A re­veal to con­ceal

Cars­guide gets ac­cess to a top-se­cret cir­cuit to check the com­ing Sportage SUV — or as much as Kia al­lows

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CHRIS RI­LEY chris.ri­ley@news.com.au

THE world saw the all-new Kia Sportage for the first time last week.

But be­fore the of­fi­cial photos were re­leased, we’d al­ready sat in it, driven it, sweated in it and tor­tured it in Cal­i­for­nia’s Death Val­ley.

In a brave de­par­ture from nor­mal in­dus­try prac­tice, Kia al­lowed Cars­guide into its topse­cret prov­ing ground to sam­ple its im­por­tant com­pact SUV — with warts, cam­ou­flage and all.

The bold strat­egy may have some­thing to do with the fact that its sib­ling brand Hyundai has been hog­ging the lime­light of late with its all-new ri­val for the Sportage, the Tuc­son.

It’s too early to make any au­thor­i­ta­tive com­par­i­son of the two but we can re­port that be­hind the Sportage’s stylish good looks, Kia has added greater cabin space and im­proved man­ners both on and off the road.

The in­te­rior trim might lean to the con­ser­va­tive but its road­hold­ing abil­ity inspired con­fi­dence on a preview drive. De­signed in Europe, with in­put from the com­pany’s de­sign stu­dios in Cal­i­for­nia and South Korea, the Sportage has al­ways looked bet­ter than the Hyundai coun­ter­part.

At the same time it has never sold in any­where the same num­bers.

The new Tuc­son is a vast im­prove­ment yet the de­sign re­mains rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive com­pared with both the cur­rent and the com­ing Sportage.

Tuc­son gets four en­gines in­clud­ing the flex­i­ble 1.6-litre turbo with a dual-clutch auto shared with the quirky Veloster, with 130kW of power and 265Nm of torque.

But don’t ex­pect Kia to nec­es­sar­ily fol­low suit.

It’s not re­veal­ing much at this stage, cer­tainly not whether the line-up will in­clude the turbo, but it will al­most cer­tainly in­clude a 2.0-litre di­rect in­jec­tion petrol en­gine as well as an up­dated ver­sion of the 2.0-litre turbo diesel with 400Nm of torque.

ON THE ROAD

We got to drive the new Sportage briefly at Kia’s prov­ing ground in the Mo­jave Desert as

The bold strat­egy is a re­sponse to sib­ling brand Hyundai

hog­ging the lime­light with its Tuc­son coun­ter­part

well as in the bak­ing hot con­fines of Death Val­ley (see panel), about 500km north­east of Los An­ge­les.

Camo pan­els cov­ered the ex­te­rior but there was no dis­guis­ing the in­side and we were a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed to find the dash­board lacked the flair and imag­i­na­tion of the twotiered ar­range­ment in the cur­rent model.

It looks and feels con­ser­va­tive, sit­ting more up­right with four large, rather square air vents, trimmed in a me­tal­lic fin­ish — that frame a sub­stan­tial eight-inch com­puter screen.

Our test car was well equipped, with leather and cli­mate air­con, auto lights and wipers, plus heated and ven­ti­lated front seats along with a heated steer­ing wheel (although there wasn’t much call for that in Death Val­ley).

There were no gear-change pad­dles but the trans­mis­sion has a man­ual mode along with a new se­lectable sport mode — just like the new Tuc­son.

We didn’t get to drive a diesel and Kia kept a lid al­most lit­er­ally on what petrol en­gine was un­der the bon­net.

It felt smooth and com­fort­able to drive, with strong ac­cel­er­a­tion and plenty of power to climb the hills we en­coun­tered, the re­designed steer­ing wheel fit­ting com­fort­ably in the hands.

OFF THE ROAD

Kia let us take our heav­ily dis­guised cars around the prov­ing ground’s off-road loop.

As with the cur­rent model, new Sportage will be avail­able in front and all-wheel drive.

Ground clear­ance is the same on each but the AWD model has hill de­scent con­trol and a dif­fer­en­tial lock for heav­ier off-road­ing. It per­formed well over a se­ries of hills and low-trac­tion sur­faces but un­less it gets more than the 167mm ground clear­ance of its pre­de­ces­sor, it’s go­ing to be lim­ited to dirt tracks and the oc­ca­sional muddy sur­face.

VER­DICT

Ini­tial in­di­ca­tions are good. The styling is at­trac­tive, the ride and on-road han­dling are fine and it’s com­pe­tent off-road. The Sportage ought to be at least as handy as the Tuc­son.

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