People used to buy a Kia because it was cheap, cheerful, dependable transport.
There were few frills and few other reasons to choose one other than its bargain basement price.
How things have changed.
When the Koreans arrived on the local market, more established brands (European and to a lesser extent the Japanese) looked down their noses.
They criticised the “cheap and cheerful” philosophy. They predicted a marketing disaster when Kia introduced its seven-year warranty.
They scoffed when Hyundai and Kia introduced local suspension tuning to ensure their vehicles were fit for local conditions.
One vocal local car company executive suggested the Koreans would never build an enthusiasts’ car, because they didn’t have a motoring heritage — their over-confidence has cost them dearly.
Kia and Hyundai sales are increasing year on year, with Hyundai now firmly in third place and Kia not far behind in fifth.
Almost every car company has had to improve its warranty offering, thanks to Kia’s ground-breaking initiative.
Kia’s Stinger was voted best performance car by UK Top Gear and last year, their pick was the Hyundai i30N. So much for motoring heritage!
Inevitably, there have been some developments: Kias and Hyundais are no longer bought solely on price. In fact, when I collected this Kia Sportage, the spokesman proudly pointed out that Kia is rapidly becoming an aspirational brand.
A few years ago, the only people who “aspired” to a Kia were people whose only means of getting around was public transport.
This move upmarket has opened the door to the rising Chinese brands to undercut the Koreans and sell on price and value for money. What goes around, comes around.
Which brings us to the latest Kia, the 2022 Sportage.
What’s it cost?
Kia is demonstrating a new confidence, from a bold new logo to cutting edge designs that are both distinctive and, occasionally, polarising.
A starting price of $34,690 (driveaway) for the entry-level model seems sharp, although not as sharp as it initially appears — any colour other than white adds $520 to the price.
However, most buyers will pay closer to $45,000 or $50,000. The 1.6-litre GT-Line model we are testing is near the top of the range at $51,990, with only the diesel costing more.
Japanese competition (Honda CR-V VTi LX AWD, $52,300 driveaway; Mazda CX-5 Akera 2.5T AWD, $52,080; Mitsubishi Outlander Exceed Tourer AWS, $49,990; Subaru Forester Hybrid S, $47,190; Toyota RAV4 Cruiser AWD Hybrid, $46,415) are all around $50,000 in this spec — even the Volkswagen Tiguan comes in at $51,790 plus on road costs.
In other words, Sportage will have to compete on its merits, not a tempting sticker price. The good news is that it does so with aplomb.
GT-Line gets wood-look trim inserts, perforated leather seats with power adjustment, memory, heating and ventilation — plus suede accents.
There are two 12.3-inch screens, with the infotainment screen slightly curved.
Buttons and switchgear feel substantial and soft-touch surfaces, including padded leatherette inserts on doors and central armrest, deliver a suitably upmarket feel — although the piano black surfaces are sure to collect sticky fingerprints.
The sound system is also appropriately luxe, being an eight-speaker Harman Kardon unit.
There has been much thought put into interior storage, which caters for the eternally fiddly keys, wallet, small change and other essentials, and there’s a wireless charging pad (which, unsurprisingly, is a logical place for your phone).
Larger external dimensions translate to much better second row space and legroom, enhanced further by seatbacks that recline a little and better luggage space (up 68 litres to 543).
Drop the seats and the space grows to 1829 litres, making it ideal for prams, walkers or even push bikes.
GT-Line features 19-inch alloys, 3.0-inch digital instrument cluster, leather seats with suede upper, driver’s seat with memory function, power passenger seat adjustment plus heated/ventilated front seats.
There’s also bi-LED headlights (projector type), full-LED tail lights, shift-by-wire gear selector (dial type), wireless phone charger, ambient interior lighting, LED interior lighting, panoramic sunroof, alloy sports pedals, blind monitor, parking collision avoidance (reverse), remote smart park assist (diesel variant only) and surround-view cameras with 3D view.
We can’t see too much that we’d add (although, to be honest, there are probably a few features we could live without).
What’s it go like?
Sportage benefits from Kia’s chassis tuning to make it better suited to local conditions.
Across broken surfaces, it scoffs at potholes and undulations, transmitting very little crash and thump to the cabin.
Impressively, this isn’t at the expense of handling.
For an even more engaging drive, simply drop the mode selector into Sport.
At highway speeds, the absence of road, wind and tyre noise, even over our notorious coarse chip road surfaces — is a highlight.
Minor whinges include a driveline that can occasionally be a bit snatchy. Perhaps it’s the seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
The active lane centring is more obtrusive than it needs to be.
While the rotary gear selector still feels more of a gimmick than a genuine innovation.
Also worth noting is that the Sportage is not particularly frugal.
We averaged 9.4L/100km. The official figure is 7.2L/100km — but at least it’s happy on 91 RON unleaded.