Great for Don Henley fans

Road test: Kia Sportage AWD 2.0 diesel

Kia’s design language has impressed us before and the Sportage is probably the best execution of this, given the challenges of turning a truck into a desirable small SUV. Certainly it has generated a number of ‘I’d like one of those’ comments which is indicative in itself; it is also worth taking some time to look at the features which make the Sportage look so right.

The nose has the corporate grill, with sufficient depth to imply strength. The broad lights balance the grill, while their embedded LEDs keep the mood modern. The front bumper contains a secondary mouth-like aperture which echoes the pinched grill shape and offers a purposeful gritted-teeth look to the front.

The double wheel arches, with painted outer edges and black plastic inserts add appropriate visual weight to the profile. There is also a gentle sculpting on the lower half of the doors (not as easy to see on the brown – sorry, ’Sand Track’ press car we have) which helps to break the otherwise tall doors. The rear is one of the plainer SUV bottoms and because of the gentle horizontal crease, sculpted lights and shallow rear screen it hides the height well.

So, all good on the outside. Once behind the wheel, the cabin looks a little on the plain side but all the essentials are present on this mid-spec version. The half leather seats are comfortable and the driving position is relaxed with all controls positioned within easy reach. The shiny indicator and light stalks are a little low rent (rather ‘90s Toyota Carina) but otherwise the finish feels fine. The excellent split, sliding panoramic roof is a pleasing feature.

The real gem on this Sportage is its 2.0 diesel engine. On paper, 134 bhp and 320 Nm torque aren’t going to win games of Top Trumps. However, it’s one of the most tractable diesels on the market, happily pulling away from idle in second and encouraging early up-changes for good economy and relaxed driving. Along with the four-wheel-drive and 1,600 kg kerb weight, it stacks up as a good tow car, too.

The clever electronics which manage the four-wheel-drive provide intervention when necessary to ensure loss of traction or lateral grip is minimised in tough conditions (or through enthusiastic driving). It is promoted as being pro-active although inherently it has to deal with situations once they’ve arisen; it is possible to feel stuff happening on slippery corners, although it’s never quite clear what adjustments are being made. This AWD version also comes with hill descent control and electronic diff-lock; I tried the former and found it set a little too fast, but it did maintain the speed. Ride is both supple and controlled, without the usual levels of pitch or roll normally associated with tall vehicles.

Taking the edge off the driving experience is the gear change, which is positive but not quite as free to engage as it ought to be, particularly when slicing between second and first (possibly just a tight linkage). The steering is also a little numb in the straight-ahead position and, oddly, the seat belt buckles aren’t the easiest to click home.

So, with only a couple of minor quibbles, Kia’s Sportage is probably the smartest non-premium SUV on the market, complemented by a superb drive-train and ride. Alas, musically, this Kia only plays songs by Don Henley. I tried everything I could think of but the other 4,000 songs by varied artists on the MP3 player were all snubbed in favour of Don. If you like “Boys of Summer” on repeat, you can’t beat the Sportage.

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi ‘KX-2’ AWD, £23,025 (plus £475 for metallic paint); range starts at £17,300.

Power: 134 bhp (4,000 rpm), torque: 320Nm (1,800-2,500 rpm), emissions: 149 g/km CO2 (band F), 0-60 mph: 10.9 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○

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