The Kia Sportage is a clear indicator of how times have changed the UK’s car market.
When the first generation was launched in 1995, there were very few family SUVs on sale and very few people were buying cars from a weird little Korea brand.
Now, the saloons and hatchbacks have been replaced by jacked-up soft-roaders and Kia is flying high - becoming the UK’s best-selling brand in the first quarter of 2022.
At the heart of that success is the Sportage. Kia sold fewer than 11,000 examples of the first generation car during its eight-year life. In the five years the fourth-gen car was on sale, it shifted almost 200,000 units in the UK and it is the brand’s best-selling model across the UK and Europe.
Now, with the launch of the fifth generation - this time designed and built specifically for the UK and Europe - Kia is determined to maintain its position at the top table of mainstream brands. That means continuing to take on and beat the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Tiguan, Seat Ateca and Peugeot 3008.
To ensure it appeals to as wide an audience as possible, the Sportage comes with a host of different engine options, with regular petrol, and mild, full and plug-in hybrid variants, and a wide range of specifications. Between the different trim grades and engine options there are a total of 16 variants to choose from, ranging in price from £27,250 to £44,550.
We’ve already tested a lower-spec ‘3’ with the entry-level petrol engine and manual gearbox, but here we’re testing a top-spec GT-Line S with the full hybrid system.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine works with a 44.2kW electric motor to produce a total of 226bhp. All hybrids use an six-speed automatic transmission, in our car sending the power to the front wheels. It’s a remarkably punchy setup that makes the most of the multiple drive modes. The EV motor offers instant and substantial response and will carry you easily up to and beyond urban speed limits smoothly and silently. Press harder on the throttle and there’s a faint but detectable grumble as the engine makes its contribution but more obvious is the additional surge in acceleration.
As with all “self-charging” hybrids, the Sportage with its 1.5kWh battery won’t do long distances under electric power but dips imperceptibly between EV/petrol and hybrid power supply depending on the driving conditions to offer up to 48.7mpg.
If you want a bit more all-electric drive, the plug-in hybrid brings a 13.8 kWh battery, which should be good for up to 43 miles of EV motoring at a time.
Previous generations of Sportage were no match for the best-handling rivals and while this fifth-generation car is still outperformed in those stakes by rivals from Ford and Mazda, it is a big step forward. It’s more composed and stable but, vitally, not at the expense of ride quality, which is now among the best in its class.
It’s a similar story elsewhere. The styling is bold and eye-catching, from the huge grille and boomerang lights to the full-width light bar and the interior is a match for most rivals. The Nissan Qashqai and Honda CR-V offer better legroom for rear passengers but otherwise the Sportage’s clear, high-quality cabin is impressive. Materials have seen a significant upgrade since the last generation and are easily a match for its key rivals. The dashboard features twin 12.3-inch screens for media and instruments but retains physical controls for heating and other key functions. Other practical touches include a 15W wireless charging pad, USB sockets in the seatbacks and a 40:20:40 folding rear seat.
Across the range, the Sportage is well equipped for the money and in top-specification GT-Line S it brings virtually everything you could ask from - from heated leather seats front and rear to tri-zone climate control, a premium Harman Kadron sound system and powered tailgate. There’s also a panoramic sunroof, smart adaptive cruise control and a full suite of the latest driver aids from highway assist and multi-collision braking to remote parking assist. What’s particularly impressive is that it offers all this while still undercutting equivalent rivals such as the Kuga and Qashqai.
Such value is impressive in itself but coupled with the Sportage’s impressive hybrid drivetrain, strong driving characteristics, striking styling and high-quality finish, it makes it possibly the best car in its class.
Kia Sportage HEV GT-Line S
Price: £34,900; Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol, 44.2kW electric motor; Power: 226bhp; Torque: 258lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed automatic; Top speed: 120mph; 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds; Economy: 48.7mpg; CO2 emissions: 132g/km