The mission of Kia, the Korean company with the lightweight name but the growing UK presence, is cut-price motoring. And how. Heck, they'd give them away if they could. There was a Kia promotion a couple of years ago, under the terms of which, if you agreed to become the owner of one of their scarily cheap people carriers, they threw in a free bicycle. If one particularly warmed to this sales pitch, it was because it seemed to point the way ambitiously forward to a time, not far removed, when you would buy a Kia and get a free car to go with it.

To my knowledge, there is no courtesy bike offer attached to the newly restyled Kia Sportage, though it's always worth having a word with the dealer, because you never know what he might have lying around out the back. And even if he offers to throw in a pair of bikes, his desk and the showroom's coffee machine, you will be in a position to drive them all away on the day, the Sportage being one of those high and mighty, five-seater sports utility vehicles whose seats fold down to create an indoor hockey arena.

It's in the now classic SUV format: pumped-up wheel arches, military cladding, down-your-nose visibility. The old one used to have a spare wheel bolted to the back door, but that's considered a bit last century now; in the new version, it's gone under the floor of the boot. But it's still unmistakably an urban combat vehicle, aimed at city people who have wildly overestimated the perils involved in taking their children to school of a morning and then going on to Sainsbury's for the shopping.

And, being a Kia, the range starts at just £14,495, making it a Chelsea tractor at Peckham prices. This means the Sportage is your opportunity to take up more room than you need to and burn more fuel than you really ought to, while earning the bitter scorn and nearly tangible disapproval of everyone who isn't in an SUV - and at almost exactly half the price of what it costs to do those things in a BMW X5. Result!

But, as ever, there's a price to pay for cheapness. And in this case the price is stiff suspension. Indeed, spine-threateningly stiff suspension. The Sportage's imitation of a non-cut-price SUV is, in many important respects, utterly persuasive. It's nicely upholstered. Its clocks don't look like they were adapted from reclaimed Teasmades. The stick shift on the automatic transmission slips into place with potent silence. (You can, incidentally, take advantage of one of those manual override systems, wherein you shift the stick across and start bumping up and down the gears yourself, though I have yet to work out why anyone would bother.) Its rear window can be opened independent of the back door, to make reaching in and out of the boot easier. In short, it's got a lot of class going on.

But then you go over a bump in it. And at this point, the price of the car starts flashing in red neon from every one of its reflective surfaces. Taken at 5mph, the speed hump at the entrance to my local supermarket - by no means the country's most forbidding escarpment - caused me to pitch about in the cabin of my Sportage like the captain of a fishing smack caught in a squall.

Moreover, after a short Saturday night drive, my adult guests in the rear were complaining of bruising. And this was up and down the A3 between Wimbledon and Chessington. Heaven knows what state their internal organs would have been in had I taken the Sportage's bloated bumpers and the presence of four-wheel drive at face value and decided to cut our journey time by bursting through a fence and setting off across the fields.

In this context, the inclusion in the Sportage of an LED compass, blinking in green at the corner of the rear-view mirror, seemed a mite pretentious. It appeared to suggest a life in the Sportage in which you would routinely find yourself so far off the beaten track that you would be bearing-less - undecided whether to follow the river bed or attempt to make your way up over the hill and back to civilisation, until you remembered (yes!) the on-board compass, and chose your direction accordingly.

But, of course, you wouldn't be any of these things. You would be in the car park at Argos. And you would be in the car park at Argos because you would be critically aware that the most likely consequences of attempting to off-road in a budget Korean SUV would be snapped axles and the rapid dispersal across the countryside of each one of its body panels, leaving you ultimately to yomp home on foot, ruefully holding a steering wheel and a sheared-off gearstick.

Unless, of course, they had given you a bike. In which case you could ride home on that. The more I think about it, the more holding out for a free bike seems like a smart idea.



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