What stands out?

Good looking and well equipped, the Sportage is also one of the most enjoyable SUVs to drive. Steering and general handling are excellent for a medium sized car of this sort, and if you order a diesel there is plenty of power. This review covers the Sportage on sale prior to February 2016.

What might bug me?

You might wish for more grunt in the petrol version – especially if you have driven the diesel.

What body styles are there?

Five-door wagon only.

The Sportage drives either its front wheels or all four wheels, depending on the version. It is classed as a medium SUV, lower priced.

What features does every Sportage have?

Air-conditioning, cruise control, and rear parking sensors. Windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains.

An iPod-compatible CD and radio system with auxiliary and USB input sockets, and speed-sensitive volume control (which gets louder to compensate for road noise). Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming, and steering wheel controls for the cruise control, audio and Bluetooth systems.

A trip computer that presents fuel use and distance information.

Wheels made from an alloy of aluminium, which are usually lighter and better looking than steel wheels with plastic covers, and a full-size alloy spare wheel.

Hill-assist control, which operates the brakes automatically to make take-offs on hills easier.

Static cornering lights on each side at the front: as you turn the steering wheel to enter a corner at night, these light up and illuminate your path. Front and rear foglights, and heated, power-adjusted, side mirrors.

Six airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger; one alongside each front occupant to protect the upper body; and a curtain airbag on each side protecting the heads of front and rear occupants.

Electronic stability control, which can help the driver to control a skidding car. All new cars must have this feature.

On automatic transmission versions, trailer stability control – which helps you straighten out a weaving load when towing.

Every Kia Sportage carries a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine uses the least fuel, at 7.2 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).

The main reason you might not choose this engine is that you want to pay less for a Sportage. The diesel is available only in the more expensive SLi or Platinum models, which also have an automatic gearbox as standard, and all-wheel-drive. And it costs about $3000 more than the alternative petrol engine in these.

However, in most driving conditions the four-cylinder turbo-diesel feels much more powerful than the other engine available in a Sportage, a 2.0-litre petrol which uses about 8.4 litres/100km.

The petrol engine comes with either a five-speed manual gearbox (only in the least costly model, the front-wheel drive Sportage Si), or a six-speed automatic. The diesel comes only with the six-speed automatic.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

Stepping past the Sportage Si and paying more for an Si Premium gets you an automatic gearbox as standard, a reversing camera, headlights that switch on automatically when it’s dark, and long-lasting LED daytime running lights.

Wheels are an inch bigger at 17 inches, a change many will like for the sportier look. That goes with chrome doorhandle and waistline highlights. And there are roof rails, which allow the attachment of luggage systems. The cloth seats have real leather accents, and fake leather on wear-prone surfaces.

Spending more again on a Sportage SLi gets you all-wheel-drive and the option of the diesel engine. Dual-zone climate control lets you set different temperatures for each side of the cabin. Front parking sensors are added, and the audio system sounds better (thanks to an external amplifier and a sub-woofer.) There is a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, and satellite navigation.

The most costly Sportage, the Platinum, adds another inch to the wheel size and has a powered sunroof. There is keyless entry, which allows you to unlock the car with your key kept safely in a pocket or bag. The cabin is trimmed in a blend of real and fake leather. Front seats are heated, and the driver’s seat is power adjustable. Headlamps are very bright, auto-levelling HID types.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The ride at low speeds gets a bit rougher as the wheel size rises from 16 inches, on the Sportage Si, to 17 inches, on the Si Premium and SLi, and then to 18 inches, on the Platinum. The bigger wheels use lower profile tyres, which leave less rubber and air cushioning you from the road.

The Sportage Si and Si Premium do not have a touchscreen and so display the image from their reversing cameras on the interior rear-view mirror. This is a handy feature that you lose in the more expensive SLi and Platinum, which move the display to their upgraded multimedia systems. At least the image gets bigger.

Only white is a standard colour on the Sportage. The other six shades available carry an additional premium paint charge of about $500.

How comfortable is the Sportage?

It is easy to get comfortable in the driver’s seat of a Sportage: you can adjust it manually in eight different dimensions (unless you have a Sportage Platinum, which has six-way powered adjustment). The steering wheel’s angle and distance from the driver are also adjustable.

The Sportage cabin is roomy, with a great view of the road, and the instruments and controls are neatly and appealingly laid out. The interior is well built and finished using good quality plastics, fabric and carpet.

The Sportage rides more firmly than some alternative vehicles, but the ride is not so firm that it becomes tiring. The cabin is a quiet place, with little suspension, tyre or wind noise intruding.

What about safety in a Kia Sportage?

Every Kia Sportage attains a safety rating of Excellent.

Safety high points include the standard reversing camera, the emergency brake light flashing function, and the seatbelt warning chime and light for every seating position - a simple but valuable feature for those with children old enough to unfasten their belts.

(To see a list of the safety features on any model, select the car and look under the features tab. Safety-related features are listed in red.)

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Kia Sportage its maximum five-star rating for safety.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

The Kia Sportage is among the most enjoyable, best-handling compact SUVs available.

The Sportage steers quickly and accurately, and the steering gives the driver a good feel for how much grip the tyres have on the road. Its quickness also means the Sportage is at home negotiating tight urban streets.

The handling in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions is well balanced. Adjustments to the accelerator, brakes and steering adjust this balance, which gives the driver a feeling of connection and control. This is a big part of why the Sportage feels so good to drive.

All-wheel-drive versions offer extra stability in slippery conditions, such as on gravel or wet roads. AWD medium SUVs are suited to only light off-road duty, such as snowy conditions or reasonably smooth dirt tracks, but the Sportage is among the best of this breed of vehicle, thanks to good ground clearance and the inclusion of a full-size spare wheel and tyre.

On the road, the firm suspension contains body roll and pitch, and helps make the handling responsive.

The turbo-diesel engine has as much as 90 per cent more oomph than the petrol at the low engine speeds used in a lot of normal urban driving – it is a much more desirable engine.

The petrol engine ordinarily offers enough performance, but it struggles when the car is loaded with passengers and luggage.

How is life in the rear seats?

Rear seating in the Sportage is among the roomiest in a compact SUV. The seats offer good back, under-thigh and lateral support, with enough headroom. Cushions are comfortable, and the leather and cloth trim options feels like they will wear well.

The view is good forward and out of the side windows, and the rear of the cabin is well isolated from tyre and suspension noise.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Sportage is good at carrying lots of luggage, thanks to a 564 litre cargo bay, which is bigger than all direct rivals except the Toyota RAV4. This expands to 1353 litres with the 60/40 rear seatbacks folded down.

A one-piece tailgate opens upwards to reveal a large opening, which makes it easy to load bulky items.

There are useful luggage net hooks, and a luggage net in versions from the Si Premium upwards.

Where does Kia make the Sportage?

The Kia Sportage is manufactured in Slovakia.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

A more powerful, turbocharged petrol engine, which alternatives such as the Ford Kuga and Volkswagen Tiguan offer.

Active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning. The Mazda CX-5 offers these.

Other mid-sized SUVs worth considering include the Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester, and Mitsubishi Outlander.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

We like the Kia Sportage SLi diesel, mainly because it is the least expensive way to get the desirable turbo-diesel engine. The SLi specification also brings some nice extra features compared with the (still well equipped) Si and Si Premium versions.

When did Kia update this Sportage?

This third-generation Kia Sportage arrived in 2010, and an updated Series 2 version arrived in mid-2013. It was superseded by a fourth-generation Sportage about February 2016, which is covered in a separate review. The new model brought a fresh look, more comfort, and some equipment upgrades. Its most expensive, Platinum, variants gained a bigger petrol engine, automatic emergency braking and other driver aids, and a power-operated, hands-free tailgate.