With low traffic, excellent highways and a good mix of terrain, Singapore is a driver’s delight, offering everything from stunning cityscapes to jungle escapes. We put the new Kia Sportage to the test, exploring some of the city’s more picturesque sights and neighbourhoods.

Enjoying the cityscape on the roof of People's Complex in Chinatown

Enjoying the cityscape on the roof of People’s Complex in Chinatown

The Korean car maker has made giant strides in recent times and the previous Sportage crossover was certainly a smash hit for the brand, elevating its status and stealing market share in the fiercely competitive compact SUV segment. So is the brand new 2016 model up to the considerable task of succeeding it? We spend a day cruising around sunny Singapore to find out.

Testing the engine off South Buona Vista

Testing the engine off South Buona Vista

At first glance, the new Sportage fails to conjure up the same visual allure as its previous incarnation. It looks a bit like the love child of a Porsche Cayenne and Subaru Tribeca — an interesting combination that departs from the strong, angular lines of its predecessor and takes a more curvaceous stance. Almost like a bullfrog ready to pounce on its prey, it takes some getting used to. However, as the day progresses the new look begins to grow on me. Inside, the dark leather and plastics are conservative with soft touch plastic up top and hard touch plastic down below creating an expensive and robust feel.

on the beach in Labrador Park

on the beach in Labrador Park

There are lots of buttons to fiddle around with, meaning plenty of features so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The overall build quality is up a notch from some of its Japanese rivals and I feel like I am actually sitting in a VW GTI with its strangely familiar design and layout.he Korean car maker has made giant strides in recent times and the previous Sportage crossover was certainly a smash hit for the brand, elevating its status and stealing market share in the fiercely competitive compact SUV segment. So is the brand new 2016 model up to the considerable task of succeeding it? We spend a day cruising around sunny Singapore to find out.

Off road in Bukit Timah

Off road in Bukit Timah

The journey starts on a cultural note as I turn into the former colonial army complex of Gillman Barracks. This collection of whitewashed buildings has been converted into an important centre for contemporary art, with a good choice of small galleries, backed up by a selection of cafes and restaurants. The Sportage navigates swiftly through the tiny roads here and three-point turns are handled with aplomb. Satisfied with the turning circle and handy reverse camera, we attempt to navigate through the console to the GPS. Alas, there is no built-in GPS on our model, although there is an option to pair a smart phone equipped with Google Maps and run it through the system. This however requires the USB cable and without one at hand, I instead connect my Spotify playlist seamlessly via bluetooth and crank up the volume of the impressive JBL sound system – bass junkies take note, this car won’t let you down.

exploring Keong Saik Road

exploring Keong Saik Road

Heading to the west coast along Alexandra Road, I leave the busy streets behind for the natural surrounds of Labrador Park. This oasis of tranquility offers coastal walks and lots of greenery, just a few minutes from the city centre. The sun is shining above so it’s time to try out the sun roof – surely with all these buttons, there’s one to open the roof? Unfortunately, it seems permanent roof welding comes as standard.

looking good in Tiong Bahru

looking good in Tiong Bahru

Undeterred I head off along the West Coast Highway in search of some windy roads to test out the suspension, which has been pleasantly pliant and comfortable so far. A homicidal taxi uncle ambushes us from behind. Tyres screech and brakes howl, with heart rates elevated to the extreme. Did I say this car is known for its safety features? Kia has installed not only twin front and side airbags but twin curtain airbags too with rollover sensor. Unscathed I head towards the winding roads of South Buona Vista. On this ascent, the 2.0L NA engine labours a bit coming up to speed – I’m slightly surprised that the new model doesn’t come with one of the small capacity turbocharged engines that are all the rage these days. With the 192NM of torque eventually released, the road becomes a blur and cars passed with satisfactory ease. For another dose of Singapore’s legendary tropical greenery, I carry on towards Bukit Timah Nature reserve, a favourite spot for nature lovers country-wide. Looking good and turning heads (in car) is hard work so I head to the popular Riders Café (51 Fairways Drive) nearby for a quick feed. One of the city’s more popular brunch spots – the place is jammed on weekends – it’s a great choice for a weekday lunch. They also do a very good cheeseburger! Located next to the Bukit Timah Saddle Club, it’s just around the corner from the nine-hole Champions Golf Course and Driving Range and a unique street full of bric a brac shops, a goldmine for those hunting retro items and furniture.

on the road from Marina Bay Sands

on the road from Marina Bay Sands

Retro fans will also enjoy my next destination, the neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru, now firmly established as the hipster centre of town. Here the well-preserved collection of art deco buildings house an eclectic mix of hip cafes, bakeries, boutiques and restaurants. Visually impressive, it offers a throwback to Singapore’s sleepy beginnings, in sharp contrast to the CBD and shopping districts that surround it. Here I stop off to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables from the famous Tiong Bahru Market – with the Sportage’s class-leading boot space (in excess of 500L) there is lots of room to work with. No clumsy boot lips here, getting into the back is smooth and easy, just the way I like it. If you head to the market, make sure you try some of the hawker food available there. Popular dishes at this selection of stalls include Fishball Noodles (02-44), Lor Mee (02-23) and the Wanton Noodles (02-30).

Going green at the Botanic Garden

Going green at the Botanic Garden

If Tiong Bahru is the hipster capital of Singapore, then Chinatown has become the new upmarket dining heartland. Beautifully preserved shophouses here house a rapidly expanding choice of international restaurants and cocktails bars. Turning into the very happening Keong Saik Road, it dawns on me that this new Sportage is not just a case of ‘more of the same’ from Kia. The outgoing model was practical and good value, but with this head turner, the Korean car maker is punching above its weight in grip, agility and material quality. It feels just as sophisticated as any of its continental rivals. Will this make it a compelling buy in this already packed segment? I certainly think so.

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