What is it?
This is a drive in a somewhat unfinished prototype of the all-new Kia Sportage, which goes on sale here next February.
We’re here to witness – and take part in – some hot weather testing in California’s Death Valley, which is the car makers’ go-to location when consistently searing temperatures are needed in order to exercise a car’s cooling systems – for both powertrain and cabin – to limits unlikely to be seen by any Sportage sold over here.
Britain’s liking for the current Sportage is a fine demonstration of the ingredients that are priorities for many car buyers. It looks stylish. It’s good value for money. It’s on trend, being a crossover. And it’s safe to buy from its relative newbie maker because it comes with the back-up of a seven-year warranty.
That it’s stylish and fashionable have a lot to do with why it has become Kia’s best-selling model and, unusually for a value brand, sits close to the top of the range. If you’re a marque pitching cars on value, it’s more often the models at the lower end of the range that sell best.
And yet the Sportage is actually rather an average machine. It doesn’t do anything badly, but it doesn’t do much especially well, either. Had it looked nondescript, it’s highly likely that it would have been an also-ran. So the style of the next Sportage is very obviously vital to this crossover’s continued success.
Not that we’re much wiser about how it will look today, because the prototype we’re driving is artfully disguised with glassfibre and a vision-dizzying body-wrap.
What’s it like?
Cooling systems apart, there’ll be no testing anything to the limit on this drive. That’s partly because these cars are a long way from representative in any area except their (excellent) air conditioning systems, and partly because the nature of the tests requires us to travel at no more than 50mph, and very often at speeds well below that. It’s harder on the cooling systems that way.
Nevertheless, it is possible to glean a few useful impressions of how this new Sportage will be. The interior has a better finish, benefitting from higher-quality materials and a more sophisticated look. It’s a little roomier, too. The boot’s occupation by a bulky suite of temperature-monitoring hardware made it harder to judge its size, however, and there was no folding of the rear seats to inspect the resulting loadbay. But they certainly appear adequately scaled.
The cabin’s civility appears to be matched on the road, too. This being a test for North American vehicles meant that there were no diesels, only petrols that we may not get. The most interesting of these was a 2.0 GDi turbo. This engine serves its urge smoothly from usefully low speeds, although high revs sounded busy in this prototype. The automatic transmission, meanwhile, shifted gears with the vigour of a sleepy pensioner. It’s clearly a work-in-progress, and we didn’t get the chance to try a manual.
By contrast, this new Sportage’s steering is usefully sharper than before, and the chassis produces keener responses, while the rim weights up more consistently under load. However, European Sportages will get their own variable-rate steering system, making these observations a little less relevant. But we’re very likely to see the improvement in precision nevertheless.
The Kia’s tidier cornering is sure to translate to the European versions, too. It’s more assured through bends, doesn’t roll much and feels reassuringly stable at (moderate) speed. The primary ride over larger bumps is absorbent and well controlled, but small bumps intrude. This and the limited body roll suggest that the ride of this prototype may be a bit firm for Britain, but there will be European chassis settings, too. Road roar was quite noticeable but will probably diminish.
Despite these criticisms, it’s easy to see that there’s a lot that’s right with this car, and the prototype’s rough edges are likely to have been polished out by the time new Sportages arrive in the showrooms. Expect an agreeable, easy and capable drive, and to enjoy the experience in an interior that’s a lot more pleasurable to sit in and use.
Should I buy one?
Kia might have a reputation for styling its cars with an appealing flourish, but it’s also very methodical about improving them and the advance of its business in general. So we can be pretty confident that the new Sportage is going to be better made, more sophisticated and a more satisfying drive than the previous model. And if you like the styling of this latest Sportage as much as the last, then the reasons for shortlisting it have just lengthened.
Kia Sportage 2.0 GDi 3 auto
Location Death Valley; On sale February; Price From £17,950 (est); Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 175bhp; Torque 195lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight na; 0-62mph na; Top speed na; Economy na; CO2/tax band tbc