The Kia Sportage has had two months to prove itself, but is it turning out to be a sporting hero?
Living in central London for 11 years, I haven't had much opportunity for off-roading. But it looks as though I might get my chance to play at hopping up kerbstones now, since I'm the custodian of our new Kia Sportage SUV.
This car has big boots to fill. I previously ran a Toyota Corolla Verso, which I loved - with two young boys to ferry around at weekends, it was perfect family transport. Adapting to the 4x4 has been easy, though. The driving position isn't much higher than the MPV's, and much to my relief the Kia has proved very car-like to drive.
My first view of the Sportage in the metal was no disappointment, either. The sparkling metallic silver paint and dark tinted windows go nicely together, although the combination does tend to show up dirt rather easily - and that means more frequent cleaning, with a few more visits to the car valeter than previously.
My six-year-old son loves the fact that the boot-lid can be opened in two ways - either the whole tailgate lifts, or just the rear glass. The rear seats fold flat at the flick of a switch, providing ample load space and a hard plastic surface to cut down on scratches, and the large cargo net has already been useful on a family supermarket shop. Even more importantly, the standard leather trim not only looks good, but is easy to wipe clean - a blessing with a 15-month-old baby.
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Inside, the cabin is simple and comfortable. The air-con controls are straightforward, the brushed silver-effect trim on the dash is smart and all the essential buttons and switches are easy to navigate. This machine feels more expensive than the £17,895 price tag would suggest.
My only gripe inside concerns the stereo. I was looking forward to testing the MP3-compatible unit with a couple of compilation CDs. But it soon became clear the system is flimsy and awkward to use. Worse still, discs jump if you hit a pothole or even close the glovebox - not very 'off-road'!
With few long journeys undertaken so far, I'm still making my mind up about the driving experience, but the 2.0 CRDi diesel has some kick and is fine for nipping about town. Will the Sportage stand up to the rigours of family life as well as the Corolla, though? I'll report back next time.
Having been on the international launch of the Sportage, I was keen to have a go in our long-term Kia now that the entry-level 4x4 has arrived in the UK. The vague steering has not improved, but I was impressed with the interior's practicality. Folding the seats was a doddle, and two mountain bikes easily slotted into the back.
Chris Thorp, deputy motoring ed.