IT'S always risky when you have a winning formula and then try to improve on it, but Kia's all-new Sportage model has done just that.
The sporty SUV has been the biggest selling Kia model in the UK, and since it first graced our roads back in 1993 it has gathered momentum and gained a loyal and dedicated fan base.
And now Kia is hoping its latest fourth generation model will build on the company's best-ever sales figures in 2015 and generate new interest from customers looking for a striking vehicle that is packed with technology and is offered with a reasonable price-tag.
There are 18 versions of the new Sportage based on four powertrains and five trim levels called ‘1', ‘2', ‘3', ‘4' and GT-Line. In addition, at launch a limited-run First Edition model is available which sees the Sportage breach the Â£31,000 barrier for the first time.
However, customers will be relieved to hear that the competitively-priced Sportage has an entry price of £19,995. There is also a choice of transmissions and the option of two or all-wheel drive.
Some car manufacturers introduce a new generation model and it's difficult to spot the difference from an outgoing vehicle. That's certainly not the case with the Sportage which is all-new from the ground up.
The front end is dominated by the main grille which is completely different. The old Sportage almost smiled at you as you approached, but this one seems to be snarling which adds to the car's muscular, athletic styling.
Add in a sculpted bonnet which sweeps up to cover the elongated headlamps, low roofline and a more chiseled rear end and the Sportage is an instant attention-grabber. Another feature of note is the 'ice cube' fog lights on the GT-Line which really stand out and some special decals on the First Edition models.
Move inside and the interior build quality has been stepped up a notch or two with plenty of soft-touch materials and on-board technology to be explored.
The car is 40mm longer than its predecessor with a 30mm greater wheelbase. This adds to the cars sporting profile but also increases leg room for occupants meaning there is easily enough room for five adults to travel in comfort.
The dashboard is horizontal in its layout and split into an upper section housing the touchscreen and a lower part that is described as the control area and features buttons for the heater and audio system.
Even the entry level Sportage is well equipped with the likes of 16-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, leather trim, air conditioning, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth and plenty more besides.
Then as you move up through the grades the likes of touchscreen navigation, roof rails, privacy glass, electrically-folding mirrors with LED indicators, reversing sensors, a cooled glovebox, lane-keep assist, an upgraded sound system, powered seats, a heated steering wheel, autonomous emergency braking and blind spot detection are added.
Kia believes the biggest crowd pleaser especially amongst the business and fleet markets will be the economical 1.7-litre 114bhp diesel model. Last year, 84 per cent of all Sportage models sold in the UK were diesel variants.
So it was this particular Sportage in mid-range ‘2' trim level that we put through its paces in Southern France.
The car, priced at £22,050, has a six-speed manual gearbox and can sprint from 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds and onto a top speed of 109mph. According to official figures it can deliver combined fuel economy of 61.4mpg with carbon emissions 119g/km.
First impressions are vital and the new Sportage doesn't disappoint.
The new styling is very modern and the interior has a premium feel in places. There is still quite a lot of hard plastic on display, but that aside, the controls, dials are read-outs are all perfectly positioned for ease of use in a very driver-focused cockpit.
The route included some long stretches of fast motorway driving and the Sportage was beautifully smooth as it accelerated through the gears.
Another area that has been improved is noise and vibration - even at higher speeds the cabin remained beautifully quiet and the excellent suspension system ironed out many of the bumps and dips along the way.
There were also many twisting mountain roads which tested the car's agility, road-holding and engine power.
Once again, it proved an absolute delight to drive and the excellent all-round visibility is another plus factor of note.
The acceleration was steady with a constant supply of power on tap which meant overtaking was no problem. The road-holding was very sure-footed and the steering nice and precise.
One of the greatest things about previous generation Sportage models is how easy it is to drive. And from the second you take your seat inside the new model, it is like coming home to your favourite armchair.
The latest model will have critics especially from die-hard third generation fans. They may see the design changes as too drastic, but as Paul Philpott, President and CEO, of Kia Motors in the UK said: "When I first saw the new styling I had a few questions like that, but in car design, standing still is basically going backwards and next to the previous model the all-new Sportage is modern, dynamic and assertive.
"It looks strong in the showroom and I know it is going to turn heads on the road. Plus this new look moves us further forward along our design-led strategy and will differentiate the new car from the previous generation."
The new Sportage will be competing up against the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Renault Kadjar and Hyundai Tucson, has been awarded the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP ratings.
And it's always worth remembering that all Kia models come with the impressive seven year, 100,000-mile warranty.