To paraphrase Top Gun- my mouth may have been writing some cheques that my sway in the automotive world could not cash.
I was getting married and my last weekend of freedom was approaching. Being a pipe and slippers kind of guy I was keen to avoid any horrific Inbetweeners-esque celebration of my forthcoming nuptials and had instead opted for a few days in the wilds of Scotland, fishing, golfing and pursuing some manly (but relatively risk-free, stag-wise) activities. Being an automotive scribbler I had promised the chaps that I would handle the transportation for a few of us as a 1,000 mile roundtrip as it would be a great test of any suitable vehicle that any manufacturer would be kind enough to loan us.
For the weeks leading up to the event the emails flew back and forth between my chums and I- chums who had been lucky enough to passenger with (the even-luckier) me at the helm of all manner of exotic machinery from assorted Bentleys through offerings from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche. Speculation was rife as to just how ‘baller’ our transportation might be. Throughout the rampant speculation I remained uncharacteristically silent as again and again I was hitting dead-ends with our specific dates. It was looking likely we were going to be four-men, plus luggage, plus golf apparatus in my MINI Cooper S- and although the world record for such a feat is 26 people I feared space was going to be at a premium.
Then there were some headlights at the end of the tunnel when Kia came through with the offer of their latest Sportage crossover.
With just a couple of hours to spare it was parked up outside my office, looking every inch the premium offering in metallic ‘Byte’ blue- only the large profile tyres giving away that this was the base model 2WD 1.6 GDi ‘1’. With badges the size of dinner plates Kia are keen that there is no mistaking their cars for offerings from any more established manufacturers – and quite rightly too as the Kia brand has come a helluva way since the original Sportage was launched into the then fledgling compact SUV sector in the mid-90s.
Since the era of Britpop a lot has changed- and Kia has changed with the times, the boxy but functional first gen offered 4wd ability in a compact package, the second-gen was a larger but rather bland offering competing with the likes of the CRV and now the latest offerings a complete bold redesign courtesy of Peter Schreyer of original Audi TT fame with the brief of appealing to fashion conscious younger buyers. From the bold nose to the sharp rear it’s a cohesive and bleeding edge design which takes the fight to the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga and their like with a confident swagger.
Climb up into the cabin and the ultra-modern theme continues, there’s no real surprise and delight features but what is present is a logical and apparently well-constructed layout with plenty of standard equipment with even base spec tested here featuring air-conditioning, electric mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth. So it was time to load up with luggage before extensively sampling how the Kia fares on the road.
Despite ample dimensions and the target audience it was unfortunate to find that I can’t just sling my mountain bike in the boot thanks to the relatively narrow aperture, although I think I was being a little unreasonable to think I’d have room for luggage, golf clubs, a guitar (yeah, I know- not mine and it remained in the boot for the whole weekend, thankfully) a bike and four hairy men in a midsize SUV. For a two person trip with the seats folded the space on offer would have been ample even if one of your party happens to be a frustrated muso.
With our destination inputted into my TomTom- standard fit sat-nav comes further up the range with the ‘3 Sat Nav’- it was time to put the iPod onto the ‘Scotland road trip’ playlist (starting with some Biffy Clyro) and hit the road, our first stop in Edinburgh a ‘mere’ seven and a half hours away.
The first thing that strikes me is that despite the modest 133bhp on offer there is a reasonable amount of pull- there’s none of that small-engined, big-car lag as the power output struggles to overcome mass. A decent throttle response means you can nip out into city traffic without cursing the fact you didn’t splash for a bigger powerplant. 0-60 is officially quoted at 10.7 seconds which although may suggest you’ll do more waiting than racing is enough urge for day-to-day use.
Away from the cut and thrust of the city you do have to work the engine relatively hard, the six-speed box is pleasingly positive rather than sports-car sharp but on the M-way the cruise control masks any lack of urge and encourages a relaxed driving style that doesn’t ask too much of the 122lb/ft of torque.
It was going to be a monotonous journey whatever the transport but the Kia felt superbly planted throughout, and the larger sidewalls of the standard alloys and multilink suspension soothed away all but the worst of the fractured tarmac whilst the standard 6-speaker stereo pumped out assorted ‘choons’ with a sound-quality beyond what you may expect, whilst skipping the obligatory Proclaimers hit that had found its way onto the playlist was a piece of cake thanks to the steering wheel mounted controls. An average consumption of just over 40mpg was also a noted plus point.
As a measure of the general ride quality and comfort we arrived ready for a night on the town with nary a creaking back or aching limbs- although just how sprightly I’d feel the next day was another thing entirely.
And so onto the next day- skipping over the non-automotive content… A little after the requested hotel checkout time the following day we were back on the road, undertaking a relative jaunt across to Perth where a few log cabins and the more gentile pursuits awaited us.
On the rutted tracks leading up to our home for the next few days the Kia acquitted itself admirably, with the high ground clearance and decent visibility meaning it was easy to place the car within a few inches- a feature I was thankful for when we had to creep past an oncoming Volvo XC90 on what one might generously call a single-track road.
Despite lacking the additional driven wheels of its more expensive siblings the odd bit of churned up mud did not phase the traction and the hill-descent programme seemed to do the trick on the (admittedly only relatively mild) descents that came our way. We stuck to mapped routes at all times but some of the roads allowed me to at least get a flavour of the SUVs abilities as they would have been buttock-clenching in a conventional hatchback, particularly one with a full complement of passengers, thanks to the poor surface and undulations.
So it’s all pretty glowing stuff- and to be fair that’s because over the past few days we have asked of it only what it was designed for. You’re not going to chase lap times in it and it is bested in the refinement stakes by some of its more expensive rivals but it is a sensible family buy offering a strong package of sharp looks, a decent ride and handling balance for its class, superb equipment levels and all of which is backed by a class-leading warranty.
The Kia Sportage offers something a little different from the default choices which are not only more expensive but come packed with less standard-equipment. Coming in at almost £10k less than the top of the range model the £17,000ish 1.6GDi 2WD may also be the pick of the range- particularly when you consider the predicted strong residuals are making for some attractive leasing deals.
I am writing this now as a married man- I didn’t think I’d changed much but now I’m a little concerned with all my talk of family buys, residual values and practicality… salvation is at hand, shortly I’ll be telling you all about the 200bhp supercharged MX5 I just purchased so don’t lose faith just yet!
Words: Aaron Weddell Photos: Stephen Hall