Kia Sportage 2005 review

The Sportage 4x4 has clocked up more sales over the past 12 years than any other Kia.

Getting your hands on an SUV has never been cheaper. Kia's Sportage offers chunky looks, a large cabin, all-wheel drive and a bargain price tag, but there is still evidence of cost-cutting. If you can live with the sluggish performance and uninspiring drive, you could be closer to affording a 4x4 than you thought.

The Sportage 4x4 has clocked up more sales over the past 12 years than any other Kia. Hoping to maintain that record, the Korean firm has pulled out all the stops to create a replacement that's better in every way - and it has finally arrived in the UK. We drove one of the first examples of the all-new Land Rover chaser to muddy its wheels in British soil.

If there is one thing that matters in this sector, it is appearance. Following in the tracks of its larger Sorento stablemate, the new Sportage has all the styling cues which go to make up a modern SUV. Merging aspects from many rivals, it looks good, with a well proportioned, chunky design. The wheelarches go a bulge too far for us, but the shape is still attractive and compact.

Climb inside and the strong styling continues. It is not up to Toyota or Nissan standards, but the Sportage's trim and build quality surpass Kia's previous efforts, and the cabin has a feeling of durability. It is practical, too, with decent space for front and rear passengers, plus flat-folding back seats. For easy access to the load bay, there is also an opening tailgate window.

So, as a package, the Sportage has plenty of showroom appeal, but will buyers still be interested after they take a test drive? Our car was fitted with the entry-level 140bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which is available alongside a 2.7 V6. A 2.0 diesel is scheduled to join the range in spring. On paper, the 2.0 model's 0-62mph time of 11.3 seconds seems acceptable, but once out on the road the engine feels underpowered.

Our own figures suggest the real time is nearer to 15 seconds, and in-gear acceleration is so poor that overtaking will always be difficult. What's more, the five-speed manual gearbox - standard in the XE - has a long-throw lever which is reluctant to be rushed.

The good news is that, compared to rivals in the budget off-road class, the rest of the Sportage's driving experience is competitive. While its body control will not win any awards, the Kia has plenty of grip - even if it does lean when cornering. However, only the brave will attempt such fast manoeuvres, as the lack of feel through the steering has the driver guessing as to what is happening at the front wheels. This is not a problem off-road, though, where the Sportage is very capable.

While the lacklustre dynamics leave a little to be desired, it is hard to argue with Kia's pricing. The Sportage shares its platform, engines and many of its components with Hyundai's Tucson, yet is cheaper. Buyers do without the latter's five-year warranty, but pay only £14,495 for the well equipped entry-level model; £500 less than the Tucson.

Compare the Kia to other compact SUVs, and you realise rivals are a big step up in price. The Sportage is a huge improvement on its predecessor and is sure to be popular with bargain-hunters.

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