Carl Reader braves a special off-road circuit built to test Kia's revamped SUV

You can't argue with the laws of physics, but if you are going to have a crack then you'll need a comfy seat and a good set of brakes.

Lucky for me, then, that Kia's revamped Sportage is equipped with both. In front of me, a colleague is attempting to clear the first hurdle of an off-road course Kia has set up to put the Sportage through its paces.

There's this ramp, you see, and it will pivot gently if I can get the Sportage to stop at the "sweet spot" a red flag that needs to be level with my wing mirrors. Then it will deliver me and the Sportage to the ground on the other side, nice and easy. Get it wrong and it will dump me down so fast there's a chance my jaw will emerge through my bald spot.

I wait patiently for my colleague to get his act together and, frankly, he's making something of a hash of it. The billowing clouds of smoke from the clutch aren't making his task any easier, either. Finally, at the fourth attempt, he crashes down and heads off into the woods and I'm up next.

Into first then, and off I roll. Getting up the ramp is fine, speed seems OK but then I brake too soon and haven't got anywhere near the flag. Back down, shamefaced, I go.

At least I'm not torching the clutch, though. Second try, and everything is spot-on. Hit the ramp beautifully and slam on at the top utter silence and peace, then slowly I start rolling groundwards, jaw and bald spot intact. After that, the rest of the course rocks and rolls me through some big dirty ditches and a river crossing that leaves the Sportage unruffled, although I made a mental note never again to have lunch before an exercise like this.

Kia hasn't mucked about too much for this relaunch. There are the upsized brakes that kicked in hard when some idiot decided to pull out of his driveway at 40mph without stopping, and there are new teardroppy headlights and a tweak of the bonnet and rear that give it a curvier, more grown-up look.

Overall, it's a design that doesn't scream, 'Look at me, I'm going off-road!', like some others that will never, frankly, see even a just-played-on school footy pitch.

Inside, the seats are firm and comfortable and there's a spaciousness to the cab five grown-ups will slot in here nicely, and the boot is capacious enough to lug their bags, too.

You have a choice of two-wheel or four-wheel drive versions, powered by 2.0-litre engines. The four-wheel drive does wonders for the whole experience when you press the button on the dash to engage it the Sportage does feel like it's pinned down more firmly.

The two-wheel drive 2.0-litre XE will set you back 13,995 and it's another 1,000 to go up the 4WD, with the fully-specced Titan edition weighing in at the top end for 19,995.

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