The Kia Sportage is one of the Korean brand’s most popular models and one of the core cars that took Kia from “pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap” budget brand to a mainstream name that stands as an equal alongside the likes of Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.

You can trace the history of the Sportage right back to 1995 in the UK, with close to 200,000 Sportages having been sold over the past 27 years. The latest one, launched in 2022, is the fifth generation. Already the newcomer is continuing the strong performance of its predecessor – Kia’s best-selling model both in the UK and globally.

As of October 2022, the Sportage holds an Expert Rating of 74% on The Car Expert’s award-winning Expert Rating Index, which is significantly higher than the fourth-generation version it replaces.

What is it?

The Kia Sportage competes in the absolutely-bursting-at-the-seams mid-sized SUV market, facing competition from just about every other manufacturer out there and counting as core rivals the likes of the Ford Kuga, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and, of course, the daddy of them all, the Nissan Qashqai.

Kia makes much of the fact that, while coming from a Korean brand, the Sportage has for the first time been designed specifically for European consumers – developed on European roads and built at the brand’s huge plant in Slovakia.

The changes runs deep compared to the last generation. The exterior has been completely redesigned with a bold new look, there’s more room inside for both occupants and their luggage, an interior design that has been markedly upgraded and a host of new tech. Add this to a totally revamped engine range that includes the first electrified drivetrains – in both mild hybrid and actual hybrid form – and there’s a lot to talk about.

First impressions

It’s easy to distinguish the new Sportage from what has gone before, as it has a completely new and much bolder exterior treatment based around Kia’s latest design language. A world away from the ‘much like everything else’ visuals of predecessors, it’s clean and sharp, with defined creases that all flow together rather well.

Up front we get Kia’s signature ‘Tiger Grille’ – following the current trend for grilles getting bigger and bigger – while the daytime running lights are encased in a striking boomerang design. Drivers being overtaken by a Sportage will certainly know what’s coming when they spot it in their rear-view mirrors…

In profile, the car’s roof slopes gently down towards the rear and the ‘belt line’ rises to meet it, while the wheel arches merge into the body in an integrated way – overall the Sportage is as satisfying in its visuals as any SUV ever can be.

One quirk of the previous model has been ditched, thankfully in this reviewer’s opinion – the rear indicators are no longer right down at bumper level but mounted in the far more prominent position used by just about every other manufacturer, halfway up the body where they are much easier to see if you are following a Sportage.

We like: General look and rear indicators in sensible place
We don’t like: Why do today’s grilles have to be so big?

What do you get for your money?

The Kia Sportage is available in six different trim levels and, once you factor in the engine and drive options, the range extends to some 16 versions. The long-established and simple-to-understand ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘4’ grades (there is no ‘1’) are somewhat undermined by a ‘GT-Line’ model sitting between 2 and 3, and then above 4 a range flagship dubbed ‘GT-Line S’.

You first need to decide which engine you are after. The entry-level 2, which is priced from just under £28K, only comes with a 1.6-litre petrol unit of 150hp (there was a diesel alternative but it has now been discontinued), with a six-speed manual gearbox and in front-wheel-drive form.

If you want a hybrid of some flavour, you take a step up to GT-Line, with both mild and full hybrid options on offer for just under £5K and £7K respectively more than the equivalent petrol 2.

An extensive Sportage standard specification list includes an eight-inch central touchscreen display, which also includes a reversing camera display backed by front and rear parking sensors. GT-Line adds larger alloy wheels, LED front fog lights and rear lights, and various detailing add-ons aimed at a more sporty look. Most notably, the central touchscreen grows to 12 inches and gets built-in navigation. There are also a few other interior upgrades plus cruise control on manual models, adaptive cruise on auto versions.

Safety is particularly impressive, with every version featuring a suite of active systems as standard. The autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system with pedestrian, cyclist and junction detection is backed up by aids including hill-start, downhill braking, lane-keeping and even trailer stability for towing a caravan or horse box. The car maintained the Sportage’s five-star rating when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP.

Cars in 3 trim start with the 2’s specification but gain some of the GT-Line’s extra equipment, plus various niceties such as electric front seats which are also heated, as are the rear outer pair and the steering wheel. The driver’s instrument panel also grows in size to match and join with the centre console screen, curving attractively across the fascia, while buyers also get a seven-year free subscription to Kia’s Connect service, an app-based system with such features as journey planning, petrol-station finding and remote checking that you locked the car.

Go to level 4 and the car includes adaptive headlamps, a panoramic sunroof and more detailing. Inside there’s an upmarket Harman Kardon sound system, while extra safety systems include a 360-degree around-view monitor, blind-spot and parking avoidance aids and on hybrids remote parking assistance.

The 4 and the range-topping GT-Line S are also the only Sportages available with all-wheel-drive, once an SUV signature. Unless, that is, you go for the plug-in hybrid, which was launched a little after the rest of the range. PHEV models are available in everything but entry-level 2 form, the cheapest costing a few pounds short of £40K.

The GT-Line S justifies its £39K starting price with a combination of the GT-Line’s exterior sporty look and the 4’s equipment levels, along with a powered tailgate activated by a smart key and electric adjustment in more directions on both front seats.

We like: Strong safety package.
We don’t like: Too many different models yet no entry-level hybrid version.

What’s the Kia Sportage like inside?

It seems to be the trend for SUV manufacturers to seriously upgrade their interiors at present and the Sportage certainly follows this route with what Kia describes as its first Euro-pitched ‘driver-centric’ interior design. Mind you, to get the full experience you need to choose higher-spec models, on which slipping inside reveals the very attractive pair of 12-inch screens stretching across the front fascia in a single gentle curve, one display for the driver and the other with all the infotainment.

The screen is huge, the technology behind it impressive though it can be frustrating trying to access some functions through a suite of menus – it takes a little getting used to.

Despite the focus on lots of new tech, the basics have not been forgotten. The materials used feel of a higher quality than previously, with hard plastics banished, the detailing is done to premium standards, and the ambient lighting presents a welcoming interior.

Crucially, once you are in the car it feels more spacious than previous versions, especially in the legroom afforded to rear-seat passengers. Neither this or the cargo space (591 litres with the seats up extending to 1,780 litres with them down) are impacted in hybrid versions, the electric hardware neatly packaged under the seats.

We like: Quality of the interior, front curved displays
We don’t like: Some fiddly menus

What’s under the bonnet?

You’re not short for propulsion choice with the Sportage – the only powertrain options you can’t have are a diesel or an EV. While a lack of the former is no surprise (they were briefly available but have now been dropped), Kia reckons there is no Sportage EV currently in the brand’s plans either.

Instead, you can choose from petrol (with or without mild hybrid assistance), regular hybrid and plug-in hybrid power. Our test drive is in the regular hybrid in two-wheel-drive form – you can also have it with all-wheel-drive, but only in top-spec 4 or GT-Line S models. This drivetrain takes the form of a 1.6-litre petrol engine matched to a 44kWh electric motor and putting out just under 230hp.

The hybrid is quite swift, passing 60mph in under eight seconds, while returning official fuel economy figures of close to 50mpg. This compares with the mild hybrid’s 0-62mph time of around 9.5 seconds, fuel economy of 40 to 44mpg and emissions of around 146-158mpg.

Best official figures, of course, belong to the plug-in hybrid. It pumps out more than 260hp while returning official fuel economy and emissions of 252mpg and 25g/km, with an officially rated range of up to 43 miles in electric-only mode.

What’s the Kia Sportage like to drive?

The regular hybrid has received the most positive reviews for its response and refinement and it certainly feels that way. A sub eight-second 0-60mph time is swift in such a car, but the Sportage achieves this in a very unflustered manner, switching seamlessly between electric and petrol drive as required.

Out on the road, the Kia Sportage does not write any headlines – but that is not a criticism. This is a car that prioritises comfort and refinement over exciting the driver, and succeeds handsomely.

The car rides excellently, smothering bumps without any fuss – you can imagine covering many miles in a Sportage. Through corners, it maintains this image with competent and precise turn-in and exit while not exactly communicating much to the driver through the steering wheel. But as we’ve said, this is not a sports car – it’s a hugely comfortable SUV.

We like: Quality of travel, smooth and quiet
We don’t like: Some more feeling through the steering wheel would be nice

Verdict

The success of the Kia Sportage is well-earned. Each successive generation has brought with it significant improvements and a steady march up the new-car quality chart as a result. Today the Sportage is one of the most popular SUVs in a very crowded market and this new fifth-generation version will only enhance that.

The advances are welcome and well judged. Technology, such as the hybrid powertrains, impressive infotainment and strong safety package, are matched by better basics, such as more cabin space. This will be a satisfying car to drive and to own.

Criticisms? Well not everyone will like the look of the new Sportage – more distinction does not sit well with all buyers (though its increasingly firm spot in the new car top-ten sales charts suggests few are bothered by such looks).

Perhaps the one serious question is the price – to get the full benefits of this fifth-generation Sportage, all the technology including those very attractive curved cabin displays, and the hybrid drivetrains, one has to pay around £40K, which brings the Kia Sportage rather close to some very big players, even knocking on the door of Audi and BMW territory.

Similar cars

Audi Q5 | BMW X3 | Citroën C5 Aircross | Ford Kuga | Honda CR-V | Hyundai Tucson | Jeep Compass | Mazda CX-5 | Mercedes-Benz GLC | MG HS | Nissan Qashqai | Peugeot 3008 | SEAT Ateca | Skoda Karoq | SsangYong Korando | Subaru XV | Suzuki S-Cross | Toyota C-HR | Vauxhall Grandland | Volkswagen Tiguan | Volvo XC60

Key specifications

Model tested: Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2WD
Price (as tested): £39,900
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol/electric hybrid
Gearbox:
Six-speed automatic

Power: 229 hp
Torque: 350 Nm
Top speed: 120 mph
0-60 mph: 7.7 seconds

Fuel consumption: 49.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 129 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (July 2022)
TCE Expert Rating: 74% (as of Nov 2022)