Is Kia really 'just' a car company any more? Its cars are so packed with standard and optional gadgets now it's giving some tech companies a bad name.

The latest generation Sportage is a great example. With cruise control, automatic parking systems, cameras for keeping you safe on long journeys, and the in-car tech to keep your passengers happy, it's doing just as much, if not more work than the driver themselves. It proved that point when we drove one on the Continent back in June.

Motoring surveys say the thought of driving on the "wrong" side of the road brings a third of Brits out in a cold sweat - but with the car in control, we had smooth sailing all the way.

Well, mostly.... here's how we got on.

ONE DIRECTION

The Sportage is seriously spacious inside for a five seater SUV, but there's tech pretty much everywhere you turn. The 8in screen in the centre of the dash dominates proceedings, and is bright enough to see clearly when the sun is shining - even if it took a few seconds longer than we'd like to flick over to night mode when driving through tunnels. 

Kia's satnav system looks rather retro, with blocky graphics and a plodding live view. The hardware running the show manages to keep things nice and responsive, but we would like either Android Auto or Apple Carplay to get thrown into the mix soon.

At least TomTom's mapping engine got us where we needed to go, with a full address book of destinations across a whole host of countries. It even has a pretty good go at pronouncing foreign road names, although expect a few comical text-to-speech fails.

The rest of the infotainment system is pretty simplistic, but has the edge over systems in similarly-priced cars from the likes of Ford. A straightforward layout, clearly legible icons and only a few taps to switch between functions mean you can concentrate on the road. 

DRIVE TIME

With a 2.0-litre diesel engine under the bonnet and a seven-speed automatic gearbox, the Sportage absolutely eats up the miles.

It’s fairly sprightly, hitting 62 in just under 10 seconds, but the single clutch ‘box is a little slow to change. A twin-clutch system is apparently on the way, but not if you want the spec we had on test.

The First Edition model is rolling on 19s, so the ride feels a little on the firm side, but not enough to leave you needing to see a chiropractor when you get out at the end of the journey.

It handles surprisingly well for such a big car, partly because Kia has shifted the power assistance motor from the steering column down to the rack. It's not like you can close your eyes and feel like you're driving a Porsche (seriously, don't do this while driving) but it's a lot more responsive than other crossover SUVs.

There’s even part-time all-wheel drive if you find yourself off the beaten path. We mostly stuck to paved roads, though, so can’t vouch for how effective it’ll be at rescuing you from boggy fields and flooded festival campsites.

PERFECT PARKING

We're starting to expect some kind of parking assistance as standard on new cars, so it was nice to see the Sportage going one better. The First Edition model has a full set of sensors as standard, which will keep your bumpers save when trying to squeeze into small spaces manually.

It can also handle parallel and perpendicular parking for you with Kia's Smart Park Assist System (SPAS). It worked brilliantly on busy city side streets, where the unfamiliar car and tight spaces made it a little dicey to try and park ourselves - at least if we wanted to drive away scrape-free.

Flick on the parking sensors as you pull alongside the space and the car tells you when to change gear. Take your hands off the wheel and you've only got to worry about gas and brake - it does all the steering and tells you when to take control again.

The parking sensors and cameras put a video feed on the touchscreen, too, so you can guarantee not to run over little Billy's bike when you're trying to find a parking space. It was fairly generous in terms of distance, so you'll be able to squeeze into very tight spaces - perfect given the large size of the car.

Motorway Mayhem

That elevated driving position makes all the difference when you're jammed into motorway traffic, as you can see over the tops of smaller hatchbacks. The Sportage has excellent vision all round, especially with that panoramic sunroof letting in loads of light to the cabin.

Checking your route on a long distance run and seeing how many miles you've got left to clock up can be a little intimidating, but cruise control made things a lot easier. Kia's system is controlled entirely through the steering wheel, so you don't have to take your eyes away from the road to flick it on.

Once cruise control is set, your speed shows up on the screen set into the instrument panel. Without adaptive cruise, though, you'll have to step on the brakes if the traffic in front of you slows down. You can set the digital dashboard to convert kph to mph, so you don't have to do any mental arithmetic if you drive it abroad.

We also discovered another use for cruise control, when we were forced onto the spare tyre after a puncture brought our test route to a premature end. Set the recommended speed for your space saver and you can limp back to base to get things fixed without having to feather the throttle at 48mph the whole way home. Getting a flat tyre is never a fun experience, but at least the Sportage saved us some stress by doing most of the work for us.

The experience also meant we could confirm the tyre pressure sensors were working perfectly - with an attention-grabbing dashboard alert and alarm chime giving us enough time to safely pull onto the motorway hard shoulder.

THE LITTLE THINGS

The Sportage has a scattering of USB ports throughout the cabin. Hardly unusual, sure, but handy for keeping the kids in the back happy while you concentrate on driving.

You can plug a USB cable in up front as well, but the coin tray also doubles as a wireless charging pad. If you've got a phone that'll play nicely with it, you can leave cables, plugs and travel adapters at home.

Music controls are on the steering wheel for volume and skipping tracks, and built-in Bluetooth means you can stream from any smartphone, but annoyingly we couldn't find a clear way to pause songs - a few French tollbooth attendants got a deluge of dubstep while we struggled to lean over from the opposite side of the car with the right change.

DAB is a welcome inclusion as standard too, even if we could only pick up 1Xtra while following the coastal roads through Northern France.

KIA Sportage (2016) - initial verdict

OK, so we didn't really get more than a third of the way into our planned continental test drive (thanks, unusually sharp French motorway exits) but the Sportage still proved itself as a long-distance cruiser with room in the back for luggage.

That was thanks in part to the driving position, but mostly to the fully equipped spec sheet. Parking, motorway cruising and keeping connected were all so easy we could eat up the miles and feel fresh as a daisy on the other side.

The 2-litre automatic diesel engine in the First Edition model we had on test isn't the most economic in the range, so if you don't mind dropping the power with a 1.7l manual motor, you'll be able to go further between fuel stops too. You lose a few standard tech toys with the lesser models, but even once you add the extras, it still looks like excellent value versus the competition. 

We'll have to reserve judgment on its long term appeal, but if we're ever planning another long-distance drive, we wouldn't hesitate to get behind the wheel of one of these. Only maybe next time with a spare tyre in the boot.

Want to get the lowdown on everything outside of the tech? Head to our friends Autocar for a more in-depth look at how the Sportage handles UK roads.

Tech Specs 
Engine
2.0l CRDi
Transmission
Six-speed torque-convertor automatic
Power
182bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque
295lb ft @ 1750rpm
0-62mph
9.2sec
Top speed
125mph
Economy
44.8mpg
CO2
166g/km CO2

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