Taking cues from its seven-seat stablemates, Kia's SUV topples the segment leader.
The reign of the Mazda CX-5 is over after a good, long run at the top of the family-sized SUV class. My personal pick has just changed and the car that has taken me away from the CX-5 is the latest Kia Sportage.
There's not much in it but the new South Korean contender scores with better design, lighter and smoother feel on the road — and a value package that includes a seven-year warranty.
On the downside, prices are up. The loss of the Si manual means it now costs an extra $3000 to jump into the base Sportage.
The Platinum petrol model going for The Tick has increased by $5100 thanks to extra equipment including auto emergency braking, collision and blind-spot warnings, lane guidance and auto parking.
ANCAP has yet to put it to the test but the new Sportage has won a five-star safety rating in Europe. This should be reflected here, unless there is a repeat of last year's crash-test glitch with the stablemate Carnival people-mover.
The latest Sportage is the fourth iteration of the badge. You will definitely see it coming with its bold new frontal treatment — I'm not a huge fan but it makes a statement.
It's also a bit bigger in the body and cabin, with significant improvements in noise suppression and the overall quality of the design and assembly work.
For the people who have recently questioned the use of thin-gauge metal in Korean cars, Kia says 51 per cent of the body is now made from high-strength steel.
Reflecting the buying patterns in the class, the Platinum petrol is fully loaded. There are obviously plenty of people buying on a tight budget but Kia says lots of others are prepared to pay top dollar, in this case $38,590, to get all the desirable features and a good family ride.
Kia knows exactly what it's doing in Australia, and for Australia
Overall, the Sportage illustrates once again that Kia knows exactly what it's doing in Australia, and for Australia.
The first sign of this new Kia class arrived with the Carnival. The maker responded to the initial four-star ANCAP safety score with some engineering changes and it's just been confirmed as a five-star family car in Australia.
Then there was the Sorento. The seven-seater SUV's comfort, space, quietness and great ride trumped a top-class field to win our 2015 Car of the Year award.
Now there is the Sportage and it's sitting in the street alongside, of all things, a CX-5. So this is going to be a head-to-head with another big prize.
From the start, I like the Kia's cabin design. It's more modern than the Mazda, the curving sweep around the top of a low-set dashboard echoing that of the Carnival and Sorento.
It's more than a design indulgence as it also provides better outward vision. Women drivers sometimes cite this as a failing in the view over the bonnet in an SUV.
The dash has all the right gear, including a seven-inch multimedia touchscreen.
But, and it's a big but, there is a fail on day one of The Tick test. The Bluetooth connection for my mobile locks the system and a couple of restarts fails to fix it. A call to Kia reveals there is a known problem with the multimedia unit in the new Sportage. This one has slipped through without it being changed for the right one. Whoops.
But there is no whoops on the road. The smooth ride wins me over, the cabin is also quiet and the 2.4-litre engine's outputs (135kW/237Nm) make driving easy.
It's no fireball but the six-speed auto works smoothly and effectively to keep things humming along.
The Kia's seats are more comfortable than those in the CX-5
I would like to see a larger towing capacity and a towball loading greater than 100kg. That's my only disappointment on the dynamics side.
On test we get a slightly thriftier return than the claim of 8.5L/100km. There's a full-size alloy spare under the boot.
The Kia's seats are more comfortable than those in the CX-5 and the cabin generally benefits from the use of soft-touch plastics and deft design.
Interior space is very similar, with the Sportage having a touch more usable room in the rear. The Kia's boot is handy.
Platinum spec does not come cheap and I'd be happier with a mid-range model and a little more cash left in the bank. But that's a little thing.