THE medium SUV market is a tough nut to crack especially with perennial favourites often scoring sales on reputation and loyalty instead of what is actually on offer.
Kia has done relatively well with the Sportage since a revitalised launch in 2010 with decidedly more buyers falling for the Korean manufacturer's charms.
A six-month wait on cars in the early part of the year didn't help sales figures with consumers going elsewhere but supply issues seem to be a thing of the past and the Sportage's definite style coupled with performance, comfort and price should have it high on the shopping list once again.
The Sportage's heavy duty cloth seats have funky stich detailing and are especially generous particularly in terms of width and cushioning to the driver and front passenger.
Those in the rear have to make do with a shorter squab and slightly harder surface. You can fit three adults in relative comfort in the back although the sloping roofline may make matters uncomfortable for very tall occupants.
The inside of the Sportage seems quite dark probably because of the prevalence of black on the dash and fittings but the cabin has been designed with ease of use in mind.
Plastics are decidedly hard, although concession is made for those surfaces which gain the most contact. The boot, at 740 litres, is better than average for this class although that does climb to 1547 litres when the 60:40 seats are lowered.
On the road
The Sportage places more emphasis on ease of use than driving excitement and to that end it is efficient in delivery.
The electrically assisted steering is pretty light during linear driving but push her around a corner and there is enough feedback to keep the driver engaged. The Sportage is agreeable to most surfaces thanks in part to the tinkering by
Australian engineers to make it suitable for our conditions. We found the 2.0-litre 2WD lacked a bit of courage and appeared at times a different car than its AWD brother with a 2.4-litre petrol engine.
Much to our delight the latter seemed to find most tasks rather effortless and is probably a fairer reflection on how far the Korean manufacturer has come.
What do you get?
Inclusions have to be on the mark for SUVs to be competitive in such a tight market. Standard equipment in our SLi included 17-inch alloys, reverse camera, auto headlights, three 12V outlets, dual zone climate control and Bluetooth connectivity.
The entry-level Si misses out on reverse camera and auto headlights while the range-topping Platinum adds sat-nav, a cooling glovebox, smart key and rear parking sensors. A five-star crash rating comes courtesy of six airbags, stability and traction control, brake assist and hill hold. The AWD also has hill descent.
Competition is fierce here with Kia having to see off the Toyota RAV4 (from $33,990), Nissan X-Trail (from $36,000), Mazda CX-5 (from $29,880), Hyundai ix35 (from $28,990) and Ford Kuga (from $38,990).
The concession to design has left the Kia with large A-pillars and side mirrors and a small rear window that impedes vision.
While a reverse camera and sensors can help with problems in the aft, you still have to crane your neck when turning right.
Ground clearance of just 180mm means the Sportage is best suited for the school run than the Dakar but with ease of use and space and comfort that's where its strengths lie anyway.
Fuel costs are on the steep side with the AWD consuming close to 10 litres/100km and the 2WD averaging only slightly better.
The diesel improves with official figures of 7.5 litres/100km.
Kia offers a five year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped service and insurance costs are mid-table.
The Sportage is a reflection of Kia's commitment to design with its sharp lines, tiger grille, fashionable lighting and chrome accents sparking interest. In a class with so many options it pays to stand out and the Korean manufacturer has done just that.
The Sportage impressed when it was relaunched in 2010 and the latest editions seem to be an improvement on that model. Kia has found a way to marry European engineering and looks with cost-effective Asian manufacturing. It is a pleasant drive that offers space and value for money and the all-wheel drive variants, both petrol and diesel, are worth a look
What matters most
What we liked: The Sportage offers nice comfort and space and generous inclusions.
What we'd like to see: An improvement to the vroom of the 2.0-litre two-wheel drive, reverse camera and parking sensors as standard across the range.
Warranty: Kia offers a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, while there is also capped price servicing.
Model: Kia Sportage.
Details: Two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive compact SUV.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Engine: 2.0-litre in-line DOHC 16-valve petrol generating maximum power of 122kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque of 197Nm @ 4600rpm and a 2.4-litre in-line DOHC 16-valve petrol generating maximum power of 130kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 227Nm @ 4000rpm.
Consumption: 8.8 litres/100km and 9.2 litres/100km (combined average).
CO2: 210g/km and 221g/km.
Bottom line: From $26,720 (plus on roads).