp non turbo petrol manual and the range is topped by the limited production run First Edition model at £31,495.
Available only in white or black, it is further identified by some cheap looking stickers below the doors like some Porsche cars. Fitted with everything but a wok, the specification includes metallic paint, parking assist, electric tailgate, wireless mobile phone charger and two tone grey upholstery.
The front seats are heated and ventilated, there£€™s a heated steering wheel and the car can steer itself into parking spaces, it sensors having assessed there is enough room. There£€™s great lumbar support for the driver£€™s back and plenty of head and legroom in the rear pews.
All versions except entry level have a touch screen satellite navigation screen with TomTom European mapping but the graphics look old. Six speed manual gearboxes are fitted to every model but the 2-litre diesels are also available with six-speed auto.
There was no opportunity to try the Sportage off-road or, for a change, on a wet road as we were blessed with dry weather. Some models are available with part-time all-wheel drive, which can send 40% of the power to the rear wheels if the front ones start to spin.
For off-road driving the transmission can be locked to give a 50:50 power split front to rear. The Sportage is quieter on the move but the steering is still electronically assisted. It has more weight but little £€˜feel£€™ for road grip.
The automatic transmission on the 2-litre diesel was quite slow to change gear. Even running on big 19in alloy wheels the Sportage rode surprisingly well but the more limousine ride was delivered by the 114bhp 1.7 litre diesel running on 17in wheels and would be my choice.
The car is more mature and only shows weaknesses if you push it hard on twisty roads when it becomes less confident and surefooted and the engines rather strained. Kia£€™s appointment of BMW handling and engine and transmission guru Albert Biermann shows its determination to improve in these areas.
Boot space is better than the Nissan Qashqai but the rear seats are more fiddly to fold. Boot volume is 491 litres, increasing to 1,480 with the seat folded.
You will be able to get a £€˜1£€™ trim model for £139 per month on a PCP plan. The GT Line will be £219. Kia had its best year ever in the UK last year with sales of 78,489 and is targeting sales of 84,000 for 2016.£
The company has ten new models planned for launch by 2020 and only half are replacements for existing cars.
Verdict Kia£€™s best seller gets better. Rivals should worry.