Style and desirability are key attributes for any modern compact SUV, and the current Sportage unquestionably has the looks and the image to rival the new CX-5.
The eye-catching lines and glitzy trim are the boldest examples yet of Kia’s confident new design direction. In terms of size, the Sportage is an obvious rival for the Mazda. Passenger space is similar, although the Kia’s flatter rear floor is a bonus. That’s not to say the Sportage is perfect.
The sloping roofline compromises headroom and means the maximum luggage capacity is 267 litres down on the CX-5’s, at 1,353 litres. Up front, the layered dash and chunky switchgear add a bit of character, but it doesn’t feel as upmarket as the Mazda.
The car in our pictures is a 2 model, but the 3 Sat Nav spec we tested matches the Mazda for standard equipment. You get climate control, leather upholstery, Bluetooth and heated seats, plus a high-mounted touchscreen navigation system with an integrated reversing camera.
You need the latter because visibility out of the rear of the car isn’t great, while from the driver’s seat the thick A-pillars cause rather nasty blind spots.
However, the Kia’s biggest shortcoming is its engine. Our 1.7-litre model delivers 114bhp and 260Nm of torque, so is 34bhp and 120Nm down on the 2.2-litre CX-5. Kia does offer a more powerful 2.0-litre, but only with all-wheel drive. And it’s no surprise that the 1.7 engine has to be worked hard and doesn’t have the power to match the punchy Mazda.
A bigger worry is the lack of refinement. The diesel rattles at idle and strains at high revs. Despite having stop-start, it also emits 143g/km – placing the Kia five company car tax bands higher than its rivals.
Not only that, we averaged only 35.6mpg – compared to 43.0mpg in the Mazda – even though the CX-5 covered fewer miles on test.
The driving experience is also a letdown, as the Sportage’s chassis isn’t as capable as the Mazda’s. Carry too much speed into a corner, and its front tyres lose grip sooner than the CX-5’s or Yeti’s. Body roll and an unsettled ride further sap confidence. The light steering artificially weights up either side of the straight ahead, and lacks the Mazda’s precision. The six-speed gearbox feels a little slack, too.
The well equipped Kia is £2,000 cheaper than the Mazda, although taking into account its smaller engine and lack of performance, the Sportage still comes up short. It will cost a company buyer £314 a year more in tax, plus an extra £105 a year for a tax disc.
Strong residuals and Kia’s fantastic seven-year warranty win back some points – but the question is whether that will be enough against such tough competition.
Chart position: 3WHY: Sportage adds desirability and style to Kia’s reputation for value. It’s well equipped and 1.7 diesel promises good economy.