The outgoing Sportage was a straight-dealing, unaffected sort of drive. By and large, it was how you might have hoped and expected to find a jacked-up family hatch in 2010: a touch soft-handling and only a moderately keen feel, but compliant, coherent and quite easy-going with it.

The new version is, of course, up against higher expectations and tougher class standards – to the extent that repeating the same compromise six years later would never have cut the mustard.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior

Road test editor
Chassis rates are firm and damping is poor if you charge hard over transmission bumps

But it’s apparent that, in responding to the challenge, Kia may have lost sight of the sense of becalmed dynamic measure and maturity that made the previous Sportage feel less like a hatchback and more like a downsized SUV to drive – and all the more likable for it.

The new Sportage has contracted the ‘sportiness’ that some at Kia may imagine suits its identity, a bit like an opening batsman getting the yips.

Where once relaxed spring rates brought long-striding compliance, there is now a more insistent, high-frequency firmness in the ride, and a pursuit of level equilibrium that more often than not makes the car somewhat restless on UK roads.

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The same firmness has undeniably allowed the handling to take some large objective strides. There is much greater high-speed stability delivered by this suspension than that of the previous car, as well as the kind of agility and lateral grip of which any crossover would be proud.

It’s a shame, therefore, that the fidgeting, conductive ride prevents you from enjoying the game handling where uneven surfaces are concerned. It’s equally regrettable, too, that Kia’s new power steering system confuses changeable, cloying weight and apparent friction with genuine feedback, making the car a trying thing to steer at times when it ought to be fluent and precise.

Although it may not have been entirely called for on a diesel crossover, the healthy dose of added purposefulness dialled in by the suspension makeover has certainly polished the Sportage’s dynamic act and pushed out its adhesive limits quite a long way.

The chassis now develops quite a lot more lateral grip than its modest diesel engine will allow you to explore without plenty of commitment.

Although the damper tuning could be more progressive, body control is well checked when cornering hard, and the steered axle is permitted to retain a strong and lasting authority over your intended path.

Handling balance is fairly keen, with understeer presenting eventually but not before you’ve goaded and harried the car pretty hard.  

Leaden steering does a consistently poor job of communicating how much grip remains under those front wheels.

But at normal speeds, the answer is usually plenty and the traction control does a handy job of preventing issues disrupting what there is under power.

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