It may come as a surprise that the Kia Sportage is Europe’s fourth most successful compact crossover, outselling even the Range Rover Evoque and racking up 105,317 units across the continent in 2015 in an 8% annual increase. As an incredibly popular model, the outgoing Sportage certainly wasn’t broken by any stretch of the imagination and wasn’t in need of any fixing, but car manufacturers can’t rest on their laurels, leading to Kia attempting to better something that was very good in the first place. Have they succeeded?

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The third-generation Sportage’s styling didn’t result in anyone’s eyes popping out of their sockets in either disgust or wonderment but worked very well, blending a friendly, grinning face into a discretely muscular, hefty-looking package that subtly won the respect of most observers. The all-new Sportage evolves the model’s styling successfully, incorporating a cartoony face that some will love more than others, a largely unchanged chunky silhouette and a rear that I perceive as German-troublingly elegant and sophisticated. Its sister, the new Hyundai Tucson, has a more universally attractive face but the rear is devoid of any style at all in comparison to the Kia.

New Kia Sportage crossover - road test review - wallpaper gallery photo - journalist

For added pizzazz, a new trim called GT-Line can now be specified, complete with various addenda for a sportier image, from dual exhaust tailpipes and silver skid plates to a high-gloss black grille, flashes of chrome, special 19” alloys, more accentuated body styling and attractive ‘ice cube-style’ quad LED fog lights. A limited-run First Edition package is also offered, boasting two-tone leather, unique paint and various upgrades, and the engine lineup includes Kia’s turbocharged 1.6-litre T-GDi petrol engine. I restrained myself, though, focussing on what will undoubtedly prove the best-selling combination – the 1.7 CRDi diesel variant in middling ‘2’ trim, with a manual gearbox. Was I disappointed? Not a jot.

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The new Sportage’s cabin is so comfortable and ergonomically well-executed that I barely noticed the harsh plastics that are inevitably still present in certain places. The controls and buttons fall to hand nicely and can be operated intuitively without having to glance down at them, the steering wheel feels tactile and to my delight the handbrake is a conventional affair rather than an electronic one. The dashboard is refreshingly minimalist, many functions migrated to the colour touchscreen infotainment system in pride of place on ‘2’ grade Sportages upwards.

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Visibility is excellent, aided further by the reversing camera and parking sensors, and the rear seats are as accommodating and comfortable as those in the front, with head, leg and shoulder room in plentiful supply. The back seats even recline, which can’t be said of those found in many rival cars. Reproduction from the sound system is excellent and the Bluetooth system paired with my Samsung SGS3 instantly. Sitting 40mm lower, the seats are easier to access, although I find the seat adjustment controls a little fiddly and the doors rather heavy. The 491-to-1,480-litre boot is generous, offering more space than the Nissan Qashqai but less than the new Hyundai Tucson; and there’s barely a loading lip to navigate, making load-in much easier. Dip your toe into the new Kia Sportage experience with an open mind and modest expectations and you’ll end up impressed without a doubt.

The 1.7-litre CRDi variant I tested is only available in front-wheel drive and all the new Sportage’s powerplants have been tweaked to meet Euro-6 emissions standards whilst outputting less CO2 and returning improved fuel economy. CO2 emissions for the 1.7-litre diesel, which qualifies for free road tax for the first year, have fallen from 135g/km to 119g/km, with consumption eked up to 61.4mpg combined on paper. For a brand new engine that spent most of the week in crawling commuter traffic, averaging 52mpg is impressive. For business drivers considering a Kia Sportage for a company car, the reduction in CO2 emissions correlates to its BIK rate falling from 25% previously to 21% for the all-new model, which sits in VED band C.

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Turning the conventional key in the traditional ignition and the 1.7-litre engine isn’t the quietest diesel unit around when stationery or indeed working up through the first three gears. It’s quieter than the Hyundai Tucson’s 1.7-litre unit, though, and becomes much more refined in gears four to six, proving really rather endearing. The 280Nm peak torque it develops between 1,250-2,750rpm will never excite under hard acceleration but on the move the most modestly-powered new Sportage feels slightly more powerful than its 114bhp figure suggests. Dropping down a gear or two is no hardship as the short-throw gearbox has a slick, precise action, the clutch is wholly affable and the combination of engine and gearbox is perfectly suited.

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Offering a lofty driving position and excellent visibility, it’s an enjoyable car to hustle along on sweeping B-roads, while on A-roads, dual carriageways and motorways, it’s largely effortless, road and tyre noise kept in check fairly well. Wind noise is apparent at times, though, and considering the Sportage’s hefty proportions, it surprisingly gets buffeted around on the motorway and other exposed roads. Fortunately, the Lane Keep Assist system is top notch, pointing to the day when Kia and other manufacturers’ models will be autonomous.

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The new Sportage’s steering is nicely weighted, taking the pain out of manoeuvring, along with the raft of safety aids fitted. As expected for a car of this class and price point, a degree of body roll is evident when chucking it around sharpish corners at any sort of speed and the Motor Driven Power Steering isn’t as crisp as a Macan’s, but the overall driving experience from the new Sportage is very good indeed. High Beam Assist comes as standard with ‘2’ trim and makes night driving all the more pleasurable, while its 5-star EURO NCAP safety rating is reassuring for families in particular.

With a 7-year warranty and a relatively appealing price tag of £22,050 for the 1.7-litre CRDi ‘2’ trim variant with a manual gearbox, it’s hard to fault the new Kia Sportage.

© Author: Oliver Hammond, published motoring journalist, blogger & freelance writer