Sportage Sh ines

Kia Sportage

NZ Autocar - - Contents - Words Peter Louis­son Pho­tos Tom Gas­nier

Kia’s big­gest seller last year was its five-year old Sportage, a re­flec­tion of the im­por­tance of the medium SUV sec­tor. A new, bet­ter rid­ing fourth-gen model should go gang­busters.

It’s “Game On” for 2016, says Kia Mo­tors NZ GM, Todd McDon­ald. Af­ter a record 2015 in which the com­pany ex­ceeded 3000 sales for the first time, a 16 per cent lift on 2014, McDon­ald ex­pects this year to be at least as good, given Kia’s best sell­ing ve­hi­cle, Sportage, has just been re­newed (fourth gen­er­a­tion) and the first ship­ment of 500 is al­ready a sell-out. Another 300 ar­rive in April, and Kia is bud­get­ing on sell­ing 1100 for the year. The way things are go­ing they might do that by midyear.

Part of the rea­son for Kia’s strong growth re­lates to the strength of the SUV sec­tor which has bur­geoned from 6000 six years ago to over 20,000 units per an­num last year. In 2015, its fifth year on sale, Sportage was Kia’s best seller, de­spite the medium SUV area show­ing lit­tle growth dur­ing that time. How­ever, McDon­ald said there were strong growth ar­eas within the sec­tor, and he said Kia in­tends to ex­ploit those in 2016. For ex­am­ple, amongst medium-sized SUVs, there has been strong growth in 2WD petrol-pow­ered vari­ants – sales have in­creased by 186 per cent in the past three years. Front driv­ers now ac­count for 43 per cent of to­tal sales in the sec­tor.

Most medium SUVs have RRPs in the $40k-$46k bracket, with a trans­ac­tion price in the $30k-$35k re­gion. New Sportage LX Ur­ban, the base model with a fuel in­jected 2.0-litre petrol en­gine mated to a six-speed au­to­matic, has an RRP of $35,990, but Kia is pro­mot­ing this model ini­tially at $29,990, the same price an LX Ur­ban sold for in 2014. That in­cludes a five-year war­ranty. Kia is hop­ing to woo new buy­ers with this short-term pro­mo­tional of­fer. Com­pared with the out­go­ing LX model, the new fourth-gen­er­a­tion LX Sportage adds high per­for­mance shock ab­sorbers, a re­vers­ing cam­era with guides, elec­trochro­matic mir­ror, auto-up win­dows, a rear wiper, cen­tral touch screen for au­dio, auto head­light con­trol and an EU V-ready en­gine.

Medium SUVs are typ­i­cally bought by busi­nesses (70 per cent), and pri­vate buy­ers make up the re­main­der ,which is typ­i­cal for the mar­ket as a whole. Sim­i­lar fig­ures ap­ply for petrol over diesel

buy­ers. More­over, there has been a big in­crease in younger buy­ers over the past three years, es­pe­cially those un­der 40 years, and it is these groups Kia will be tar­get­ing es­pe­cially with Sportage. The new styling, with its head­lights raised above grille level, and added in­te­rior and lug­gage space af­forded by a 30mm stretch in wheel­base – the lat­ter rises by 26L to 491 to the win­dow line with all seats in use – will be fur­ther in­cen­tives for prospec­tive Sportage buy­ers.

It’s not the LX that’s ex­pected to be the big­gest seller, how­ever, but the EX model kick­ing off from $39,990. Avail­able with three en­gines, 2.0-litre, a 2.4 with di­rect in­jec­tion and a 2.0L diesel, the EX mod­els add 18inch al­loys, front park­ing sen­sors, dual zone air, leather up­hol­stery (which no other com­peti­tors of­fer at this price point), rear cross traf­fic alert and blind spot de­tec­tion.

Top­ping out the 2WD Sportage range is the Ur­ban Ltd at $43,990. Over the EX it adds 19-inch al­loys, a pow­ered driver’s seat and tailgate, an au­to­matic park­ing brake, and lane change and high beam as­sist.

The 4x4 sec­tor is an area where Sportage has tra­di­tion­ally not fared so well, mainly be­cause most com­peti­tors of­fer larger 2.4-litre en­gines. Now though, the range starts with the 2.4 EX, which has the same spec as the 2WD EX model and costs $41,990. A higher spec Ltd goes for $45,990 while a new vari­ant, the range-top­ping GT Line, goes for $51,990. Kia ex­pects to in­crease sales in this area from just 48 last year to over 300 in 2016. The GT Line will be avail­able ei­ther as a diesel or a petrol, and comes with 19-inch al­loys, vented two-tone leather up­hol­stery, a wire­less phone charger, shift pad­dles, a seven-inch nav screen, a panoramic sun­roof, a D-shaped steer­ing wheel, LED in­te­rior light­ing, skid plates and the quar­tet of ice cube driv­ing lights.

On the Sportage launch drive there were a cou­ple of mi­nor sur­prises, though in ret­ro­spect, not so much. The first was the ab­sence of a tur­bopetrol (and a tur­bod­iesel for that mat­ter; all had been sold). The lack of the former was de­lib­er­ate, an at­tempt to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the line-up from that of Tuc­son, and un­der­cut its Hyundai ad­ver­sary. The next sur­prise came when Kia MD Todd McDon­ald said that the 2.4 di­rect in­jec­tion en­gine of­fers much the same per­for­mance as the 2.0-litre with port in­jec­tion in the 2WD Ur­ban line-up. “Zero to 100km/h, they’re ab­so­lutely on a par”, said McDon­ald. By the seat of the pants, I’d say he’s prob­a­bly right. The big­ger en­gine gets into its stride slightly ear­lier, around 3000rpm on the open road, but there’s not much in it.

What we no­ticed al­most im­me­di­ately was the pal­pa­ble im­prove­ment in ride qual­ity. That’s ev­i­dent in both the 2WD and 4WD vari­ants. The base model, avail­able for un­der $30k ini­tially, seems like star­tling value. There’s im­proved in­te­rior and lug­gage space, and the in­te­rior am­bi­ence steps up

a notch too; we liked the tiger nose design in­cor­po­rated into the cen­tre con­sole, and the in­creased use of foam-backed plas­tics. There’s not so much gear avail­able, as ex­pected, with man­ual air con, and no dig­i­tal speed or in­stan­ta­neous fuel use read­out. No pad­dles ei­ther and the MS gate is back to front, with a for­ward shift for a higher gear. Seats are cloth cov­ered, with­out lum­bar ad­justa­bil­ity. How­ever, there’s good all-round vis­i­bil­ity, and up front an area for your cell phone along­side a pair of 12v out­lets, and USB and mini­jack in­puts. The mul­ti­func­tion steer­ing wheel is quickly mas­tered. In the back seat area, split fold­ing pro­duces a vir­tu­ally flat floor space.

You do no­tice the im­prove­ment in fit-out when you move to the EX mod­els. All ver­sions use a six-speed auto, which has the en­gine turn­ing un­der 2000rpm at 100km/h. For best go, you need to use revs from about 4500rpm on­wards, which is nor­mal for an atmo en­gine. We noted less un­der­steer in the 4WD vari­ants we drove, but the front driv­ers are up for a bit of fun as well. The ride qual­ity, as men­tioned, is re­ally quite some­thing, and once again sus­pen­sion was fi­nessed by Kia in Aus­tralia.

There’s cer­tainly more gear with the move up to EX, with dual zone air, a com­fort en­try sys­tem, a pow­ered tailgate, leather up­hol­stery and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion. But the step up to the top GT Line, a new spec level above Lim­ited, is quite marked, with two-tone leather up­hol­stery, pow­ered lum­bar ad­justa­bil­ity, pad­dle shifters, and sportier sus­pen­sion. We took a small di­ver­sion off the launch route, and had a ball in the hills, work­ing this in Sport mode via the pad­dle shifters and ar­riv­ing just in time at the car change point, de­spite hav­ing added a hand­ful of wind­ing kilo­me­tres to the drive pro­gramme. The brakes were a bit pongy af­ter a work­out in the hills but the 4WD vari­ant is un­doubt­edly the pick of the crop dy­nam­i­cally. More on the rest of the range when the diesel vari­ants ar­rive.

Two-tone leather trim of GT Line looks great, though we imag­ine white leather will mark rather quickly. Rear seat backs can be locked at dif­fer­ent an­gles, en­hanc­ing load car­ry­ing abil­ity. Or folded com­pletely flat to take, say, a cou­ple of 2.1m macro­carpa sleep­ers.

GT Line gets sportier un­der­pin­nings but re­tains that cos­set­ing ride. Goes nicely in town on a mod­est throt­tle, likes a few more revs when gala­vant­ing about in the coun­try­side. Panoramic roof and self-open­ing tailgate dis­tin­guish the GT Line.

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