Kia's Sportage is a stylish SUV that takes the fight to the Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Qashqai, and thanks to its modern looks, good equipment list and solid build quality it's still one of the best cars in the Korean brand's range.

There's no doubt that, even four years since it was launched, the Sportage still cuts a dash in the large crossover class. Kia's chief design officer Peter Schreyer is famous for penning the original Audi TT, and the elegant design ethos is present in this car, too. It's arguably more interesting to look at than even more premium rivals such as the BMW X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan, and still looks good compared to the new Qashqai.

In 2014, the Kia Sportage was given a bit of nip and tuck, adding a revised front grille, new LED taillights and a 'shark fin' roof antenna to disguise its age, and it still keeps up there with the best. It also added even more equipment for no extra cost.

Yet there’s more to this crossover than style, as it boasts a good quality interior, generous equipment list and a practical cabin. Better still it’s backed by a seven-year warranty and, as with many rivals, it comes with the option of two or four-wheel drive for go-anywhere capability.

The Sportage is available with a 1.6-litre GDi petrol engine, 1.7-litre CRDi diesel or a 2.0-litre CRDi diesel and there are three trim levels: entry level 1, mid-range 2 and 3, and the range topping 4.

Since its launch in 2010, the Sportage took the crossover market by storm – thanks in part to the industry-leading Kia seven-year warranty, but also due to low running costs and its car-like driving dynamics. Rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 have since overtaken it in that area, however.

If you opt for the front-wheel drive entry-level diesel model, you’ll benefit from low emissions and decent 54mpg fuel economy, which although isn’t as impressive as the faster CX-5, is far ahead of the Land Rover Freelander.

The icing on the cake is that even with an extensive kit list (made better by additions in the 2014 facelift) the Kia Sportage is still affordable to buy – and thousands of pounds cheaper than the basic Ford Kuga. Head to the Kia website and you can often find some decent finance and lease deals, too.

Our choice: Sportage 2 1.7 CRDi EcoDynamics 2WD

Styling

Kia design chief Peter Schreyer has built up a formidable reputation for creating good-looking cars, and the Sportage was one of his first full designs for the company. Even after four years on sale, it still looks distinctive, with a large grille and headlamps up front, and a low roof line and small window area.

The 2014 styling updates have left the Sportage largely unchanged, with the only revisions being larger xenon headlights, a new grille design and revised tail-lamps. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the car manages to look chunky without being too imposing, and from some angles – especially the rear– it doesn’t appear as fussy like a Qashqai.

Trim levels 3 and above add 18-inch alloy wheels, which fill the arches nicely, while black plastic arches, chrome trim and silver roof rails add to the rugged off-roader looks.

Inside, Kia has made revisions to help give the Sportage a lift. The original car had a lot of black plastic inside, but now features matt grey trim on the dash and around the gearlever  to break up the monotony. Plus, many of the plastics have been finished in what Kia calls soft nano paint, which feels rubbery to touch.

The other big change is a new instrument pod ahead of the driver. The speedo and rev counter are now positioned either side of a larger colour trip computer display.

However, the angle and curve of the glass can reflect the sun from some angles, which obscures the dials. The rest of the Sportage’s cabin is largely unchanged, which means it’s well built and features an excellent touchscreen sat-nav, but it’s a little uninspiring due to its dark colours

Driving

Given its high-riding stance, the Sportage drives incredibly well and far better than many Kia models of old. While the steering and body control lacks a certain amount of precision and agility, the Sportage has plenty of grip and a composed ride, while the diesel engines pack plenty of torque for overtaking.

Entry-level 1.6-litre petrol and 1.7-litre diesel engines are front-wheel drive only, while the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines benefit from an electronically controlled four-wheel drive system.

The latter work really well, but even the entry-level diesel feels responsive enough in everyday driving, while decent forward visibility makes every model a doddle to drive around town. Overall, the petrols are refined, but the diesels’ blend of performance and efficiency make them the most desirable options – and the ones we’d recommend.

Although the Kia’s styling is bang up to date, the drive is showing its age. A combination of hefty weight and a notchy shift means it suffers from a lot of body roll and not huge amounts of grip. The small windows and thick A-pillars hamper visibility around town, too. Thanks to a soundproofed windscreen and new suspension bushing, the ride has improved a little and road noise levels have been reduced. 

Reliability

Kia is confident in the reliability of the Sportage: the whole range is covered by a seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty. However, the Sportage was recalled due to a potential fault with the seatbelt pretensioner.

On the plus side, the only cars affected were built from October 2011 to November 2012, and it’s believed no injuries have occurred as a result of the problem.

In all other respects, the Kia has good safety credentials: six airbags, active head restraints, stability control and tyre-pressure monitoring are standard. Yet kit like lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and low-speed collision avoidance aren’t even available as options.

In our 2014 Driver Power survey, the pre-facelift Kia Sportage ranked 72nd out of 150 cars. 

Practicality

The Kia Sportage has a 564-litre boot, and it also has a lower lip and more space under the load cover. What's more, leather straps attached to the seatbacks mean they’re easy to fold down. Do this and you have 1,353 litres of storage at your disposal.

The Kia Sportage also features a 12V power socket and storage bin on one side of the boot, while the other side holds the subwoofer for the stereo – although it doesn’t hurt boot space at all.

You step up into the Sportage, and while rear-seat space is good, taller passengers will notice that headroom is a bit tight, especially with the panoramic glass roof taking up space. The high floor does mean that there’s no transmission tunnel for middle-seat passengers to deal with, thoug

If you’re planning on going off road, the powerful 2.0-litre petrol and diesel models are fitted with an intelligent four-wheel-drive system that comes with an easy-to-use 4x4 lock switch to help with traction when needed. All models have a maximum unbraked towing capacity of 750kg, while its braked figure ranges from 1,200 to 2,000 depending on which model you go for.

Running Costs

As you’d expect from Kia, the Sportage represents excellent value for money – even if it commands a slight premium over models of old.

Competitive prices, a long list of standard equipment and the manufacturer’s trademark seven-year/100,000-mile warranty all help to boost its considerable showroom appeal. Kia offers a pre-paid £329 servicing pack that covers all routine maintenance for three years, plus our experts predict that the Sportage will hold on to more than 50 per cent of its value after three years.

Better still, residual values are surprisingly strong and easily match those of premium rivals such as the Land Rover Freelander. The Sportage's mpg and CO2 emissions are also quite impressive – the most efficient model is the front-wheel-drive 1.7-litre CRDi EcoDynamics diesel with stop-start, which promises average fuel consumption of 54.3mpg and only 135g/km.

This version also falls into insurance group 10 (or 12 if you opt for a higher trim level or the larger alloys), which should help keep premiums to a minimum – boosting its appeal even further. If keeping running costs to a minimum is a priority, steer clear of 4x4 and automatic models, as they offer slightly worse economy and marginally higher CO2 emissions than the front-wheel drive and manual models.

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