By Mike Torpey on 2016-02-07 - Driving Force news editor and responsible for organising our daily output. He was staff motoring editor of the Liverpool Echo for 20 years.
New Kia Sportage
puts on the style
THE big numbers signal the relentless progress made by Korean car maker Kia.
As the sales have racked up so too have the reasons for buyers shelling out on the brand's increasing portfolio of vehicles.
While it may once have been down to reliable wheels at a bargain basement price, these days it's all about quality, style, technology and value for money.
The model that brought the Kia experience to a wider audience was compact SUV the Sportage.
And if those those discerning customers whose support made it the company's top UK seller - accounting for 29 per cent of its total last year - thought the third generation Sportage was a crossover cracker, then they're likely to go wild for the new model.
These are also the people whose clamour for quality has seen more higher price models enter the Kia product range - and why for the first time there's a Sportage variant, the First Edition, topping the Â£30,000 mark.
There's more to come this year as well, the company's hybrid Niro model expected during the summer followed by the premium Optima Sportspace, Optima GT and next year at least two cars in areas of the market where Kia hasn't previously featured.
For now though it's the new fourth generation Sportage, hitting showrooms with an entry point of Â£17,995 for a 1.6-litre GDi petrol six-speed manual ‘1' model.
It's a broader range than before comprising four engines with five power outputs, three transmissions and six trim lines, plus two or four-wheel drive.
New to the Sportage scene is also a more sporty focused GT-Line grade, recognised through its high gloss black mesh grille, twin tailpipes, 19-inch alloys and silver skid plates. It's the only variant to feature a new turbocharged 1.6 petrol engine.
You could make a case for the outgoing Sportage carrying so much style and flair for design that changes were unnecessary.
Either way, the view from the Kia hierarchy is that standing still represents going backwards so there's a slightly more rakish style to the newcomer which, significantly, is longer than before with rear seats that fold almost completely flat and a touch more head and leg room all round. You also get a bigger boot.
But it doesn't end there. As part of the continued improvement in cabin quality is a priority to ensure comfort for all journeys, regardless of distance.
So the development boys have boosted something called pad density for the seats at the same time as making them better at absorbing vibrations.
It all contributes to a crossover that's not only better than ever to drive, but is also safer, cleaner and blessed with more technology.
Kia hopes to sell 25,000 this year, fleet customers opting for the 1.7-litre diesel model and retail buyers preferring the more sporty GT-Line.
There's also the flagship First Edition model at £31,495 that comes with all-wheel drive and slick kit like a powered tailgate, auto parking, emergency braking, wireless phone charger, two-tone leather and metallic paint.
This model, powered by a 182bhp 2.0-litre CRDi diesel, proved a treat to drive on the launch exercise set on rural roads and motorways close to the French Riviera.
Smooth and silent, it comes only with automatic transmission and has appreciably more kick than the 134bhp version available in other 4WD variants and the 1.7 diesel expected to take the lion's share of sales.
All the powerplants have been re-engineered, the most economical being the 1.7 CRDi with its 61.4mpg Combined fuel return and emissions figure of 119g/km.
It's also a strong performer, capable of 0-62 in 11.1 seconds and top speed of 109mph. Prices for cars with this engine start at Â£19,745 for the six-speed manual ‘1' model.
That entry grade designation is nonetheless well equipped with the likes of LED daytime running lights, cornering lights, electric windows, air-con, hill start, cruise control and DAB radio with Bluetooth as standard.
The more you pay, the greater the kit - and every Sportage is supported by Kia's seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty.
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