Redefining the dictionary definition of progress, Korean carmaker Kia has done an awful lot in a short space of time. It's also forced the established players to pull their collective socks up, which is no bad thing these days.
Kia's rapidly expanding range now includes everything from a low cost city car to a full-on SUV and (almost) everything in between. The firm's latest offering, the new Sportage, sits neatly between a conventional family hatch and a genuine 4x4.
While the ‘crossover' concept isn't new, an increasing number of buyers are turning to compact SUVs for their practical and versatile cabins, increased ride height and improved visibility when behind the wheel. All-wheel drive used to be a major selling point, but with most of these used exclusively on the road, manufacturers have been keen to offer more frugal front-wheel drive cars as well — Kia included.
Compared to Sportages from the past, the latest model follows the trend of being noticeably more city-focused. The two-wheel drive variants are expected to be the most popular.
But with so many of these crossovers on the roads now, how do you make your own product stand out? Easy — you style it like a concept car and send it out the door with the most generous warranty in the business.
In the case of the Sportage, it really is the most visually striking crossover out there. Its bold, wide stance coupled with a noticeable absence of fussy exterior detailing help to boost its visual appeal. This is taken to its logical conclusion at the rear of the car, with its tailgate, lamps and rear screen looking like they've been lifted from a futuristic concept car.
Of course Kia can afford to be bold. The firm isn't shackled by any fusty design heritage like its established rivals, and as a result is free to push a few boundaries.
All of this fuss over visual appeal hasn't been created to divert attention from the rest of the Sportage's performance, though. Far from it in fact, as Kia's treatment of the car's cabin will give European firms a few sleepless nights.
Boasting a light and airy ambience, the Sportage is bristling with tastefully appointed trim, switchgear that is intuitive and seats offering plenty of support.
There's also plenty of room for a growing family in the Sportage, plus the rear seats fold easily to liberate even more room when required. Granted, this is all minimum standard stuff in this market sector now, but being able to deliver against a backdrop of super-competitive prices and an industry-leading warranty makes the Sportage all the more impressive.
The Sportage not only looks the part but also drives the part. Following on from the recent Soul and Venga, the Sportage was tested in the UK to help it cope with poorly surfaced roads. The result is a more compliant ride than you might expect, yet one that doesn't involve any stereotypical SUV pitch and lean. In short, despite the Sportage's tall stance it drives very much like a regular family hatch.
More engineering excellence can be found in the engine as the Sportage can be had with a smooth and economical 161bhp 2.0-litre unit. With its ample torque, towing should be straightforward even before you consider the all-wheel drive variants.
If, however, all-wheel drive is important to you, the suitably equipped model sacrifices little in the way of economy and CO2 figures. The upside is a very clever electronically controlled transmission capable of directing power to where it's needed when the going gets slippery.
Along with plenty of airbags and active stability control systems, the Sportage boasts an easy to use and good-sounding audio unit. There's provision for an MP3 player or iPod, while a touchscreen sat-nav system is also available.
The presence of plush upholstery and the option of leather ensure that any lingering thoughts of Kia as a maker of budget motors are soon banished from your mind.
That was a long time ago and, as Kia's financial and engineering resources have seen massive growth in recent years, cars like the Sportage deserve to be at the top of your shopping list.
Specs & rating
- Model: Kia Sportage
- Engine: 2.0-litre
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, FWD
- Max power: 161bhp @ 6,200
- Max torque: 194Nm @ 4,500
- Top speed: 184kph
- 0-100kph: 10.8sec
- Price: Dh63,900
- Plus: Innovative, lots of space,
- Minus: Competing against household names