Sportage Sh ines
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.