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Mazda MX-5 2.0 GT Sport review: back-to-basics driving fun

Mazda MX-5 review

The Mazda MX-5 turns 30 this year, so now seems a good time to put the quintessential sports car – in its latest, greatest form – through its paces.

The MX-5 is the Japanese marque’s love letter to the Lotus Elan. That is to say, the sports car distilled into its most basic form: as little weight as possible, an engine in the front, rear-wheel drive and an open top.

Over four generations the Mazda has, for the most part, gone without direct rival. The third-generation Toyota MR2 came closest, offering a similar, stripped-back sports car experience. The MR2 was, however, an altogether more challenging drive, thanks to its mid-engined layout.

Nonetheless, the MX-5 has always commanded respect from hardcore car enthusiasts and casual drivers alike, despite its slightly effeminate image. 

Personally, I’ve never been spellbound by it. I always read ‘slow’ when the ‘you can use all the power’ cliche was rolled out in road tests. The original cars also seemed spartan for spartan’s sake – I’ll catch hell for even suggesting that might be a bad thing.

Mazda MX-5 review

The current car, first introduced four years ago, now has more muscle in the form of an uprated 184hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. The 1.5-litre motor is still available and comes mildly revised, with 132hp. Both six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes remain, although the auto is available with the folding-hard-top RF only.

Prices kick off at £18,995 for a basic SE+ spec 1.5 soft-top, but can balloon to £29,195 for a hard-top RF 2.0 with an auto ‘box in GT Sport Nav + spec. That’s without expensive paint or any other options.

The best MX-5 for your money is arguably the £25,795 manual 2.0 GT Sport Nav+. RF models are around £2,000 more expensive than the equivalent soft-top, while autos (missing the MX-5 point, we feel) will set you back a further £1,500.

The full list of trim levels is expansive. We kick off at SE+, through SE-L Nav +, Sport Nav + and GT Sport Nav +.

Sport Nav + now comes with more standard safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning. GT Sport Nav + offers blind-spot monitoring, adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera. All of the latter and more are optional on lower models as a safety pack.

In theory, that’s many of my personal issues with the MX-5 resolved, then – some power to speak of, and equipment and appointment beyond windows that wind down and a radio. But what about the looks?

First impressions

Mazda MX-5 review

The fourth-generation ‘ND’ MX-5 has received more than its share of styling accolades, and for good reason. Compared to soft-edged third- and second-generation models, it’s a revelation of sharp lines and taut proportions. Few other cars pull off quite such a combination of diminutive size and muscular styling.

The way its rump tapers backwards from the rear wheels is superb. A sprawling bonnet, sharp lighting and big sporty wheels complete the package. Image issues, begone…

We’ve got to mention that Soul Red paint, too. It’s got to be one of the nicest colours on sale. Yours for £790.

Inside the Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5 review

On the inside, prior iterations (especially early ‘NA’ and ‘NB’ cars) were basic and uninspiring in terms of design, quality and equipment. The current model aces all of the above. Gone is the old tombstone centre console and basic dials. In its place are sophisticated and intriguing shapes, a decent infotainment screen and just the right amount of buttons.

What made the old cars an event remains, however. The MX-5 has the feel of an exotic aperture that you have to collapse into – more McLaren than Mazda. Once you’re in, it’s snug but perfectly thought-out. You’re borderline vac-packed, but nothing digs into you or rubs you the wrong way.

Mazda can retro-fit your old car with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

What is much nicer, is the quality of materials and design of the cabin. Our car had a very arresting tan and black leather interior, which went very well with some of the red exterior highlights that bleed into the cabin.

The cupholders are, admittedly, an afterthought. At least they can be popped out and installed in areas where your elbows won’t dislodge them.

Mazda MX-5 review

Equipment-wise, it’s a revelation. Seat-heaters, Bluetooth, a strong stereo, cruise control and auto lights go a long way towards refining what has, in the past, been something of a rough-around-the-edges proposition.

That’s the thing would-be-helmsman journalists forget about these little cars. One of their main jobs is to be an amenable cruiser. A basic and stylish car for folks who don’t need a hatchback and want a bit of wind-in-the-hair fun. There’s a reason they were named ‘Roadster’ back in the day. 

The boot is what you’d expect: inadequate to anyone used to hatchbacks, sufficient if you’re an efficient packer. The infotainment does the job – it’s easy to suss out and swift in its operation. You can control the seven-inch centre screen either with your fingertips or a clickwheel on the centre console.

On the road Mazda MX-5 review

The not-so-breaking news is that the MX-5 is as good to hustle as it ever was. The car shrinks around you and you’re soon comfortable placing it on the road. The steering is well-judged and rich in feel, while the gearshift elicits more gun-reload clichés than you can throw a B+ script editor at.

The pedal positioning takes some acclimatisation, but you’re soon firing through rev-matched shifts like it’s going out of fashion.

Let’s talk about the MX-5’s slightly roll-tastic handling. Sometimes, you wish for something a bit more tied-down and sophisticated. The rest of the time, and by that I mean 80 percent of the time, you’re thankful for suspension travel and compliance dispatching most of what Britain’s smashed roads can throw at you.

Never have I driven anything that takes care of the notorious fen roads where Norfolk and Cambridge meet with the deftness of the MX-5. It allows you to enjoy more, for more of the time. It rotates benignly, but will bite if provoked; every bit the helmsman’s training wheels.

Mazda MX-5 review

What is revolutionary for the MX-5 is a little bit of new-found muscle. In years gone by it’s been routine to swap out engines, turbo or supercharge the existing twin-cam, or else be vulnerable to the accelerative whims of diesel hatchbacks. Now, the new 184hp 2.0-litre engine gives the updated-for-2019 car the grunt it always deserved.

It’s a willing, rev-happy engine, too: enjoyable to wring out, and you’ll make serious progress when you do. The flip-side is you find yourself going quicker, and therefore notice the roll more in corners.

When you’re not in Sport mode, that topsy-turvy handling suddenly becomes a disarmingly compliant ride and you get 40mpg on a cruise. Then, the toys come in to play. A couple of two-hour night drives up and down the A1 set a stage upon which the MX-5 greatly impressed. Cruise control mitigates leg-ache, while the automatic lights that split the high beams take another job off your plate.

The easy-to-set-up Bluetooth system channels Spotify from your phone like a dream. The three intensity settings on the heated seats range from positively nuclear to a mild summer haze – excellent. Such amenities are transformative for a car that, in past iterations, was very basic.

Mazda MX-5 verdict: 4 stars

Mazda MX-5 review

Thirty years on from this car’s debut, the ultimate factory MX-5 is here. It’s the very best driver’s example, adorned with the creature comforts you want, looks that kill and driving manners that charm on a daily basis.

This latest model is everything anyone has ever wanted the Mazda to be – from adenoidal owner’s club diehards to uncompromising softies (like me). The added punch helps it come alive, while the interior amenities and improved quality make it much more appealing.

Yes, there are more sophisticated sports cars in terms of body control, roadholding and outright speed. But in the UK, as you can only find out by experiencing it, that doughy body control is often a blessing.

Mazda MX-5 review

Overall, I was very taken by the latest MX-5. It very deliberately addressed a lot of what the very few MX-5 detractors in the world have always had against it. Better quality, sharper looks, real performance and generous equipment levels.

What I will say is to be careful and know what you’re buying. This is not the last word in performance motoring. Actually, quite deliberately, it’s more like the first. If it’s what you want, the latest MX-5 is the best yet.

Two alternatives to the 2019 Mazda MX-5

Toyota GT86

Fiat 124 Spider

How much did our test car cost?

2019 Mazda MX-5 Convertible 184ps GT Sport Nav+: £26,585

Mazda MX-5 review

Which engines does Mazda offer with the MX-5?

1.5 Skyactiv-G 132hp

2.0 Skyactiv-G 184hp

Where the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Convertible 184ps GT Sport Nav+ sits in the range

SE+

SE-L Nav+

Sport Nav+

GT Sport Nav+

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2019 Toyota RAV4 review: a return to its rugged SUV roots

2019 Toyota RAV4Last year, the Toyota RAV4 was America’s best-selling car. Admittedly, it finished fourth overall – outsold by three pick-up trucks – but that’s still a startling degree of success.

The UK is a different story. Here, five of its rivals (the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan and Hyundai Tucson) made the top 20 chart, yet the RAV4 is nowhere to be seen. Toyota wants to change that.

On paper, it should succeed. The new, fifth-generation RAV4 is faster, roomier, quieter more efficient and better equipped than the car it replaces. Is that enough to stand out in a crowded SUV class?

Toyota doesn’t do ‘boring’ any more

2019 Toyota RAV4

“No more boring cars!” declared company CEO Akio Toyoda in 2014. His words were a tacit admission that, for years, Toyotas were the automotive equivalent of white goods: dependable but dull.

Today, Toyota is a Le Mans-winning race team with a hardcore hot hatchback (Yaris GRMN) and two pulse-spiking sports cars (GT86, new Supra) to its name. Making a mid-size SUV exciting, however, is still a challenge.

That was the task facing RAV4 chief engineer, Yoshikazu Saeki. “I want people to love this car,” he says, “to like and share it via their phones.” Ironically, this search for ‘modern love’ began 25 years ago, long before social media existed…

Its design harks back to the 1994 original

2019 Toyota RAV4

The first ‘Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive’ was launched in 1994. Blending bolshy 4×4 attitude with the dynamics of a conventional car, it pre-empted the now-ubiquitous compact crossover. It was also a genuinely ground-breaking design, its black plastic body cladding likened to the sole of a hiking boot.

Now try picturing the outgoing, fourth-gen RAV4 in your head – impossible, right? Over the years, the RAV4 became steadily more staid and forgettable, so the new model draws upon the 1994 original.

Lower and wider than before, it has a markedly sportier stance. Distinctive details include narrow nostrils above the front grille and kicked-up, Gandini-style wheelarches. It isn’t as radical as Toyota’s smaller C-HR crossover, but to these eyes it’s a better looking car.

The range is 100% hybrid (and 0% diesel)

2019 Toyota RAV4

In 2015, 88 percent of RAV4s sold in the UK were diesels. Just four years later, this option has been dropped entirely: all new RAVs will be hybrid-powered.

Front-wheel-drive versions combine a 2.5-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a 215hp total. Opt for four-wheel drive and an additional electric motor for the rear axle boosts output to 219hp. The benchmark 0-62mph dash takes 8.1 and 8.4 seconds for FWD and 4WD respectively.

As per Toyota convention, drive goes via a CVT automatic gearbox and the car can be driven short distances in EV mode (i.e. using electric power only). It can’t however, be plugged in, although a PHEV model may come later.

Prices start from under £30k, or £269 a month

2019 Toyota RAV4

 

 

The RAV4 range is organised into four grades: Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic. Standard equipment on the Icon includes 17-inch alloy wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen media system, auto headlights/wipers, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Upgrading to Design adds 18-inch rims, keyless entry, front parking sensors and a power tailgate.

Excel and Dynamic are two sides of the same coin, the former ‘upmarket’ in appearance, the latter more sporty. Both get projector LED headlights, leather upholstery, heated seats and steering wheel, blind-spot assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Dynamic also means black alloys, chunky sports seats and a contrasting colour for the roof.

Prices for the RAV4 look competitive, starting at £29,635 for the FWD Icon and stretching to £36,640 for the 4WD Dynamic. In all cases, choosing four-wheel drive costs £2,240 extra.

Finance packages will vary, but typically range from £269 to £309 per month. A RAV4 Design, for example, costs £279 per month over 24 months with a £7,588 deposit and zero percent APR.

Its interior is practical and pleasingly premium

2019 Toyota RAV4

Inside, Toyota appears to have taken inspiration from garden tools, with a serrated rubber finish for the door handles and heater controls. This grippy finish also lines the stowage spaces. The overall effect is bordering on premium: more Land Rover than Land Cruiser.

Finding a good driving position is easy and all-round visibility is good, helped by large door mirrors. Our test cars were fitted with a rear-view-mirror camera, which allows you to see behind even when the boot is loaded to roof height. However, this option is unlikely to be available in the UK (and certainly not at launch).

There’s enough shoulder room and legroom for three overfed motoring journalists to sit comfortably in the back, while boot space has grown by 79 litres to 590 litres. For comparison, a Ford Kuga holds 406 litres and a Honda CR-V Hybrid manages 561 litres.

It can see pedestrians in the dark

2019 Toyota RAV4

The latest RAV4 hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP yet. Anything less than the five stars achieved by the 2013-2019 model will be disappointing.

A five-star result looks likely, though, thanks to a full complement of active safety systems. All RAVs come with the updated Toyota Safety Sense package, which includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control (to maintain a set distance to the car in front), road sign recognition and lane-departure warning with steering assist.

New for 2019 is the system’s ability to detect pedestrians in the dark – when the majority of such collisions happen. It can also spot cyclists at speeds up to 50mph.

The sat nav is awful and connectivity lags behind

2019 Toyota RAV4

No family car is complete without a plethora of charging points, and the RAV4 boasts up to three USB sockets in the front and two in the back. A wireless smartphone charging mat is optional, too.

Sadly, it doesn’t have Apple Carplay or Android Auto connectivity (“We’re working on it,” says Toyota) – so while connecting your phone is straightforward enough, you won’t get the optimum user experience.

I was beginning to miss Google Maps after going wrong repeatedly on our Spanish test route, too. Putting it bluntly, the RAV4’s sat nav is awful: slow to respond, hard to follow and dated to look at. I can only hope it’s more accurate in the UK.

It’s the best handling RAV4 since the original

2019 Toyota RAV4

Getting lost in the RAV4 wasn’t all bad, though. Indeed, once I’d escaped rush-hour Barcelona, I rather enjoyed it.

The steering has a meaty directness and the car turns in keenly, gripping hard and cornering with composure, particularly if you choose the 4WD version. Double wishbone rear suspension, a lower centre of gravity and a 57 percent stiffer chassis all help here.

Granted, it won’t trouble a Cupra Ateca or Porsche Macan on twisty Tarmac, but it’s no longer a soporific snore-fest. In line with Toyoda-san’s wishes, the RAV isn’t boring to drive.

Crucially, such relative dynamism doesn’t come at the expense of ride quality. Supple, measured damping smoothes out all but the largest potholes and ruts.

The CVT gearbox is still a bugbear

2019 Toyota RAV4

You may be lost and travelling in the wrong direction, then, but you can hustle the RAV4 along at quite a pace. The instant oomph of its electric motor means punchy acceleration from a standstill, and the petrol engine isn’t averse to revs. Near-silent when cruising, it serves up a sporty snarl when worked hard.

The weak link, if you enjoy driving, is the CVT transmission. It continuously varies the gear ratio, keeping the revs constant when you accelerate. As a result, the engine can feel either ‘on or off’, instead of providing a linear response. Shifting from Normal into Sport mode only exacerbates this effect.

The Toyota also has a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel that allow you to shift up on down the CVT’s range in fixed steps. However, the intuitiveness of the gearbox means you rarely need to kick it down, and there’s little satisfaction to be gained from doing so.

It’s better off-road than you might think

2019 Toyota RAV4

As well as a more accomplished road car, Toyota also wanted the new RAV to be better on the rough stuff. Two opposing goals, you might think. Yet the stats – and my limited experience off-road in the 4WD version – seem to support it.

For starters, the car has 15mm more ground clearance and can produce 30 percent more torque at the rear wheels (diverting up to 80 percent rearwards when required).

 

 
 
 
 
 
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New Toyota RAV4. In a monastery, but worthy of praise?

A post shared by Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) on

In Trail mode, the electronics also simulate the effect of a limited-slip differential, using the brakes to prevent wheelspin across each axle.

Our off-road route was mostly dry and dusty, but shaded patches were still damp and surprisingly slippery. The RAV4 slithered sideways a little, but never lost traction, despite its standard road tyres. It’s as capable as the vast majority of owners will ever need.

The 4WD version is actually more efficient, too

2019 Toyota RAV4

An added bonus of choosing four-wheel drive is fractionally lower CO2 emissions, quoted as 105g/km for the FWD car and 103g/km for the 4×4. That’s a marked contrast to traditional mechanical 4WD systems, which always suffer in terms of fuel efficiency.

Official (WLTP) economy figures for the front-driver are between 49.2mpg and 51.2mpg, depending on wheel size. The four-wheel-driven RAV hadn’t been fully homologated at the time of writing, but is likely to be slightly better.

Lest we forget, the outgoing RAV4 D-4D diesel managed 60.1mpg. A case of one step forward and two steps back?

2019 Toyota RAV4 verdict: 4 stars

2019 Toyota RAV4

Toyota’s customer clinics highlighted five key reasons why people buy SUVs: design, space, safety, visibility and four-wheel drive. The new RAV4 scores well in each category, so the odds should be stacked in its favour.

Times have moved on and, if anything, the C-HR is now closer in concept to the much-loved original RAV4. Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to find Toyota’s SUV mainstay rejuvenated and back in the game.

It won’t be for everyone, but its triple whammy of bold styling, a satisfying drive and hybrid tech makes a compelling argument for choosing a RAV4 over its many rivals. Maybe it’ll shake up that top 20 sales chart after all.

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Cupra Ateca 2019 review: the Porsche-baiting SUV from Spain

Cupra AtecaSeat has always felt like a square peg: a car company unsure of what it wants to be. Within the Volkswagen Group’s sprawling portfolio of brands, Skoda stands for value, VW represents the mainstream and Audi is premium. Seat, meanwhile, defies such straightforward categorisation: notionally sporty (‘the Spanish Alfa Romeo’), but frequently rather staid and sensible.

That’s where Cupra comes in. The badge has been affixed to Seat hot hatches since 1997, and boasts a proven pedigree in rallying and BTCC. Now it’s become a standalone sub-brand (think what Abarth is to Fiat) and the first fruit of this separation is the 300hp, 153mph Cupra Ateca.

Launching a performance-oriented marque with an SUV seems an odd move. After all, Cupras have traditionally been harder, faster alternatives to the Polo GTI or Golf GTI. However, Cupra the prefix is, we’re told, a different proposition to Cupra the suffix. Seat UK MD Richard Harrington stresses its “uniqueness and sophistication” – thus a family-sized 4×4 apparently fits the bill.

Cynical badge engineering or the start of something special? I spent three weeks with a Cupra Ateca to find out.

First impressions

The first thing you notice is that Transformers-style bronze logo. It’s supposed to resemble a tribal tattoo, reflecting the idea of Cupra owners as bit ‘alternative’. The sort of tattooed, 40-something rebels who’d shun a standard SUV, perhaps.

You’ll spot added visual muscle, too. The Ateca’s front bumper is peppered with air intakes and its new rear diffuser encloses four beefy tailpipes. A spoiler is perched atop the tailgate and 19-inch alloys (also available in copper-effect) sit within the squared-off wheelarches. The overall effect is sporty, yet still relatively subtle.

Fortunately, there’s nothing subtle about how the Cupra goes. The 2.0-litre turbocharged ‘EA888’ engine, also seen in the Leon Cupra and VW Golf R, offers 300hp at 5,300rpm and 295lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm. With a DSG semi-auto gearbox and four-wheel drive (both standard), this 1,632kg newcomer hits 62mph in 5.2 seconds – on par with a Porsche Macan S.

Yet while SUVs such as the Macan, BMW X3M and forthcoming Audi SQ2 rival the Cupra for pace, they don’t in terms of price. At £35,900, the Ateca exists in a curious sector of its own, beneath the bombastic Germans but above everyday SUV fodder such as the Kia Sportage, Peugeot 3008 and, well, Seat Ateca.

In theory that makes the Cupra the best car in its class. But as the standard-bearer for a new brand, it also needs to be a great car full-stop.

Inside the Cupra Ateca

Inside, the Cupra feels more special than its Seat sister. The seats are hip-hugging buckets, trimmed in Alcantara, while the analogue instruments are swapped for a configurable digital display. Select the navigation map between the dials around town, then – when you’re ‘on it’ – blank out everything except the oversized rev-counter.

A dial behind the gear lever offers a choice of six driving modes: Comfort, Sport, Cupra, Individual, Snow and Off-Road. Both Sport and Cupra stiffen the standard-fit adaptive dampers, sharpen throttle response and make the seven-speed ’box hold onto gears for longer.

All cars come with an eight-inch touchscreen media system, rear-view camera, keyless entry and wireless phone charging. Options are mostly bundled into two packages. Design (£3,345) comprises copper alloys, bigger Brembo brakes and black interior styling. Comfort and Sound (£1,930) includes a Beats audio system, adaptive cruise control, heated seats and an electric tailgate. Choose both and you’ll spend upwards of £41,000 (and pay the additional ‘showroom tax’ into the bargain).

One thing identical to the original Seat is the amount of interior space. The Cupra fits a family of five in comfort, and its 485-litre boot swallows enough luggage for a week away – not something you could say for a typical hot hatch.

Cupra Ateca: on the road

There’s no doubting the Cupra’s straight-line speed, but its composed chassis also means serious point-to-point pace. The taut suspension reins in body-roll, while four-wheel-drive traction helps it blast out of bends.

Cupra Ateca

The steering is pointy and direct, if hardly overflowing with feedback, and the DSG gearbox rarely finds itself in the wrong ratio. The growly turbocharged engine is always on-boost and eager, too.

Switching into one of the sportier modes amplifies this experience. The downside is a deterioration in ride quality; I found Cupra mode a little harsh for Surrey’s broken B-roads, usually settling on Sport as a best-of-both-worlds compromise.

Despite borrowing the car in the depths of winter, I never needed Snow or Off-Road modes, but the Ateca’s slimline 40-profile tyres would, frankly, be hopeless on rough terrain.

Cupra Ateca

Overall, the Cupra can’t match the measured composure of a Macan – there’s a point-and-squirt scrappiness to how it flows along a road – but it’s engaging and exciting. Try hard enough and you’ll even hear the exhausts popping on the over-run.

The rest of the time, though, this is just an easygoing 4×4: a car that ticks the requisite boxes for family life. Light steering and sensible dimensions make it straightforward to park, and official fuel economy of 38.2mpg (168g/km CO2) is achievable with a light right foot.

Verdict: 4 stars

The Cupra Ateca has much to commend it. It’s a mid-size SUV well suited to the school run and, when conditions allow, a high-riding hot hatch with a surprising turn of speed.

Cupra Ateca

A leader in a class of one, then? Well, yes and no. It’s true that premium alternatives cost upwards of £15,000 more, especially after you take options into account. But fast estate cars, not least the Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive and VW Golf R Estate, are similarly priced (£33,260 and £37,485 respectively), equally practical and better to drive. It depends how much you want the elevated driving position and status of an SUV.

As for the Cupra brand, there’s still a long way to go. Convincing buyers this isn’t simply a hotted-up Seat won’t be easy. However, if anyone can build a brand, it’s the Volkswagen Group. It transformed Audi from also-ran to premium powerhouse, and Skoda from the butt of a hundred jokes to the budget benchmark. Perhaps it’s Cupra, rather than Seat, that will become ‘the Spanish Alfa Romeo’ after all.

Five 2019 Cupra Ateca rivals

Porsche Macan 2.0
BMW X3M 40i
Mini Countryman JCW
Seat Leon ST Cupra
Volkswagen Golf R Estate

How much did our test car cost?

Cupra Ateca 2.0 TSI DSG (Comfort and Sound): £37,830

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2019 Kia e-Niro

2019 Kia e-Niro review: the family EV that banishes range anxiety

The new Kia e-Niro brings a 282-mile range to the family electric car sector at a price families can afford. Is it the latest EV gamechanger?

2018 Audi A1 UK first drive_01

2018 Audi A1 30 TFSI Sport review

We drive the new Audi A1 for the first time in the UK. Does it stack up as a rival to both the premium and the practical alternatives?

2019 Maserati Levante UK First Drive Review

2019 Maserati Levante V6 review: Italian style and a supercar soundtrack

The Maserati Levante gets a host of updates for 2019, including a new entry-level V6 petrol engine built by Ferrari. We drive it on UK roads

2019 Citroen C5 Aircross

2019 Citroen C5 Aircross review: quirky crossover plays the comfort card

We drive petrol and diesel versions of the new Citroen C5 Aircross SUV. How does it stack up against the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson?

2019 Honda CR-V Hybrid

2019 Honda CR-V Hybrid review: the future-proofed family SUV

The Honda CR-V is no longer available with a diesel engine. We drive the petrol-electric hybrid alternative

Dacia Logan MCV Stepway

2018 Dacia Logan MCV Stepway Comfort TCe 90 review: the Aldi A4 Allroad

Dacia’s budget estate car features faux-SUV styling and a bargain-basement price tag. But does the cheap cost come at a price? We find out

Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 184 48V long-term test

Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 48V mild hybrid long-term test

Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 184 48V long-term testThe Kia Sportage is the firm’s most popular car in the UK. It’s on a roll at the moment, entering the top 10 best-sellers list in September, thanks to Kia timing a mid-life facelift to perfection. As other brands’ registrations fell throughout Europe due to not being ready for the new WLTP fuel economy tests, Kia was there to pounce and take advantage.

A rival to the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar and Ford Kuga, this generation of Sportage was introduced in 2015. The 2018 facelift brings a tweaked nose and rear, new wheels and colours, a quality upgrade for the interior and other detail revisions.

The most interesting addition is at the top of the range. Kia has introduced a ‘mild hybrid’ Sportage, one that combines a big diesel engine with a little electric motor-generator and 48-volt lithium ion battery. It’s tech first seen in the posh Audi Q7, but this is the first time it’s featured in a car this affordable.

Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 184 48V long-term test

Well, relatively affordable. It’s the most expensive Sportage you can buy, costing around £34,500 – but even this isn’t the hindrance you’d think. Most Sportage sold, Kia’s marketing boss told me, are high-sped models. Car buyers capitalise on Kia’s great value by spending as much as they can to get luxury-line equipment. 

We’re thus running one, a Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 48V to give its official title, to see how the first mild hybrid Kia fares in everyday use. Is this the pick of the range for Britain’s favourite Kia? And can it help counter the current anti-diesel mood with enhanced green credentials? Follow our regular updates to find out.

Delivery: Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 48V

Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 184 48V long-term test

I had a sneak preview of the 48V mild hybrid Kia Sportage on the launch of the new Kia Ceed. But, on fast, hilly Slovakian roads, it didn’t seem to make much difference. Certainly there wasn’t the feeling of extra ‘engine off’ low-speed running promised by the tech. I came back confused. 

After all, this is expensive hardware. It comprises an additional 48-volt battery and a mild hybrid starter-generator unit (replacing the normal starter motor). The idea is to extend engine-off time, by cutting the engine when the vehicle’s rolling at slower speed, and instantly restart it when the driver wants to go again. 

Even better, in ‘motor’ mode, the system provides 10kW of electric power (that’s 13hp), instantly, for an acceleration boost. The vehicle will feel more alert, and because there’ll be less load on the diesel engine, economy should be better and emissions improved. Kia reckons it will save up to 7 percent in CO2, and boost fuel economy by the same amount. And you never need to plug it in!

Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 184 48V long-term test

Delivery day was delightful. GT-Line S trim is the top-grade Sportage variant, and includes, almost literally, all the extras. Big 19-inch wheels with diamond-cut finish perfectly set off the beautiful Blue Flame premium paint (it’s a rare option, costing £595). GT-Line models have a sportier front end, jam-packed with ‘ice cube’ LED lights: with the standard LED headlights of this model, it’s more Porsche Macan than Kia Sportage.

Kia Sportage GT-Line S 2.0 CRDi 184 48V long-term test

Inside, the standard leather is soft and rich to the touch (at least in the front: the rear bench has a lower, tougher grade…). The small, sporty steering wheel has the same leather, plus piano black trim. Metal-look caps for the buttons give the interior a lift, and the big 8-inch ‘glass panel’ infotainment screen is a real lift over standard Sportage. 

The first drive revealed a 2.0-litre diesel engine that sounds… well, like a diesel. Not particularly clattery but not particularly memorable. The twin-clutch automatic felt slick, quick steering was meaty, while the ride, despite my fears about the impact of those huge wheels, proved surprisingly adept and absorbent. 

But still, I couldn’t detect quite what the 48V mild hybrid tech was doing. And certainly, the engine wasn’t turning off, apart from at a standstill (although the ‘immediate’ restart and lack of starter motor whirr was appealing). I was still confused.

And this is why we’re testing the Sportage – to find out what the difference is, and show people what they’ll probably miss on a short test drive. 

So be sure to come back soon and find out more…