The new styling changes in the Sportage last year have managed to propel it into new territory. We drive the vehicle again to see what draws it offers

Photography: Elvis John Ferrao

We drove the current generation Sportage last year when it was launched in the region and had some rather piquant observations – for one , we were amused at the manner in which the styling had been changed to give it a visual bulk and profiling that made it look like a putative Porsche small SUV. What is admirable is that the company managed the entire exercise without resorting to a full platform change. What in effect happened is that KIA stepped into its accelerated model renewal cycle and revisited the platform, tweaking essential bits of the underlying structure, increasing the use of high strength steels and the structural rigidity, but keeping the general shape intact.

The exterior panel work changed significantly, with the new fascia, bulkier hood and sharper tail-end with its horizontal lights and chrome inlay. The headlights have changed too – with higher grade Sportages getting the projector lamp arrangement to match with the LED support lighting. The company also managed to bring in the four-point LED DRLs that give the car its allusion to Porsche although the arrangement is different here.

We had picked up the GT Line spec of the car and it definitely is the most interesting spec level of the car. You get the 2.4L normally aspirated engine as opposed to the turbocharged engine on the actual Sportage GT, but in all other respects the car is similar. The dashboard is dominated by a large 8-inch navigation screen and gets lane watch and the high intensity projector headlamps with motorised beam throw. This gives you the feeling that the light beam is linked with the steering wheel as it shines around the curve you are steering into, brightening up spaces you normally wouldn’t have noticed.

Of course it also shares some features with the lower GDi spec including the panoramic glass roof, blind spot detection and JBL sound system. In addition the 19-inch wheels are specific to the GT line as is the gesture-controlled tailgate, leather seats with heating and ventilation, paddle shifters on the wheel and a larger digital readout on the IP.

Driving impressions

At the core of the GT Line argument is the fact that the 182hp 2.4-litre GDI engine is more than adequate for any regular performance driving. There is no feel of the crossover trying to emulate a hot hatch, but the underlying linearity of power delivery and the rather efficient six-speed automatic transmission do a more than adequate job of keeping you speeding. Power split is automatic and governed by a controller that tries to balance fuel-efficiency with grip. You have a centre differential lock button just in case you want to force the all-wheel mode.
The suspension has undergone a beefing up – it is slightly stiffer, with quicker recoil and has a tendency to soak up rumblers and mild undulations. Steering feel is as usual on the soft side. With the ability to switch both steering response and transmission shift modes into sportier levels when needed, you can actually tune the road feel a little, although engine response doesn’t seem to match up with the gearbox’s ability to hold gears for longer. It isn’t fair to consider the GTL as a sports crossover, but the attempt is there – smarter and snappier cabin, does match with a far better NVH levels.

However, this genre of crossover does share its usual problem of lack of visibility in the corners, partially mitigated by the sensors. We had an issue with judging road position and tracked too far to the right, kerbing the right side wheels, because we were over-compensating for the driver’s side. We were on a very tight track, but nonetheless it is better to get spatially aware of the crossover’s extremities as soon as possible.

Verdict

Still completely relevant and definitely positioned against a battered seven-seater SUV market, the Sportage brings its blend of fresh new styling, very comfortable and usable cabin space, top grade feature pack and growing brand cachet to the segment although the pricing of the model year 2017 version at just a bit over 12,000 Rials does seem to redraw the whole idea of where the Sportage is relevant. But customers are lapping it up.

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