What are you driving?
The Kia Sportage has been a runaway success for Kia ever since the third-generation model was introduced in 2010. That slick-looking machine upended the notion that Kia was only a budget brand and put the Korean badge on a number of driveways where, previously, it would never have been considered. I know of people who traded in Mercedes E-Classes for a Sportage.
This fourth-generation model came along first in 2016 and has now been updated for the 2019 model year. The styling has been updated, even if it retains its homage-to-a-Porsche-Cayenne overall look. There are new headlights (LED units with, again, Porsche-esque four-point daytime running lights on our GT Line test car); new bumpers front and rear; a revised radiator grille; new colour options; and new alloy wheels.
The overall effect is... pretty subtle really. It looks more or less identical, but perhaps a little more honed. The same goes for the interior - the layout is the same as before, but there's a new steering wheel, a mildly updated instrument cluster and heating controls, and the infotainment system has been updated too.
There's a bigger change under the bonnet, where the old 1.7-litre diesel engine has been binned in favour of a new 136hp 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel. Diesel may be falling out of fashion, but it's still more or less a default choice for a mid-size crossover buyer, and besides, Kia doesn't yet offer a petrol alternative in the Sportage.
The new engine (called 'U3' by Kia) is fully compliant with the latest emissions tests and has decent on-paper CO2 emissions and economy numbers. You can have it with a seven-speed DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission, but our test car was equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox.
As ever with Kia, value for money is high on the Sportage's list of priorities. The seven-year warranty is present and correct, and while the GT Line's price tag is relatively chunky, at just over €36,000, you do get a lot of equipment for that, including the LED lights, 19-inch alloys, eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, a JBL sound system, a full suite of active safety aids including autonomous emergency braking and leather seats.
Name its best bits
The Sportage's biggest asset is its simplicity. There's nothing complicated here, just a big, roomy cabin with clear instruments and one of the least-baffling touchscreen menus of all. It comes with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so all you do is plug in a USB cable and you have your phone's menu on the touchscreen, ready to go. Our test car looked smart in its bright blue paint and the two-tone beige-and-black cabin was rather pleasant on the eye too.
The Sportage's big 491-litre boot means that it's more practical than a rival Nissan Qashqai, but it's worth pointing out that the Ceed SW estate (sitting right there in the same showroom) has an extra 110 litres of boot space over the Sportage.
The 1.6 diesel engine is impressive too. While it's hardly what you'd call a powerhouse, performance is adequate at the very least, and it's a refined engine, with hardly any diesel rattle nor clatter at low speeds, and it cruises quietly on the motorway. Overall economy is good too - we managed mid-forties mpg over a mixed week of daily driving. The ride quality is excellent, as well, which makes for comfortable progress.
Anything that bugs you?
While the Sportage is painless to drive, and affordable to own, it's lacking badly for something in the way of character. The steering is light and over-assisted, and the suspension feels slack and loose in its motions. The front seats are also rather poor, with bases that feel narrow and uncomfortable. Basically, the Sportage does a decent job of providing transport, but doesn't do it in an engaging nor interesting way. In spite of that faux-Porsche styling, it's a rather bland car overall.
And why have you given it this rating?
There's literally nothing wrong with the Sportage, but it's a car we can't find a compelling reason to buy. It's just a rather dull, identikit mid-range crossover and, for €30,000 or more, it's lacking in anything like excitement and enticement. Now that said, it does most things well - it's roomy, affordable, will be reliable, and the new diesel engine is both refined and economical.
What do the rest of the team think?
The updated Sportage's looks can only truly be appreciated in GT Line specification, which is a shame, as the smart money goes on lower-priced versions further down the line-up. Still, the new 1.6-litre diesel engine is a welcome addition and the Sportage continues to make a solid case for itself against the Qashqai and Tucson.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor
The Kia Sportage does a solid job of providing all the essential elements people look for in a modern crossover. Complementing the decent levels of equipment is a high level of quality inside, and now it's better to drive than before.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor