Kia Sportage First

Edition - First

Drive

Kia Sportage, front action
Kia Sportage, side static
Kia Sportage, rear action
Kia Sportage, four generations
Kia Sportage, top static
Kia Sportage, dashboard
Kia Sportage, boot
Kia Sportage, rear seats
Kia Sportage, front seats
Kia Sportage, engine

THE new fourth generation Sportage SUV is crucially important to Kia; it is the firm's biggest seller in the UK and the last version really put the company on the motoring map.

Now, with more than 78,000 Kias of all sorts sold in the UK last year alone (and the best annual result ever), the stakes are high with the new baby, tasked with pulling the Brit-based outfit past 100,000 sales a year in the short term and cementing the company's reputation for building stylish cars at sensible prices.

That was only partly true for the first and second generation Sportage, with the company happily admitting those two sold only on price; so low it tempted buyers to take a punt with a then unknown brand from South Korea.

How times have changed. The Sportage mark three was styled by a European (poached from Audi) and massively helped Kia claw a toehold in the burgeoning market for SUVs - cars where moderately off-road looks meet a dose of urban cool.

Now, with this latest Sportage, buyers can choose from 18 versions, priced from £17,995 to £31,495 and powered by a set of petrol or diesel engines that are either modified for better economy and lower emissions or, in one case, completely new.

The newcomer is a modest 40mm longer than before but the same height and (great for narrower roads), no wider. There is, though, a touch more distance between front and rear wheels, which means a little more stretching room in the rear.

The already generous boot is usefully bigger and the rear seats now fold flatter than before with an easy lever's tug, to leave an almost perfectly horizontal load area. Beneath sits a space saver tyre, not a potentially useless bottle of puncture repair gloop.

The body itself is clearly a modern take on the old car, with a bit more assertiveness at the front and a bit more Euro style at the back. Inside, there's been an obvious effort to up the feel of everything you look at, sit on or touch and a properly modern emphasis on electronics.

That means all but the cheapest Sportage has a touch screen navigation system and dearer ones add things like auto dipping headlights, speed limit information, blind spot warning and even an alert if you're reversing out of a parking space and hidden traffic is approaching from the sides.

At the top of the Sportage tree is the First Edition model, sitting notably over £30,000 (£31,495 to be precise) and dripping with kit, as befits a car aimed at people who want the best of a car they've taken an instant fancy to.

So it gets auto parking - reversing into a space or between vehicles at the kerbside - a powered tailgate, wireless mobile phone charger, metallic paint and two-tone leather trim.

Most Sportages are front-wheel drive only, but a few (First Editions included) have all-wheel drive on demand; pushing power rearward if the front wheels start to slip.

This top version felt a little restrained by its automatic gearbox but returned a decent 34mpg from its 179bhp 2.0 litre diesel engine on a modestly demanding drive in the south of France. A manually geared petrol and smaller engined diesel felt more lively and we're both a bit more fuel frugal too.

This latest Sportage was fine tuned on British roads, whose uniquely cambered and coarse grained surfaces mean that any car that performs well here will be fine anywhere else in Europe (the cars are built in Slovakia), and the newcomer has a firmness of steering and generally mature approach to the business of driving.

It also looks smart enough to sit without embarrassment in company with names like Audi (think Q3) and Range Rover Evoque. They both, it ought to be noted, are rather more expensive.

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