WHICH do you actually drive? It's probably the second-most asked question of a motoring scribe behind "what is the best car you've driven?".
This is it. The Kia Sportage became our trusty family chariot a couple of years back after the VT Commodore wagon had one foot in the grave.
After driving more than 300 cars a year, this mid-size SUV delivered bang for buck and was best suited to our growing family.
Yet things have changed a little since the first iteration. This series two derivative is produced in Slovakia and addresses a few small issues.
Our week-long test proved to be annoying and frustrating … highlighting what we're missing out on.
At about $38,990 drive-away (one of the current deals) with a $1000 gift card in the mix, the SLi remains the best value offering in the Sportage range.
One of the pivotal changes is the 17.7cm colour touch-screen with sat nav which replaces the bland red-on-black digital display.
This improves the overall ambiance and lifts the interior appeal.
Seats now have a combination of leather and cloth trim. Leather covers the areas which need hard-wearing support, although we felt the pews were flatter and aren't as cosseting as the full-cloth versions.
With no internal or external dimension changes, the cabin delivers four adults reasonable accommodation. Filling the back middle pew with three adults can make things tight but it's fine for shorter trips.
On the road
Some people still have the wrong perception about diesels … but this four-cylinder oil-burner was the catalyst for our purchase.
Especially strong through the mid-range, this little diesel packs some punch.
The velocity which my better half generates out of our street each day is testament that it can boogie.
Refinements have been made to the ride and handling with this iteration. There's slightly less noise courtesy of a new windscreen featuring an interlayer film, while front subframe mountings and alterations to the driveshaft offer less vibration.
The changes aren't monumental, but back-to-back drives of old and new verified the improvements.
The six-speed automatic box does a pretty good job of always finding the right cog, and the SUV is pretty handy in a corner too.
Body roll is minimal and it's capable with quick changes in direction.
What do you get?
More soft-touch materials across the dash and doors, parking sensors front and back, leather combination seat trim, 10cm TFT instrument display, along with the colour screen that includes sat nav are the key improvements. Other good kit includes cruise control, 17-inch alloys, cruise control, MP3 compatible CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, dual zone air con plus five-star safety.
Now with an Eco mode, we managed to get very close to the official average figure and achieved 7.5 litres/100km. Our previous generation model doesn't usually get better than high eights … although the bride does have a heavy foot.
With a seven-year warranty and capped price servicing (which is matched to the VIN of the vehicle and can't be changed), coverage doesn't come any better.
There are a few key players in this medium-size diesel realm now, including the Ford Kuga Trend ($39,240), Honda CR-V DTi-S ($38,290), Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport ($39,470), Subaru Forester 2.0D-L ($37,490), Mitsubishi Outlander LS ($39,490), Toyota RAV4 GXL ($39,190) and Nissan X-Trail TS ($35,680).
Four cup holders, two in the front and another pair in the back, tick the common sense boxes. In front of the shifter is a good spot for phones just next to the 12-volt, auxiliary and USB plugs.
Boot space is okay without being brilliant. A family weekly grocery shop fits with strategic packing and the 60-40 rear seat folds for bigger stuff, and it can handle an adult-size bike without removing any wheels.
Changes have also been made to the stability control for improved towing.
Wearing the "Schreyer grille" (named after the designer who has overhauled the entire Kia range) is the main change on the outside. It remains one of the best-looking offerings in the SUV market, it's 17-inch alloys, shark fin antenna, tapered roof and well-proportioned front and rear make it stand out from the crowd.
Two comments, both from women, resonated post road test. "I'd never buy a Kia". That's the uphill battle which the manufacturer faces Down Under.
Still fighting the cheap and cheerful image, it's hard to change old opinions.
But for those who can't see past the badge and recognise the leap Kia has made in quality and styling it's their loss - in the hip pocket and driving experience.
What matters most
What we liked: Good car made better, central colour screen, product confidence with seven year warranty.
What we'd like to see: More seating support around the rump, greater respect for the brand.
Warranty and servicing: Seven-year warranty with roadside assist (if you maintain servicing with a Kia dealer), with capped price servicing.
Model: MY14 Kia Sportage SLi CRDi.
Details: Five-door mid-size all-wheel drive compact sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel generating maximum power of 135kw @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 392Nm @ 1800-2500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.2 litres/100km (combined average).
Towing: 1600kg (braked).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $37,990.
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