"The Kia Sportage is a good value, practical and smart competitor in the crossover market."
The Kia Sportage is a great example of just how far Kia have come in the last half decade. An excellent SUV, it was named CarBuyer's first ever Car of the Year in 2011, before claiming our Best 4x4 title in 2012. Its futuristic style - designed by the man behind the Audi TT - remains different from rivals like the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti and will suit people who like to be noticed. All versions are equipped with alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and LED daytime running lights as standard. It also looks good on the inside, where the list of standard equipment is as long as your arm (and more). If you look closely you may well find some cheap plastic trim, but that's just nit-picking given its surprising premium feel. The Sportage first came to market with only a single 134bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine with four-wheel drive, but it's now available with smaller petrol and diesel engines, plus a front-wheel drive option that makes the most sense. It comes with the seven-year warranty offered by Kia on all its cars, and what it lacks in brand appeal, it more than makes up for in looks, equipment and value for money.
The aim of any crossover is to blend what's best about a tall SUV with the finest qualities of a family hatchback. In this regard, the Sportage isn't entirely successful. It's not as precise to drive as a decent hatchback or the Skoda Yeti, with bouncy suspension tending to wobble you about a bit on uneven roads. Meanwhile, the 2.0-litre diesel does work very well at low revs (and is the preferred option), with the smaller engines needing to work that bit harder to even try to match it. The 4x4 models (KX) are easy to drive, with a lock switch to help with traction control when needed. The view out the front is fine, but the small rear windows often make reversing into parking spaces a bit tricky.
As well as the bouncy suspension, the diesel engine can get a bit noisy, especially when starting up from cold. However, there's little to no wind or road noise on the motorway, so it's very relaxing on a long-distance drive. The generally comfy seats are actually fairly flat, but still give good support. The driver's seat has a lot of both rake and reach adjustment in the steering wheel, and there's enough head and legroom in the back for adult passengers to be relatively comfortable.
You may find the odd bit of cheap-looking plastic, but on the whole the interior of the Kia Sportage has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years and the cabin generally looks and feels good. Reliability should be impressive, especially thanks to Kia's confident seven-year/100,000-mile warranty. Kia is consistently a good performer in customer satisfaction surveys, and with electronic stability control, ABS, ISOFIX child-seat points, front, side and curtain airbags, hill-hold assist, a roll-over sensor and headrests designed to prevent whiplash fitted as standard, it's no wonder it scored the full five-star Euro NCAP crash safety score. The Sportage also placed 22nd out of 100 in the 2012 Driver Power survey, coming 16th for build quality and beating many more expensive rivals from Audi and BMW.
The usefully shaped boot is maybe a bit high up, but there's additional storage space under the boot floor if you need it. The boot offers 564 litres of storage space (which is bigger than both the Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai) that expands to 1,353 litres when the 60/40 split rear seats are folded down (which is actually smaller than most rivals). The seats do fold flat at the push of a button, however. There are also lots of storage cubbies, including a lidded storage box in the centre console, a large glovebox, and door bins with convenient bottle-shaped compartments. The KX models benefit from the easy-to-use 4x4 lock switch as part of an intelligent four-wheel-drive system that makes it very practical when going off road.
Value for money
Kia fully loads the Sportage with lots of standard equipment, so it's unlikely you’ll find that anything that you really need is missing. All versions have air-con, alloy wheels and remote central locking. Spend a bit more on the range-topping models and you can add leather heated seats, privacy glass and a rear-view parking camera. Price range undercuts mainstream rivals, too, so the Sportage is great value - just don't expect as much wiggle room in the deals as you might get at a Vauxhall dealership. Kia's trademark seven-year warranty further sweetens the deal, as do good resale values that match some premium rivals, including the Land Rover Freelander.
The 1.7-litre CRDi EcoDynamics diesel and 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol engine with Kia's stop-start technology are the most economical choices. Both offer impressively low CO2 emissions and wallet-friendly economy - the diesel promises to return 54.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 135g/km. The range-topping 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine returns 47.1mpg and emits 156g/km of CO2, which is still reasonable. Servicing costs undercut most key rivals.