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WHETHER you think it is distinctive or odd, you have to agree that the styling of the new Kia Sportage has morphed from the familiar to the funky.
The Korean manufacturer emphasises the fourth-generation SUV's combination of smooth curves and sharp creases but anyone looking at it for the first time would probably zoom in on the prominent front end with its intricate grille and headlights set high above it.
The eye-catching nose is just one aspect of a brand new car which retains its predecessor's characteristic rear window profile and sloping roofline.
This Korean crossover is now larger at 4,480mm in length (+40mm) with a wheelbase that has been stretched by 30mm to 2,670mm.
Under the bonnet is a two-litre, four-cylinder engine to drive the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. This is the same powertrain as the one found in the new Kia Optima sedan, although Sportage has slightly less power.
For a naturally aspirated unit, it has more than adequate performance for local roads and works very well with the gearbox. There are no steering wheel-mounted shift paddles but the gear lever can be slotted into manual mode.
New for this model is a Drive Mode Select button with Normal, Eco and Sport settings. When the last one is chosen, the Sportage surges forward more enthusiastically under heavy acceleration.
However, engine noise is also noticeable despite the extra dashboard insulation and engine acoustic shields.
But what is obvious is the handling and ride comfort. For a tall crossover, the Sportage is surprisingly driveable with very neutral steering and cornering behaviour. This is due to improvements to body stiffness and the suspension system.
The body structure now comprises 51 per cent high strength steel from 18 per cent previously, while the suspension has been modified for enhanced stability and more natural response over changing road surfaces.
Only the dull interior disappoints. There is a soft-touch dashtop but almost every other hard surface is black plastic although everything blends in visually.
There is a high level of standard equipment, though, with standard features such as six airbags, keyless entry and ignition, and smart welcome lighting which recognises the smart key upon approaching the car.
A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system from the factory with Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity is locally fitted here.
Best of all, the cabin is spacious with excellent rear legroom and reclining rear seatbacks. Ingress and egress are also good because of the seats' high hip point.
It may look very different now but Sportage still scores high with the Kia brand's pleasing combo of price, size and performance.
Engine: 1,999cc inline 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission
Max power: 155 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Max torque: 192 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
0-100 kmh: 11.1 secs
Top speed: 181 kmh
CO2 emissions: 182 g/km
Average OMV: S$23,000
Price: S$124,999 (with COE)
Distributor: Cycle & Carriage Kia