From the supermarket car park to the Never Never

IT seems like yesterday – but it was probably the day before – that Korean carmaker Kia arrived in Australia.

It’s Korea’s oldest car business, dating back to 1944 and now part-owned by Hyundai.

In the 1980s Kia built Ford’s little Festiva and developed a fair reputation for build quality; since then Kia has driven from strength to strength with ever-improving product of its own.  

Most attention in the early days of Kia here centred around the four-wheel drive Sportage. In the 1990s this was an honest enough rival for Suzuki’s Vitara, just a bit crude by the standards of the day and it rated poorly in crash tests.

The second generation Sportage was better, if a touch frumpish in style. But it showed the Koreans were on the move and the third generation from 2010 was welcomed by buyers and critics as a handsome and competent SUV.

Today there’s a fourth generation of the Sportage to consider.

It’s a little bigger, restyled inside and out, yet more evolution than revolution in style. Some may not take to the “tiger nose” grille but there remains an eye-pleasing sleekness to the wagon’s profile.

The SUV’s wheelbase has grown 30mm, allowing for a 40mm longer body. It’s the same height and width as the outgoing model but headroom and legroom, front and back, have been increased.

As before, there’s front-drive or all-wheel drive Sportages, petrol or diesel engines and three trim levels.  

All use a six-speed automatic transmission and prices start at $28,990 for a two-wheel drive, two-litre petrol Si model running through to a premium $45,990 for an all-wheel drive, 2.4 litre diesel Platinum version.

That’s a lot of pickled cabbage for the range-topping Platinum Sportage.

But the high-quality Platinum cabin is packed with gear and driver-assist gizmos,  from those to help a driver park to systems to help stop a driver running over people.

There are warnings for wandering out of lanes and detection systems for people sneaking up into blind spots.

Not sure if some of these, common enough across the car industry today, may breed a mob of lazy, even more indifferent drivers.

We do like the Platinum’s Smart Power Tailgate which opens the tailgate automatically if the key is “sensed” close by.

And there’s much to like about how the Kia Sportage drives and handles these days; this is one crowd that understands Australian road conditions and drivers’ tastes.  All have full-sized spare wheels.

The Kia is no sports car. It turns into corners with confidence but doesn’t like to be rushed.

The quiet and compliant ride is generally good over all manner of surfaces and with the Platinum’s all-wheel drive, road-holding up there with more expensive SUVs.  There’s the ability to lock the centre diff if the track gets real nasty.

While the Platinum version here isn’t cheap the Sportage’s basic dynamic and accommodation package is solid across all models.  

Many may find a Sportage to suit back down the range – all-wheel drive diesel Platinum versions are more suited to long, and more frequent, drives  (just remember there’s no CD player) while cheaper two-wheel drive wagons would well suit urban duties and occasional trips to the Never Never.