Kia Sportage

With keen pricing a plenty of kit, Kia is hoping its Sportage can take on established SUV stars.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

There’s no doubt about it. Even with a long list of revisions, Kia’s Sportage is nowhere near as good as class-leading SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. But that’s not the point. The Sportage is so much cheaper than those models, it’s effectively in a class of its own. What’s more, it’s comfortable to drive, spacious and well equipped, plus it has an absolutely bulletproof warranty. It makes a great alternative to a regular family hatch, and brings 4x4 ownership within the reach of many buyers.

Demand for off-roaders is growing – but so are their price tags. With a top-spec Land Rover Freelander costing £34,000 and Ford’s forthcoming Kuga range starting at £20,000, where do you turn for a budget SUV?

The answer is simple - Kia’s Sport­age. Since its 2004 launch, the com-pact 4x4 and its sister car, the Hyundai Tucson, have built up a small, loyal UK following thanks to their affordability.

Now, the Sportage has benefited from a host of updates – so Auto Express got behind the wheel to see how the budget SUV shapes up.

At £17,695, our 2.0-litre diesel XS model costs the same as before – and with entry-level 2WD versions starting at less than £14,000, the range is even better value. The Sport­age was never stylish, though, and this is something Kia has tried to address, introducing new headlights, a smoother front bumper and a fresh grille. The changes are welcome, although the tyres still appear rather undersized and the overhangs are heavy, so the Kia is awkward to look at.

Inside, the seats are updated, with more cushioning up front, while the 60/40 split-folding rear bench is now mounted lower. Comfort is improved as a result, and although material quality isn’t as good as in the best European models, the car feels solidly put together, and is spacious.

It’s also well equipped - all variants get six airbags and air-con, while our XS adds leather trim, plus climate and cruise control. A new flagship Titan model gets heated seats, tinted glass and an electric sunroof – although rather worryingly for a top-heavy off-roader, it’s the only version to be fitted with ESP stability control.

Under the bonnet, the existing range of 2.0 and 2.7-litre V6 petrol engines and a 2.0-litre turbodiesel is carried over unchanged. But in a bid to improve the handling, the steering and suspension are revamped, while the brakes are now larger, too.

Do all these changes work? Well, the Kia provides a comfortable rather than sporty driving experience. The steering is well weighted but vague, and body roll is reduced, although it’s still pronounced at high speed.

Take things steady, though, and the suspension does a great job of soaking up bumps. Wind and engine noise is reduced as well, making the Sportage quite relaxing to drive. The engine is gutsier than the 12-second 0-60mph time suggests. In fact, with 305Nm of torque, it provides lots of overtaking punch, and returns around 40mpg, too. If only the six-speed box wasn’t so long winded – although an auto is now available for the diesel.

With decent traction and ground clearance, the Sportage is also cap­able off-road. But the 4x4’s trump card is its warranty – Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile cover. Add that to the low price and you’ve got an SUV that doesn’t cost the earth to buy or run.

Rival: Toyota RAV4 the RAV4 is brilliant to drive, with car-like handling on tarmac and decent off-road ability. Great build and rock-solid residuals also come as standard, so its popularity is no big surprise.

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