A FEW years back I travelled to Korea to visit some Kia research and development centres and tour one of their manufacturing plants.
I was amazed at the progress the company was making and got my first look at the third generation Sportage months before it went on sale.
That model went on to huge success and its bold styling changed the way people thought about the Korean company.
From 2010 to the time it ended production last year it had sold nearly 91,000 units in the UK and had won many awards.
It changed perceptions about Kia and so when it was replaced last year Kia did not make savage changes.
The fourth generation Sportage may not look all that much different from its predecessor but it iscompletely new and slightly larger in terms of length.
It is one of the best looking SUVs on the market with its swooping lines and handsome profile.
The distinctive 'tiger nose' is retained for the large grille with chrome surround and black mesh centre. New elongated headlamps cut in to the bonnet and feature LED daytime running lamps.
The new model is even more practical with room for five adults to travel in comfort and a bigger boot of 491 litres which can be stretched to 1,480 litres by folding the rear split seats.
The view from the driving seat is commanding and allows you to take in the huge improvements to the interior of the car. There is a cockpit-style layout angled toward the driver and the dash is split into two levels with a touchscreen featuring all the infotainment controls.
Soft touch materials are now the order of the day and there are numerous storage areas and power points. The cabin in this 2 trim car was quite dark but it was very comfortable and provided good all round vision.
The range offers a choice of 18 models with four engines, three gearboxes and six trim levels with pricing starting from just over £18,000.
All are very well specced and even the entry-level 1 grade comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, adjustable heated door mirrors, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear shifter, all-round electric windows, air conditioning, a DAB radio, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming, USB and AUX ports, and LED front map light.
The 2 level trim tested added the touch screen system, roof rails, privacy glass and larger alloy wheels.
Kia has also made improvements to the driving and handling of the car with a revised suspension and engine improvements to boost economy and performance.
The 1.7-litre diesel fitted to the test car is the most popular engine and is selected by more than half of Sportage buyers. It produces 114bhp and that is more than adequate for this front wheel drive version.
Its improved efficiency means a claimed combined 52.3mpg figure with emissions of 119g/km. It is good for 109mph and takes 11.1 seconds to reach 60mph. It is a bit gruff when fired up from cold but soon settles down and cruises smoothly and quietly.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a good match and progress can be made rapidly when required.
It comes with all the latest safety equipment including numerous airbags, hill start assist, parking camera, ABS with a stability programme and lane keep assist.
At £22,050 the Sportage 2 represents excellent value for money and no wonder it is a favourite on the school run.