Kia Sportage has gone all curvy, but is it just a little bit too cute and cuddly?
It’s the automotive equivalent of Bruce and Caitlyn.
Yes, it’s that serious, and this hot topic has divided the most ardent of SUV fans.
Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with ground clearance or all-terrain driving.
The burning issue here is the more feminine look of the new Kia Sportage and whether it will put off its legions of macho fans.
While most manufacturers spend small fortunes on making their cars look more aggressive and masculine, the Koreans have done the opposite.
Bringing to the fore the now signature Tiger Nose that first adorned the Cee’d, the crossover is cuter, squidgier and a bit more girly than its predecessor.
Some experts believe the design will attract more young professional women who traditionally opt for the compact executive forecourts
A smart move considering that 20pc of all cars sold in Europe by 2020 will be SUVs.
But the Sportage is more than just a pretty face as the fourth generation is bigger (40mm longer) and more fuel-efficient and offers greater pass-enger comfort.
Thanks to some clever engineering taken from the seven-seat Sorento, the wheelbase has been stretched by 30mm while the interior has been completely revamped (the dashboard has been shortened) to maximise space.
This gives increased headroom (up 5mm and 16mm front and rear respectively) while legroom has expanded by 19mm and 7mm.
It also means the boot has grown by a decent 38 litres, giving a total of 503 litres of luggage space.
Inside, the cabin has gone upmarket with premium materials in place of some nasty scratchy plastics seen in previous models.
The cockpit has been simplified too, with a decluttered centre console now dominated by a colour infotainment digital display that’s home to Bluetooth, sat nav, music and streaming.
A sporty three-spoke leather steering wheel with chrome inserts were a nice touch, as were the half-leather seats. The build quality of the switch gear is top notch – little giveaways to designer Peter Schreyer, the man behind the Audi TT and Beetle.
It’s available in three trims – LX (€27,995), EX (€29,995) and GSe (€34,495) – and standard kit is generous, with Stop/Start, 16-inch alloys, cruise control, electric folding mirrors, Bluetooth and rear parking sensors.
The volume seller here is expected to be the mid-range EX, which comes with 17-inch alloys, sat nav, reversing camera, half-leather seats, speed limiter and Lane Keep Assist.
The top end GSe adds 19-inch alloys, sunroof, full leather heated seats, keyless entry and Xenon lights
Engine-wise, the new Sportage comes with a choice of two power plants, 1.7D for 2WD and 2.0D for AWD.
The 1.7 engine is the same block as the previous generation but has been tweaked for extra efficiency and reduced CO2 which now puts it in Band A4 with annual road tax at €200.
Drive-wise, we were more than pleasantly surprised, and the handling proved a revelation for a car this size.
Sharing the same chassis as sister car (the Hyundai Tuscon) and with all-new rack-mounted electric steering, body roll in corners is almost eradicated.
Feedback from the wheel is much improved too, though a little more grunt would have been appreciated.
All round, the Sportage is a huge improvement on the third generation which itself was a top-class alter-
native to the Ford Kuga or the Mazda CX5.
This one is now a true rival which is sure to cut deep – girly