Henry Ford said a great many clever things, and is reputed to have said a great many more. He probably didn’t ever say ‘If I’d asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses’. But he did tell the board of his company in 1909 that future production would concentrate on just one car, the Model T, and that the customer could have ‘any colour they like, so long as it’s black.’

Eleven decades later black has become Britain’s favourite car colour which makes the Phantom Black paintwork of the Kia Sportage KX-4 that I’ve had on a long term test surprisingly trendy, though the choice wasn’t driven by fashion. The Sportage is only available in five colours, and after discounting white (just not practical in the muddy lanes of Shropshire) and the curious greeny-brown metallic bronze (which looks great or awfully dull, depending on the light) black seemed like the best of the remaining options.

The Sportage is black inside, too, but nothing like as gloomy as that might sound. Winding the electrically-operated blind back from the vast glass sunroof bounces light onto satin-finished metallic embellishments on the dashboard and steering wheel, and highlights the contrast between the textured dashboard and the gloss black panels surrounding controls and switches.

From the buttons lined up across the centre console to the knobs that select the aircon temperature, the minor controls have a smooth, precise feel. Kia has clearly taken a long look at the materials and finishes that Volkswagen, the masters of perceived quality, offers in its interiors.

Kia Sportage all-wheel drive

Predictive all-wheel-drive delivered excellent traction in all conditions.

Everything in this Korean cabin feels solid, substantial, built to last. Well thought-out, too, from the uncomplicated driving position and handily-placed audio and cruise buttons on the steering wheel to the aux input and USB ports for rear-seat passengers as well as front. But the feeling of near-Teutonic quality and efficiency takes a knock when you start to explore the details of the infotainment system.

The clear 9-inch touchscreen controls navigation, phone, radio, media player and heating/air conditioning/ventilation functions. Pairing with a Bluetooth-enabled phone was easy, giving easy access to music stored on the phone and fuss-free, hands-free calling, and the system has clear graphics and top-quality sound from its JBL speakers. But it’s compromised by a pervasive default setting for the audio channel, which reverts to the radio every time you punch the big black engine start button or end a phone call. Even if the audio was previously muted, you get a burst of radio sound which you must manually mute.

Kia Sportage sunroof

Big sunroof proved useful for photoshoots, but rattled on rough roads.

Turning the volume down is only a partial solution, because you can still just hear the radio on its lowest setting. Switching off the whole infotainment system solves the problem, of course, but deprives you of navigation, phone, audio and heating controls. You won’t even know what time it is, because the clock is part of the infotainment system too. What the system needs is the ability to remember from one mode to the next whether the user has muted the audio channel, and respect that choice.

More unwanted noises come from the 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine mounted transversely up front. It’s rarely as quiet as you might like: you’re always aware of it working away, even idling at a standstill where the grumble of the four-pot oil burner is accompanied by tremors in the steering and pedals. But refinement issues aside it’s an impressive motor, with a useful swell of torque in the 2000-3000rpm range where the six-speed automatic transmission endeavours to keep it spinning.

There’s rarely any need to use the transmission’s sport mode, which kicks down with greater alacrity and hangs onto each gear long enough to extract the most performance, at the expense of a strained engine note once the rev counter needle heads beyond 4000. Driven like that, fuel economy quickly dips into the 20s but I averaged about 36mpg over the 15,000 miles and most drivers would probably get closer to the official combined figure of 44.8mpg.

kia 9980
Kia Sportage diesel engine

Infotainment has annoying default sound settings. The 2.0-litre diesel engine performs well but could be more refined.

The Sportage will make swift progress on most roads, aided by steering which is nicely direct if lacking in useful feedback as is the way with so many modern cars. Suspension that is firmly damped in bounce and roll keeps motions of the tall body in check through the bends, adding to the nimble feel. But on broken road surfaces the stiff anti-roll bars jiggle the occupants from side to side, and whatever the road conditions bumps are more often mitigated than eradicated completely. Traction has rarely been in doubt, even in winter snow and muddy lanes, thanks to a sophisticated four-wheel drive system which anticipates changing conditions and shuffles torque between the axles to suit.

In more than 15,000 miles the Sportage has been almost trouble-free. On one occasion in mid-winter the engine went into its limp-home mode shortly after a cold start, but switching it off and on again cleared the fault and it never reoccured. It used virtually no oil in our tenure and the only noticeable sign of the advancing mileage has been a growing tendency for the big glass roof to shimmy noisily in its seals when the road surface is anything less than perfectly smooth.

Kia Sportage 2.0CRDi KX-4 AWD

Engine 1995cc inline four-cylinder, 16-valve turbodiesel; 182PS at 4000rpm; 400Nm at 1750rpm

Transmission Six-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

Suspension Front: MacPherson strut; Rear: multi-link

Wheels and tyres 245/45R19 Hankook Ventus

Dimensions 4480mm long, 1855mm wide, 1635mm tall

Performance 125mph, 0-62mph: 9.2sec

Economy Official: 44.8mpg, On test: 36mpg

That sunroof proved to be a boon for photoshoots. With the big glass panel retracted the opening was big enough to deploy a photographer and a big DSLR to get a high angle, perfect for group tracking shots. The Sportage proved its versatility time and again: the rear seats were easy to drop, making space for collecting hundreds of car magazines on a couple of occasions, and in four-seat mode there was plenty of space for all.

The Sportage’s thoughtful design and a long list of convenience and safety features – automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, heated steering wheel, autonomous emergency braking and more – make a strong case in a market sector already crowded with good choices like Nissan’s Qashqai. The Nissan outsells the Kia by some margin but the Sportage is finding more buyers in Europe and the US than previous generation model and proves Kia really can build cars with the quality and design that many people want. You don’t even have to have it in black.

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