AGE OF ADVENTURE?
Kia has taken aim at the UK's top compact 4x4s with its latest Sportage. Steve Walker reports.
It's funny how people form emotional attachments to cars. I'll always have a soft spot for the Kia Sportage purely because an acquaintance bought one and consistently referred to it as a Kia "Sport-idge" for the two years that he owned it, ignoring regular attempts to set him straight. The MK2 Sportage was launched in 2005 and, mispronunciations aside, there wasn't a whole lot to raise a smile. It was an overwhelmingly ordinary compact 4x4 but it was cheap and one of relatively few such vehicles on the market. Today, competition is far tougher and the latest Sportage will need a broader appeal to succeed.
Ten Second Review
Compact 4x4 buyers aren't short of choice in the modern marketplace and Kia has complicated matters with its latest Sportage. The car has the engineering sophistication that we're learning to expect from modern Kias but adds in a level of design flair that's less readily associated with the Korean marque.
In combination with its sister brand Hyundai, Kia has been one of the automotive industry's major success stories over recent years. Its products have taken giant strides in terms of quality and engineering to the point where they've become realistic challengers in the European market's mainstream. If recent Kia efforts have lacked anything, it's been that spark of design flair and character that can make all the difference in helping a vehicle stand out but the latest Sportage seeks to address that.
As has become fashionable in many compact 4x4s products, many of the entry-level Kia Sportage models that leave the showroom only have two-wheel-drive. For most owners, most of the time, this will be more than adequate but those looking for some off-road or towing ability and greater security in wet or icy conditions can choose a full 4x4 model. The Sportage uses a part-time all-wheel-drive system which sends 100 per cent of power to the front wheels unless slippage is detected and it's automatically diverted to the rear. There's a Lock Mode for off-road driving which splits the available power 50/50 between the front and rear wheels but it only operates below 25mph. All Sportage models have Hillstart Assist Control to help with uphill getaways and Downhill Brake Control to provide reassurance on steep descents. The car has fully independent suspension front and rear with the option of fitting Kia's Amplitude Selective Dampers which adjust their firmness according to the speed of the vehicle. Steering is via an electric system which adjusts the level of assistance according to speed. The engine bay of the Sportage is populated by one of four powerplants. There are 1.7 or 2.0-litre common-rail diesels with 113 and 134bhp respectively or 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrols packing 138 and 161bhp. Performance is similar with the 2.0-litre units as both manage the 0-62mph trial in under 11s with the manual gearbox installed.
Design and Build
Instantly looking like one of Kia's most adventurous styling efforts to date, the Sportage follows the established compact 4x4 design cues. It's a longer and wider car than the previous generation model, bringing it in line with today's top compact 4x4s size-wise, but it's also lower, helping it achieve a more streamlined profile. The shoulder line is particularly high making for a small glass area and a more dynamic appearance while the large head and fog lights produce a distinctive front end. Inside, there's the same kind of sporty feel with a tiered dashboard and a high centre console dividing the cabin. The generous dimensions of the Sportage are made to count inside where efforts have been made to increase passenger space over the old car. There's also a substantial boot measuring in at 564 litres when the rear seats are occupied or 1,353 litres when they're folded down. Storage space inside the Sportage includes a 6-litre centre console bin, large door pockets and a glovebox that's air-conditioned on some models.
Market and Model
What with the various engine options, manual or automatic gearboxes and front or four wheel drive, there's plenty of choice facing the Sportage buyer. All 1.6 and 1.7-litre versions of new Sportage feature Kia's Intelligent Stop and Go (ISG) technology and sit under Kia's 'EcoDynamics' banner, while the new Dymax intelligent all-wheel-drive system is standard on every 2.0-litre model. The 16-model range is based on Kia's familiar 1, 2 and 3 trim designations, with all-wheel-drive versions given the KX preface. There is also a special range topping 'Sat-Nav' grade of new Sportage 3 and KX-3, featuring a fully integrated 7-inch touch screen satellite navigation with built in reversing camera and upgraded audio sound system. The compact 4x4 was once a niche market product but these days, it's unquestionably part of the mainstream. Virtually all of the major manufacturers offer a model in this class and Kia is pitching the Sportage into this fray with some confidence. The Hyundai ix35 rides on the same platform as the Sportage and together, the two models will be looking to steal sales from the likes of Skoda's Yeti and Suzuki's Grand Vitara - and maybe even up into Ford's Kuga, Nissan's X-Trail and Toyota's RAV4 territory.
Cost of Ownership
The engine options in the Sportage are fairly advanced with common-rail fuel injection for the diesels and Kia's CVVT Continuously Variable Valve Timing for the petrols. The 1.6-litre petrol engine also features direct injection technology so, all in all, you'd expect reasonable fuel economy. Both the all-wheel-drive system and the automatic gearbox hamper economy but only by a few miles per gallon in each instance. A 2WD 2.0-litre diesel manages 51mpg while a 4x4 2.0-litre petrol automatic comes up with 34mpg. Emissions for those two models are 147g/km and 194g/km respectively.
Kia seems to be well aware that the basic competence and value of its products isn't going to be enough to wrest sales from the big names in the European car market. That's why its latest Sportage compact 4x4 is attempting to add some extra panache into the mix. First impressions are promising too: the car mixes bold design with advanced technology and clever engineering. There are a whole lot of similar vehicles to choose from but this Kia must be in with a shout.