Friday 26 May 2017

Driven by guarantees

Fresh appeal: The Sportage's new look is a real winner
Fresh appeal: The Sportage's new look is a real winner

This is the last time I'm mentioning the extended family for a good while, but one of the cousins does play a role in this review so you'll forgive me.

He had the previous Sportage for ages, stretching back to a time when Kia was far from being the prominent name it is today.

The cousin liked it and was wondering about the new one. We discussed his change to a new motor a few times. I suggested he try a couple of alternatives first. He did. Then late last year I discovered he had bought a new Sportage. It was an early special offer Kia came up with to get a few sales on the sheet and a few samples on the streets before the real activity began this month.

Then he told me he wasn't that happy with it. He just had a few cribs but didn't go into them in any great depth.

But I now know he isn't happy with the visibility in this new, far smarter- looking model. You see he was used to a lot more window space out the back and the front pillars are large and block a bit of vision as well.

I tell you this because it goes to show what can really matter to owners. I can sit here and rattle off all sorts of stuff, what I liked and didn't, and it may seem trivial in some cases.

But it is not. Living every day with aspects of a car that bug or annoy you can be a real drag. As the cousin will tell you. So in future I won't apologise about apparent trivia.

Truth be told, the visibility thing didn't strike me that much at all -- well maybe the front pillar bit did.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say I had to look long and hard to find things that would annoy me in the long term.

I'll tell you how I went about assessing this Sportage.

Looks: It really is a major visual improvement on the old one. This is heavily influenced, I have no doubt, by the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and the success it has had with that 'crossover' shape and design. Like them or lump them, crossovers are the fashion of the immediate future. Yes, the penalty you pay in this case is a narrower rear-hatch aperture and those front pillars. I don't consider them major flaws.

cabin: Really well conceived and laid out. I felt it had a lot more room than before, a lot of comfort in the seats, good rear room, a decent boot and one of my favourite driving positions. Simple enough dials to tweak and handle and, more importantly, they're positioned where you expect to find them.

And the version I had (EX) was illuminated, if that is the word, by a massive panoramic sunroof that should be a real boon in the summer. I closed it over. January is a dark month. And I didn't need upward visibility.

Handling/ride: One really wet blustery night we made a strong dash to meet some friends the other side of the Shannon. The wind would have put many a vehicle off its track and I expected this to take a bit of a battering because of its height, but it held up well. On the tarmac of the open road, and especially on motorways, it was excellent. However, it was less smooth and sophisticated on the roads that now so often confront us after two harsh winters. I'd like it to have had sat more solidly over the ruts and ripples and be more taut on bends and curves. These are its main flaws.

Engine: The 1.7-litre diesel had a good feel to it. There was always plenty of power (115bhp) on tap and with a slick six-speed gearbox, I had a bit of fun with pushing this. It had Stop/Start technology where engine cuts out when you stop at lights etc and restarts when you engage clutch.

I really did ask questions of the 115bhp all through the test drives. That was reflected in how quickly I used up the diesel; I'd say with a bit of mercy this will give you a decent return (official combined figure is 5.2l/100km). Wouldn't it want to these days? Merciful God the price of fuel. What good is €20 worth any more?

Price: It is competitive, there is no doubt about that, but the punchline these days from Kia is the seven-year warranty. Rivals might not like it said, but at a time of huge uncertainty underpinning your purchase for seven years is a major selling point.

I think this has to be on your short, short shopping list. The handling purists might not agree. And the cousin might dispute some of my claims -- that's why you'll hear no more about them for a while. But the package is as good as there is out there.

What

Kia Sportage 1.7-litre diesel, 4 x 2 SUV/Crossover (1,675cc, 115bhp, 6spd gearbox), CO2 of 135g/km; VRT is 16pc. €156 annual road tax

Cost

From €25,600. Delivery, related charges extra.

Target Market

Families.

Plus

Looks, cabin, price, engine, space, seven-year warranty.

Minus

Lacks finesse on handling and ride over poorer roads, slightly stunted visibility.

Standard Equipment

Cruise control, air con, front fog lights, Stop & Go technology, rain sensing wipers, reversing sensor, Bluetooth with voice recognition control, 16ins alloys, electric windows, remote audio controls, several airbags, Hillstart Assist control which stops vehicle rolling back when you start on an incline. EX (€27,800) version adds 17ins alloys, half-leather upholstery, and more. GSE version (€29,995) adds Xenon HID lights with lamp washer, full-leather upholstery, dual climate control and heated seats.

Others to consider

Hyundai iX35, Ford Kuga, Skoda Yeti, Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Nissan Qashqai, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Mitsubishi Outlander.

Star Rating: 84 / 100

ecunningham@independent.ie

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