Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fire up the... Kia Sportage

THIS is where the smart money in motoring goes. The hard-earned you used to blow on family hatchbacks now goes on trendy, pint-sized off roaders.

It's why the Nissan Qashqai's such a big seller and the Skoda Yeti earns its plaudits; they might not have the mountain climbing ability of a more hardcore 4x4 but they offer their rugged image with the load-lugging practicality of an estate car and friendly hatchback handling in the same package.

Kia's offering in this keenly-contested territory, the Sportage, has one thing immediately in its favour - that it's such a cleanly styled car. To my mind, the company's stylists have been little too liberal with the chrome detailing, meaning it looks more at home on Sunset Boulevard than Lord Street, but not one of the Sportage's onlookers thought it was anything other than a handsome bit of kit. Whip the badges off this thing and you'd swear it was an Audi or Mercedes off roader.

But what isn't at all Mercedes about is the price. True, the 2.0 CRDi 4X4 version I tested was a £22,000 car but this was the range-topper with all the bells and whistles; you can, if you're happy to settle for the 1.6 GDI version, get the Sportage's looks and faintly ridiculous amounts of head and legroom for nearer £17,000. More importantly, it doesn't feel like a cheap car, with the same attention to interior detail which impressed in the Hyundai i30 being used to good effect here. It's also a smooth, refined sort of drive, and while you're never going to get the fluidity of a lower, lighter Focus or Megane if you really thrash it into a corner, the torquey nature of the 2.0 litre diesel in particular makes it perfect for towing caravans in particular.

The Sportage is one of the best entries in a hard-fought corner of the car marketplace. To my mind, only the Skoda Yeti offers a more polished package, but then the Kia pulls out its trump card - a seven year warranty to the Skoda's three.

Your call...

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