(Pocket-lint) - Kia hit its best year for sales ever in 2015 and it's followed that with its fourth-generation of the Sportage. With sights aimed high, this SUV crossover offers more extras than ever and aims to impress with the first model refresh since 2010.
The SUV market is now a tough one though. Despite Kia being one of the first to offer smaller SUVs when the original Sportage arrived in 1993, it's now got a lot of competition. Offerings like the BMW X1 or Range Rover Evoque at the high-end, or more competitively priced models like the Nissan Juke make creating an attractive alternative difficult.
The Kia Sportage for 2016 offers new connectivity options as well as more advanced assistance features and enhanced fuel efficiency, while dealing out an affordable £17,995 starting price (topping out at £31,645 for the fully kitted model).
We drove the First Edition 2.0-litre diesel with a six-speed automatic transmission for over 1,300 miles across Europe to truly put this car through its paces. To test it to the limit we even slept in the car, making it our temporary home for the night.
Kia Sportage 2016: Design & build
Despite being a relatively compact car the Sportage is clearly an SUV with a large, nearing aggressive, front grille and spacious wheel arches. The lights have been moved up for the fourth-gen model giving it more of a face, while the side lines are smoothed and curvaceous in contrast to the long angular variations of the bonnet.
While the Sportage offers the commanding ride height of an SUV it's not too tall. It also feels spacious inside but doesn't occupy a great deal of external width - making it fine for driving about town.
More high-strength steel has been added to the frame compared to its predecessor for an increase of 39 per cent rigidity and stiffness. Not that we felt it to the exact percentage, but it's something we really could feel when tackling winding mountain roads without the need to slow too much. Extra padding has been added inside for noise cancellation too, which really works. You're left feeling safe as you float along in a comfy bubble which, combined with a high ride position, lets you feel in control.
Internally there's some stitched finish and a bit of a faux leather making up the look, but it's largely all plastic. It looks good at first glance from afar but, on closer inspection, you do notice savings have been made here. Hyper-luxe this isn't. That said it all feels solid and the buttons and edging finishes look premium so there's not much to complain about.
The seats are pretty stunning for the money. Finished in a comfy but breathable material, they're ideal for the demands an SUV must meet. The fact the model we drove also packed heated and cooled seats was a bonus - even the rear outer seats were heated.
After doing over 1,000 miles in a few days we can confirm the electrically adjustable front seats are extremely comfortable and supportive in the right areas. We even slept in the car one night, putting the rear seats dow for a fully flat length that was spacious enough for us, even at over six-foot tall. Good to know there's the room for buying larger items, should you need it when buying the latest home decor froma certain Scandinavian store. Even without the seats down the boot space is plenty big enough for day-to-day use and beyond.
While we did a lot of test-driving in Europe the Sportage has, Kia claims, actually been tuned and tested on UK roads for UK markets specifically. That includes a five star NCAP safety rating, in case you were wondering.
Kia Sportage 2016: Handling & performance
Kia has heard the requests of its users and changed the way the Sportage works to deliver a better ride. One major change, as we mentioned, has been to the frame: the high-strength steel makes it more rigid and stiff. We threw our model around several corners at speed and found very little wobble for a car of this height.
Despite this stiff frame the handling is still very comfortable. We found the ride and steering soft and easy enough to enjoy over long periods of driving time but also responsive enough to handle winding roads with ease. It's a nice balance that makes for an ideal long-distance vehicle which can chew-up open road with ease but also assists you around corners.
Despite its size and off-road capabilities we found the Sportage to have a really excellent turning circle. The nose isn't too long which, combined with that turning circle, makes harsh turns in tight spaces a doddle. So for city driving you're sorted – and despite being an SUV it maneouvers like a smaller car.
With mixed urban and motorway driving over our 1,300-mile route we achieved an average of 35mpg. That is with an average motorway speed of around the speed limit (maybe a smidgen over, naughty us). A full tank of diesel means a range of around 450-miles, so not too much filing up was needed for our long-distance jaunt.
Kia Sportage 2016: Infotainment & satnav
The Sportage's infotainment system, with its 8-inch touchscreen in our review configuration, is a relatively simple system to use. Large physical buttons on the dash allow you to jump between settings without the worry of not being able to get quickly back to, say, the satnav map.
Our review model was also kitted with a JBL speaker system. The overall sound was excellent with plenty of power and a balance that felt immersive. A nice touch was that while in navigation mode the music would not only be lowered but also moved to the back when driving instructions were being read out up front. The result, while listening to the radio on one occasion, was like having George Michael sat in the backseat singing for us as we had the car reading out navigation instructions in the front.
The satnav itself was a little troublesome when travelling through one region of France, though (perhaps it's fine in the UK?). Although the system is loaded with TomTom maps it sometimes struggled in situations where roads overlapped. It was unable to tell the difference between a road above or below in some situations, for example, the result being remapping while moving along a road, which proved troublesome. Why the system presumed we were suddenly on a different road to the one we were travelling along, when there is no way to jump down to the one crossing under, is baffling.
The car also uses its cameras to detect speed signs which update in the cockpit display as well as on the satnav display. Combine that with a satnav that alerts you to traffic accident reroutes and the result was a comfortable drive even when crossing countries we've not driven through before.
Kia Sportage 2016: Intelligent extras
The First Edition Sportage we drove was kitted out with extras. We mean silly levels of kit for the price. Bear in mind everything we're about to detail is probably an extra on the standard model - and therefore an extra expense - but also that the competition starts at this price with very few extras at all. This, we feel, is a huge attraction of the 2016 Sportage.
When throwing our phone into the most accommodating space in the front of the car we realised, when taking it out again, it was hot – only to discover it was wirelessly charging. While this is great for those with Qi charging compatible phones, the USB port in the front is limited to lower amperage for slower charging. That said the rear USB port appears to charge faster so that's an option if you have a long enough cable.
Smart safety features are all included, such as lane assist which actually steers you back within the road markings and gives brake audio warnings when you don't slam on the anchors fast enough. Lane changing smarts include light-up wing mirrors when a car is in the blind spot as well as an audio alert. This was a little over-sensitive for pulling into tighter spots, but can easily be turned off with a button tap.
When it comes to hills and stop-start situations the Sportage is brilliant. Auto Hold can be tapped to hold the car - ideal where there are lots of stop-starts and you don't want to engage the park, making automatic even easier. There's also hill descent assist which lets you move down steep hills without even touching the pedals. All this really takes the fear out of steeper roads.
Smart parking is capable of getting the not-so-small car in and out of tight parallel parking spots. You'll be required to apply the power and change gears from drive to reverse but it'll steer you into the perfect spot. Then when you arrive back from the shops, bags in hand, there's smart tailgate detection that'll open the boot for you without you even needing to take the keys out.
There is an option to lock the four-wheel drive but we found the car intelligent enough to apply power as we needed it dependent on the situation. In fact while cornering at any speed this locked mode felt less grippy than the standard mode.
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Talking of modes, there's also a Sports Mode on this Sportage. This does the usual rev range alterations that makes for much easier overtaking, for example. It's a nice little boost for when you need it but not something we'd leave on for the sake of fuel economy.
Kia is at the top of its game right now and the Sportage is one of its big hitters. With a seven year warranty, more extras than you could think possible for the price and superb safety ratings, the 2016 Sportage is a seriously attractive offering.
For some the price of all the extras might make the First Edition a little inaccessible. But as Kia offers a total of five different versions, including a GT sport model, there should be a price point for everyone. Just a shame the interior finish isn't all that.
If a larger car with plenty of boot space, four wheel drive and decent fuel economy are the ideal trinity of offerings then the Sportage could be the car for you. It undercuts some of the competition while offering cutting-edge tech that's appearing in top-end luxury vehicles. Our 1,300-mile experience says so.