Trendy concept a reality for Kia Sportage

Redefining the dictionary definition of progress, Korean car-maker Kia has done a lot in a short time. It also forced established players to pull their collective socks up, which is no bad thing these days.

Kia's rapidly-expanding range now includes everything from a low-cost city car to a full-on sport utility vehicle and (almost) everything in-between. The firm's latest offering sits neatly between a conventional family hatch and a genuine 4x4, and is called the Sportage.

While the 'crossover' concept isn't new, increasing numbers of buyers are turning to compact SUVs for their practical and versatile cabins, increase ride height and improved visibility when behind the wheel. All-wheel drive used to be a major selling point, but with so many used exclusively on the road, manufacturers have been keen to offer more frugal front-wheel drive cars as well – Kia included.

Compared to past Sportages, Kia's latest model follows the trend of being more city-focused. Two-wheel drive variants are expected to be the most popular, and diesel power is proving especially attractive for economy and driveability reasons.

But with so many crossovers on the roads now, how do you make your own product stand out? Easy – you style it like a concept car and send it out the door with the most generous warranty in the business.

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The Sportage really is the most visually striking crossover Its bold, wide stance and noticeable absence of fussy exterior detailing help to boost its visual appeal. Its tailgate, lamps and rear screen look like they're from a futuristic concept car.

Kia can afford to be bold. It isn't shackled by fusty design heritage, and is free to push a few boundaries.

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Kia's treatment of the car's cabin should give European firms a few sleepless nights. Light and airy, the Sportage is bristling with tastefully-appointed trim, switchgear that is intuitive and seats offering plenty of support. There's also plenty of room for a growing family plus the rear seats fold easily to liberate even more room when required.

So good, so far. Granted, this is all minimum standard stuff in this market sector now, but for Kia to deliver against a backdrop of super-competitive prices and an industry-leading warranty makes the Sportage all the more impressive.

But we're not finished, as the Sportage not only looks the part but also drives the part. Following on from the Soul and Venga, the Sportage was tested in the UK to help it cope with poorly-surfaced roads. The result is a more compliant ride than you might expect, yet one that doesn't involve any stereotypical SUV pitch and lean. In short, despite the Sportage's tall stance it drives very much like a regular family hatch.

More engineering excellence can be found in the engine department, as the Sportage can be had with a smooth and economical 2.0-litre, 136bhp turbo diesel unit which is expected to form the bulk of sales.

Maintaining a frugal approach, 1.6 and 1.7 petrol and diesel engines will also be offered. If all-wheel drive is important to you, the suitably equipped 2.0-litre diesel sacrifices little in the way of economy and CO2 figures. The upside is a clever electronically-controlled transmission capable of directing power to where it's needed.

When cars hit the UK in November expect a generous specification as standard.

The presence of plush upholstery and the option of leather ensure that any lingering thoughts of Kia as a maker of budget motors are soon banished from your mind.

That was a long time ago and, as Kia's financial and engineering resources have seen huge growth in recent years, cars like the Sportage deserve to be at the top of your shopping list.

Price: Range �16,645 to �26,170

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel unit developing 136bhp

Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 10.8 seconds; top speed 113mph

Economy: 51.3mpg

CO2 Rating: 147g/km

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