Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
We're yet to try the 114bhp 1.6-litre diesel (badged as the 1.6 CRDi 114), but it offers similar pace to the Seat Ateca's entry-level diesel (the 1.6 TDI 115). The more powerful 134bhp version (badged 1.6 CRDi 134) is our favourite of the Sportage's engines and offers solid, flexible performance that will pull you up to motorway speeds with ease, even with a fully loaded car. It's available with a 48-volt mild hybrid system on higher trims – a feature that doesn't add anything to the car's performance but makes it more fuel-efficient. Unlike the non-hybrid version, which is two-wheel drive only, the mild hybrid engine is also available with four-wheel drive.
If you think 134bhp is still a bit weak for your liking, there’s a 2.0-litre diesel with 184bhp. This is only offered with four-wheel drive, and with an automatic gearbox optional. It has the highest towing capacity (1900kg) of the Sportage range and it too benefits from mild hybrid technology to boost efficiency. It doesn’t feel as punchy as the equivalent 2.0 190 TDI found in the Seat Ateca and Skoda Karoq, but it pulls keenly from low engine speeds and should be fast enough for most drivers.
Suspension and ride comfort
The Sportage has quite a sporty suspension setup compared with most of its rivals, and this does little for ride comfort. The car feels altogether firmer and choppier than many rivals, such as the Skoda Karoq and Nissan Qashqai. However, although it still fidgets at speed, it's smoother on motorways than it is around town.
The ride is at its least jarring on the smaller, 17in wheels. We'd recommend avoiding the 19in wheels fitted to higher trims because these make things even more jiggly.
There’s little need for a family SUV to be especially sharp to drive, but it’s no bad thing that the Sportage keeps its body lean neatly controlled through bends. It certainly stays more upright than the Qashqai and Renault Kadjar and maintains a strong grip on the road when cornering hard. However, the Seat Ateca is even more agile and is the family SUV we recommend for keen drivers.
Part of our reasoning is the Sportage's steering, which feels a mite numb and doesn't tell you enough about what the front wheels are doing. It's weighted reasonably well, though, so whether you're bumbling along a country road or cruising on a motorway, it steers predictably enough.
Noise and vibration
Engine quietness isn't a plus point of the Sportage. The 1.6 CRDi 134 48V is clattery at idle and on a light throttle but, oddly, becomes less so when revved hard. The 2.0 CRDi gets coarse above 3000rpm, and although the petrols are smoother, an Ateca's or Karoq's engine will sound less intrusive, no matter which fuel type you choose. Better news is that the automatic stop-start system of the 48V mild hybrid cars cuts in and out slickly, and all the engines fade into the background at motorway speeds.
The six-speed manual gearbox is reasonably precise, but the springy clutch pedal takes thought and practice in order to effect a smooth getaway. The eight-speed automatic gearbox that's standard on the 2.0-litre diesel is slick and responsive.
You're relatively well isolated from road and wind noise at 70mph, but an Ateca is even quieter when cruising.