THE Sportage SUV proved a big-time gamechanger for Kia, now the latest all-new model has an historic landmark in its sights.
A target of 100,000 UK sales in a single year has been creeping ever closer for the Korean brand and confidence is sky high that the Sportage, alongside the popular Niro family, can spearhead a march to that milestone.
Back in 2010 when the third generation Sportage hit the streets, designed by style guru Peter Schreyer of Audi TT fame, Kia was on the brink of its transformation from a bargain basement brand into a more upmarket and sought-after car company.
Two generations and a dozen years down the line and Kia has become established among the ranks of premium motor manufacturers while the Sportage is one of the most in-demand SUVs in the marketplace.
So much so that it accounts for a third of all Kia sales and even sold a healthy 27,611 examples here during 2021 in its final year of production.
Now there’s an all-new model, priced from £26,745 to £43,795, designed and engineered specifically for European roads and providing the widest range of drivetrains ever seen in the Sportage.
That means petrol, diesel, mild hybrid, full hybrid and plug-in hybrid are all on offer with 18 different versions to choose from in what marks the next stage in Kia’s electrification journey that began in 2014 with the Soul EV.
That said, there are currently no plans to introduce an all-electric Sportage as the new model is seen as a valuable bridge for customers presently unable or unwilling to cross the great divide to fully electric driving.
Sleek looks combined with a muscular stance are a hallmark of this new fifth generation variant, which also features a cleverly thought-out interior designed so the vehicle’s controls can be easily accessed.
The new model is actually longer, wider and fractionally taller than the outgoing Sportage, so there’s better head and legroom for passengers as well as more carrying capacity.
With all the seats in place you get up to 591 litres of luggage space with a maximum boot area of 1,780 litres when folding the rear seats down.
Step into the cabin and you are greeted by a smart curved display featuring twin 12.3-inch high definition screens while the instrument cluster in front of the driver uses liquid crystal tech for clear, more precise graphics.
The centre console also houses a shift-by-wire transmission dial and there’s a smartphone charging bay with high-speed 15W wireless charging on higher spec versions.
Keeping things practical when you’re dealing with families is essential and Kia has come up with some simple but effective features for the Sportage.
By simply pushing a button, the cupholders in the centre console rotate out and can be poked back out of the way when not needed, and there are also discreet hangers in the rear seat headrests for organising clothing or bags.
As for tech, there’s everything from smart cruise control, collision avoidance and blind spot assist systems available to Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, a Kia Connect app and premium Harman Kardon sound system.
Five trim grades are up for grabs and the new line-up kicks off with either a 1.6-litre T-GDi petrol engine or 1.6 CRDi diesel in level ‘2’ specification, both turbocharged and paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. The petrol model costs £26,745 and diesel an extra £1,000.
We drove two models on the Sportage media launch staged over a variety of town and country roads plus a section of the M40 motorway in Berkshire.
The front-wheel drive manual version of the 1.6 petrol in mid-range ‘3’ trim, and costing £30,945, led the way, followed by a full hybrid model also with front-wheel drive but in the more sporty GT-Line S trim and costing £38,645.
Both were smooth, well balanced and dynamically superior, the principal difference apart from equipment and styling coming in the latter car’s more impressive performance and economy.
Yes it costs appreciably more, but then our own fuel consumption comparison registered 31.4 miles per gallon as opposed to 40.3mpg, and acceleration to 60mph took 9.9 seconds compared to 7.7 in the hybrid’s favour.
My own preference would be to go for the cheaper model given that both look great, feel of prestige quality and are enjoyable to drive.
And if exceptional economy is up there with embracing even greener environmental credentials then a plug-in hybrid boasting a total system output of 261bhp and the capacity for local all-electric driving is due in April.