The single most important user benefit to arise from the unrelenting march of the SUV has been the height of the driver’s seat. It is little wonder that the majority of lady drivers prefer the advantages bestowed by this class of car over the conventions of mainstream hatchbackery. Do not take my comment as remotely sexist, as size-ist is somewhat closer to the mark and can be applied in equal measure to gentlemen below the national average height of 5 feet 9.5 inches.
The fact that I personally stand two metres tall (6 feet 6 inches) can be actually a major disadvantage. Fortunately, I also gain from today’s taller category of motorcars, as while my height might lead to cramp in some models, my legs are provided with significantly more space in many of them. Regardless, there is always a trade-off somewhere and, if truth be known, there are very few strictly average stature lads or lasses anywhere. Yet, there is a more pressing issue. With increasing numbers of taller vehicles on our roads, perhaps the very advantage offered initially, is not much of one, when every other driver is sitting at the same height above sea-level! It is a measure worth contemplating.
Although the original concept of SUV also incorporated four-wheel-drive, it needs to be stated that transmissions of that type did and still do lead to increased operational costs, not least in tyre wear, which has been a very sound reason for most manufacturers to resort to front-wheel-drive as being suitable for the vast majority of crossover buyers. For services personnel more familiar with lugging around in a Landy, complete with unassisted steering and manual locking of wheel-hubs, when the going gets tough, a car like the Sportage will feel positively wimpy.
While it is available in all-wheel-drive form, most Sportage buyers/users are happier at a fast-reacting, power-assisted tiller, allowing the gearbox to self-select ratios, while luxuriating in air-conditioned comfort, with the stereo working pleasantly in the background. Height almost does not enter the equation.
Fortunately, unlike some loftier models, the Kia’s cabin is easy to clamber in and out of and it is a most welcoming place to reside, especially in top-specification ‘GT-Line’ trim. A rake and reach adjustable steering column, matches the rake, reach and ‘reclinability’ of the driver’s seat, which also features an electrically adjustable lumbar support. Two-tone (black and silver-grey) leather covered seats provide excellent support and space both in front and in the rear of the car, which also benefits from dark-tinted security glass. The lighter leather shade also covers the door panels in a cabin predominated by light grey, easy-wipe plastics.
There is nothing complex about the Sportage’s dashboard layout and switchgear familiarity soon builds, as most buttons are large and legible, carrying out the functions for which they are intended. The instrument cluster ahead of the driver is easy to read and the digital information panel between the speedometer and rev-counter can be readily reconfigured, using the steering wheel spoke controls, to relay trip information. The GT-Line factors in a leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel that does not demand excessive wheel twirling, thanks to the rack’s high-gearing (2.8 turns, lock-to-lock) for a fairly tight turning circle.
One of the GT-Line recognition points is the ‘ice-cube’ LED foglamps installed within the lower front bumper. The LED daytime running-lamp signature is carried in the headlamp pods. Tastefully rounded, the actual height of bonnet-line is disguised by the combination of Kia’s stylised ‘tiger’s nose’ radiator grille and the silvered underbody protection. Yet, the car is chunky and I have heard it described as ‘Florence’s bootie’ (‘Magic Roundabout’ fans will understand). The wide rear pillars do not cause a rearward obstruction from inside the car but they do promote the near van-like nature of the upright hatchback rear door, which opens to reveal a most accommodating and easy access boot, which is perfect for families, especially for transporting baby carriages and other paraphernalia. The split-fold rear seats (60:40) fold easily to provide more space, when needed.
One of the key attributes of Sportage is that it looks quite different to its more organically styled rivals in the class. In many respects, it is a most elegant profile but it looks very sporty, especially sitting on 19.0-inch alloy wheels, set-off by silvered roof rails and skirt trims. Twin oval tail-pipes factor in a sportier impression, although the test car is powered by a fairly rudimentary 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, four-cylinder engine that develops a modest 134bhp.
It is a strong unit and powers several other models in Kia’s growing line-up. Promising an Official Combined fuel return of 47.9mpg, the benefits of diesel over petrol are clear to see. In addition, thanks to a healthy amount of torque (an impressive 275lbs ft), towing up to 1.9-tonnes worth of caravan is a doddle (the Sportage having won several towing awards over the years). There is a 182bhp option that might befit the sporting designation better. However, the 134bhp unit still enables the 0-60mph benchmark to be covered in 11.6s, with a modest top speed of 114mph. Remember that this model is also driving through an auto-box, with paddle shifters, which makes for exceptionally relaxed motoring.
The Kia Sportage handles very well and provides a comfortable ride quality over most road surfaces, although the big tyres can rumble noisily on broken tarmac, as their low-profile tyres can transmit poorer quality surface noises through the body and into the cabin. As a fit for market manufacturer, Kia ensures up-to-the-minute connectivity and the customary plethora of electronic safety devices. Hill-start assist, downhill brake control and trailer stability are all part of the comprehensive package.