Monday 20 February 2017

Sportage a study of why we're hooked on SUVs

Crossover ticks most, if not all, boxes

Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30

Greatly improved performance: Kia Sportage
Greatly improved performance: Kia Sportage

I'm sure in years to come academics will publish jargon-laden theses on the fads and trends of the early 21st century. Included among the smartphones, 6ins-high heels and Twitter phenomena there will have to be a section on the 'sociological significance' of SUVs and Crossovers.

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They are now, I contend (forgive the academic tone), as much a part of our culture as anything else we interface with on a daily basis.

I can see the section now: 'The role and relevance of Crossovers in the emergence of a post-modern transportational society'.

Should the authors wish to bolster their appendices and references, they could cite a recent European-wide study by JATO Dynamics that reveals how SUVs/Crossovers as a genre are now, for the first time, outselling traditional cars.

As I was driving this new KIA Sportage around parts of south Leinster and the midlands over the week, I mentally ticked off the sort of car I was meeting or, occasionally, passing out.

Do it some time you're on a longer journey and the children are getting bored. I was surprised. I found there are far more 'SUVs' around the greater Dublin conurbation than in more rural areas where, instead, traditional 4x4 commercials abound.

Which suggests to me that the change in our preferences is all the more profound; form has aligned, if not outstripped, function in mainstream motoring because few urban dwellers, in particular, need SUV-like bulk or muscle.

The fact is we've fallen head-over-heels for the package: the image, styling, height, muscle-looks, technical proficiency, versatility, space, diesel engines (usually) etc.

And the Sportage doesn't miss many of those tricks. There's the easily-accessed, hard-wearing cabin (despite the presence of half-leather), loads of room and a more-than-decent boot.

It is not perfect on all fronts but it remedies a few faults from the previous model. First off, the rear window is bigger and deeper now, a boon to owners who so often raised the issue with me.

Secondly, Kia has greatly improved performance, quietness and emissions of the 1.7-litre diesel engine. And thirdly, there are better quality plastics and materials around the cabin. However, the engine lacked that top-end pull which had me digging into fourth and fifth gear at moderate motorway speeds. And Kia hasn't fully banished some road/tyre noise from sneaking into the cabin.

I also thought the dash was too bulky looking and dark in my test car. I think others do that area much better. I raise it because you do have to look at it every day. You also have to sit in those seats every day and there Kia has done well; they are excellent. The way mine was set up I had both comfort and good all-round visibility despite the presence of chunky pillars. As a mark of how easily I fitted in, I only had to adjust the steering wheel once over all the drives.

On a variety of roads the drive was solid and easy. By the way, taller cars such as this always warrant a little bit of extra caution in heavy winds (and we've have plenty of those). There were a few ferocious gusts across the M50 in the course of my drives but, thankfully, we weren't unsettled.

The thing about the Sportage is it looks so blinking good as well as doing most things well. The front design is a clear, distinguishing feature; even a few hardened motoring folk sang its praises to me.

My mid-trim EX version will sell best and future academics will do well to note the level of equipment people expected/took for granted in a car around the €30,000 mark (this one is up around €1,000 on the previous).

KIA has 2,000 or so Sportages gone or going on to the market. By all accounts, and judging by the chart-topping Hyundai Tucson (a close stablemate of the Sportage), a warm reception awaits.

That's hardly surprising. This is Crossover time after all and it looks like lasting a while. The academics may face a long wait to conclude their study.

Facts & figures

KIA Sportage Crossover 2WD, 1.7-litre diesel, 115hp, road tax €200.

Price from €27,995; EX (on test) €29,995; GSE €34,995. Remember price includes delivery and related charges. There's a 7-year warranty.

Standard spec includes Stop/Go, auto headlights, cruise control, Bluetooth, rear parking sensor. EX (on test) adds 17ins alloys, 9ins nav/camera display, electric driver's seat with lumbar support, half-leather seats, high-beam assist, Lane Keep Assist. Top-of range GSE adds 19ins alloys, full leather, sunroof, xenon lights.

My side of the road

Lots of big pools of water on roadsides these days and people straying across the road to avoid them. The danger is oncoming traffic is often driven into the pools to avoid the water-dodgers. It's especially dangerous on narrower country roads but I've had a couple of close ones on bigger/better routes. People are driving too fast for their own good in these circumstances. 

ecunningham@independent.ie

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