BY BRIAN BYRNE
SPORTAGE has been the top-selling Kia here over several generations of the model, particularly the last two versions in 2011 and 2017.
In style these crossover-SUVs were smart but restrained, evolutionary and well suited to the European buyer taste particularly. The swirls and sculpts were left to companion brand Hyundai’s Tucson equivalent.
Then suddenly, for the fifth generation Sportage, it seemed the stylists had been told to blow their imaginations right open. Sportage was in your face, on steroids. A bit of a shock, almost a bit much. Bit all part of a major Kia rebranding, the styles led by the EV6 flagship electric car. The angles and edges up front are a far cry from what went before. At the launch event in Ireland last February, I was still a bit dubious.
But by the time I got to drive the car for review, it had grown on me. That’s the thing with dramatic model changes in the car industry, they can be a slower build to favour. And now anyhow, the Sportage — and the new version of its smaller sibling Niro — are head-turners. In an era of almost all cars being very good, and sharing so much under the skin, my pictures here can tell the rest of the Sportage’s style story and you can make up your own minds.
Inside has also been a substantial upshift in design, pushing the ambience all the way up to what used to be the preserve of premium brands. The dashboard and controls, and the trim materials of the review car, are right up there with anything Mercedes-Benz, Volvo or Audi can offer. And if you’d feel that chrome-style detailing, satined aluminium, and lots of piano-black shine might be too much together, they’re not.
I was glad to see that the main instruments cluster has retained the traditional analogue dials style, albeit we know it is all digital. I’m all in favour of the modern graphics for speed and other information, but there’s something about roundels that relaxes. The centre screen is amply sized without being boastful, and is nicely integrated into the totality of the dashboard design. I have a reservation about the touch-strip under it for a range of screen navigations, in that the climate controls require a prior touch to access. Hard to describe, a tad annoying in use.
This is a comfortable car. It is a little larger in every dimension than its predecessor, including wheelbase, so there’s a sense of plenty of room inside. Against the competition, it sits nicely in the middle between Volkswagen’s Tiguan and Audi’s Q4, but feels more.
This was my second new Sportage for review, I had the diesel version out in early spring. Since the diesel has been the mainstay power unit for the model through its previous generations, it proved to be well refined as expected.
My reason for taking the car this time was the engine, a plug-in hybrid, filling out the powertrains range.
The base engine is Kia’s very well considered 1.6 petrol injection engine, with its 180hp output boosted by the electric traction motor to a total of 265hp.
Reminds me that over the last decade or so, the average output of the engines in our everyday cars in Europe seems to have climbed significantly, as have acceleration figures in line with that. A six-speed automatic transmission keeps all the moving bits smoothly in harness.
The rated range of the battery is 70kms. Because I didn’t have the ‘granny’ lead to power up from my front doorway socket, I didn’t have the opportunity to see if that worked out consistently. But from the initial run to home from the pick-up point, which included a considerable detour, that figure doesn’t seem to have been inflated.
The car also had AWD, operated via a ‘terrain’ button which automatically selected the correct settings to deal with a variety of off-road conditions. We hadn’t had rain for a long time when I had the car, so no opportunity to give it the slushy mud test. Reckon it’ll be fine, though.
The plug-in version represents a €4,000 extra cost over the standard hybrid equivalent Sportage, effectively a 10pc premium for being able to drive around 70km before using petrol. Whether that is worth it over your weekly driving patterns is dependent on doing the maths. If I lived in a city suburb and most of my driving was a defined daily commute, it would probably work out.
Either way, the Sportage plug-in hybrid (PHEV) will definitely do its share of keeping the Sportage model top of Kia’s sales for another few years on top of the decade already done.
What I liked: That I’ve grown to like the style.
Price: Sportage petrol starts at €38,000; review K4 PHEV €48,000.