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