How did the Kia Sportage quietly develop from also-ran to front runner in the budget SUV stakes? By offering more of what people want, that's how. This fourth generation car now packs in more equipment, tidies the styling, sharpens the dynamics a tad but keeps the same value, practicality and great aftersales care. The motto here seems to be 'If it aint broke, give it a better stereo'.
It's easy to believe for a moment that the market for compact SUVs hasn't changed all that much in the last ten years, but it's now radically different and the biggest beneficiary of these changes have been Kia, and more specifically its Sportage. Consider this. Ten years ago, you could pick up a brand new entry level Land Rover Freelander for under £16,000. Even as I'm typing this, I'm double checking to see if that's correct. It is. Nowadays the Freelander's Discovery Sport replacement would set you back over £30,000. That's a massive increase. Yet the Office of National Statistics tells us that the average annual wage over the same period rose by 37%. What it all means is that a huge amount of buyers are being priced out of the SUV market. That's something that Kia not only recognised, but also put itself in prime position to capitalise on with its impressive fourth generation Sportage. It now gets a smarter look inside and out, greater practicality and a range of technologies to improve comfort, convenience, connectivity and safety. If you're buying a small SUV or a Qashqai-like Crossover model in this segment, it's well worth a look.
This fourth generation model carries over many of the mechanicals of its predecessor, but adds some new technology too. The petrol range is made up of a normally aspirated 1.6-litre GDI 132PS unit and a much pokier T-GDI turbo 177PS powerplant. Most Sportage buyers though, want a diesel. For buyers wanting to fuel from the black pump, the range starts with a 115PS 1.7-litre CRDi variant. Above that, there's a 2.0-litre CRDi option, offered with a choice of 136PS or 184PS power outputs. Go for the T-GDI petrol variant or the 1.7-litre CRDI diesel model and you get the option of the brand's latest seven-speed DCT dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Whatever engine you decide upon, you should find that refinement levels have been much improved over the third generation model. As before, buyers get a choice of both front and four wheel drive models, with changes to steering and suspension promising a slightly more involving on-tarmac experience. If that's a priority for you, then you might want to look at one of the GT Line variants, which are supposed to feature sharper, more athletic handling and deliver a slightly firmer ride.
The front end of this MK4 model Sportage is the biggest change over the outgoing model, thanks to smarter headlamps that sit just above a bolder, lower, wider version of Kia's hallmark 'tiger-nose' grille. These lights are now positioned higher, sweeping back along the outer edges of the sharply-detailed bonnet. The result is a more imposing appearance and a more stable-looking stance, despite this model retaining the same 1,855mm width as its predecessor. It's 40mm longer though - and more aerodynamic. At the rear, this fourth generation Sportage features more horizontal forms and clearly defined feature lines, with smooth bodywork on the tailgate, emphasising the car's width and giving this compact SUV a more stable appearance. Inside, there's a completely new interior, with higher quality materials and a central console that cascades downwards and is tilted 10 degrees towards the driver. The 30mm increase in this model's wheelbase means that the cabin is more spacious too, with greater headroom front and rear. At the back, the seats recline further than before for greater long distance comfort. Out back, bootspace is up from the previous model's 465-litre total to 503-litres here.
Prices are much as they were before, which means that like its predecessor, this car sells in the £18,000 to £30,000 bracket. Given that it's comparably sized to models like Toyota's RAV4 and Honda's CR-V that'll cost you from around £25,000, that looks like good value. This Sportage's closest rival is Hyundai's Tucson, which is priced comparably and is mechanically almost identical. All models come well equipped, with features like 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming, powered heated mirrors, cruise control, a DAB radio and front foglights that turn with the bends, all at prices starting at around £18,000 - which seems like a decent deal. Other standard '1'-grade features include LED daytime running lights, a rear spoiler, tinted glass, an alarm, all-round electric windows, reclining rear seats, a trip computer, leather trim for the gearshifter and the multi-function steering wheel, plus a six-speaker CD audio system with USB and Aux-in ports. Avoid the 1.6-litre petrol engine and you get a temporary spare wheel too.
Efficiency levels are much as before, not surprising given that the mainstream engines are little different from those supplied with the previous generation version of this car. This means that the best-performing Sportage from an economy and emissions perspective remains the front-wheel drive 1.7 CRDi diesel which manages around 55mpg on the combined cycle and around 135g/km of CO2. Further up the range, the DCT auto gearbox offers a more efficient style of self-shifter, but since this technology is currently limited to the minority-interest T-GDI turbo petrol engine that few buyers will choose, it'll have limited impact on UK Sportage sales. One useful change though across the range is that this MK4 version offers greater fuel capacity than the third-generation model, with the fuel tank increasing in size from 58-litres to 62-litres, cutting the number of fuel pump visits that owners of the new car will have to make. Like the rest of the Kia range, the Sportage is sold with the excellent seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty. It is fully transferable should the car be sold before the time or mileage limits have been reached. Fixed cost servicing also brings additional peace of mind via the Kia Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing package, offering retail customers inflation-proof servicing for the first three or five years.
Have the updates made to this fourth generation Kia Sportage been sufficient to keep buyers happy? It's true that they could have been more far-reaching, especially beneath the bonnet but there's just enough here to keep existing customers loyal, we think. That's important as Kia is fortunate enough to have quite a few of these people in the UK, thanks to the impressive sales success achieved by the third generation version of this car. This MK4 model offers these folk a little more attitude and they'll like the much more up-market interior. Ultimately, it's a car you sit in and wonder just how a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4 can be worth around £5,000 more. That says it all really.
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