The Sportage may be fun, but it won't win over the badge snobs, says Sean O'Grady

It was all going so smoothly at the European launch of the Kia Sportage, held in Majorca. The assembled hacks had driven the new small 4x4 car around town, on the motorway and, crucially, up a rugged, muddy mountain path. An enjoyable alfresco lunch of tapas had been enjoyed in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings.

It was all going so smoothly at the European launch of the Kia Sportage, held in Majorca. The assembled hacks had driven the new small 4x4 car around town, on the motorway and, crucially, up a rugged, muddy mountain path. An enjoyable alfresco lunch of tapas had been enjoyed in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings.

All were agreed that the Sportage had acquitted itself well, although it's bit a roly-poly on the road. We saw that it has a big boot with a flat floor; and that the four-wheel-drive transmission turns itself into a front-wheel driver on normal roads. The gear change was vague and neither the two-litre diesel nor the V6 petrol engine varieties felt particularly thrilling (or sporty) to drive. Still, the Sportage, we concluded, was inoffensive on the outside and quite nicely finished on the inside. Not bad for a make that has been routinely derided as peddling tat since it arrived in Europe 10 years ago.

But that was not enough for the Kia spokesman, who seemed to go all megalomaniacal when it came to the car's ambitions. The Sportage, he said, had in its sights such prey as the Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4 and various Suzukis. All reasonable enough. But then he spoiled it by suggesting that this modest machine was about to mix it with BMW X3s and Volvo XC90s. A Korean jeep on the drive? The very idea!

Which left us wondering what exactly is Kia's game. The closest competitor to the Sportage is really the Hyundai Tucson - no surprise there, since Hyundai owns Kia. Butwhy would you go for a Kia Sportage for £15,000 with a three-year warranty instead of a mechanically similar Hyundai Tucson for £15,000 and a five-year warranty?

The answer, says Kia, is a brushed aluminium-style plastic veneer on the central console. This is supposed to make the Kia into the youthful, sporty option. Maybe. But Kia are on to something more promising when they say the are going to market all their productsas cars for "smart" buyers, with the sort of appeal that Ikea and easyJet enjoy.

Clever, eh? Just so long as Kia remember; a snob will always be a snob, and BMW drivers will never, ever, buy a Kia.

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