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Kia seem to be on a winner with the new Sportage SUV
By Cameron Officer • 28/02/2016
New Sportage offers improved looks and better ride
Here’s a fact that will make you reassess just how popular Kia’s medium-sized SUV has proven over the last five years; the distributor says that after half a decade’s service, the previous Sportage was still the brand’s biggest seller in New Zealand.
Kia dealers firmly believed right up until the last handful of units went out the door that, had there been more vehicles available, the old model would simply keep on selling.
Looking at some stats from last year, this fact is less surprising when you consider the Sportage held seven percent market share within the medium SUV segment. Kia as a whole enjoyed a record year in 2015; 3290 cars sold, taking them to third place in the market growth league table (just behind Mazda and Subaru).
And so it goes with the new model; Kia New Zealand general manager Todd McDonald told media assembled for the 2016 model launch that almost all of the first allocation of Sportage has disappeared into the dealer network already, with what McDonald says are many firm orders awaiting delivery.
Maintaining a solid mix of models is what kept the brand strong last year and it would seem that philosophy will be applied to the new Sportage, with three engines spread across four grades and a mix of front- and all-wheel drive. that’s a total of nine models to choose from, so there’s plenty of depth.
Drill down into that medium SUV segment further and Kia is an example of a brand directly experiencing the change in SUV buyer behaviour from 4WD to 2WD as an acceptable SUV option. Front-drivers accounted for 43 per cent of the total medium SUV market in 2015. Of that 43 per cent, Kia’s previous 2WD Sportage was second only to the Nissan X-Trail in terms of sales.
In saying that, Kia continues to err on the side of caution where 2WD is concerned for the new model, fielding a front-driver in entry LX, EX and Ltd grades, but only with the 2.0-litre petrol engine. The all-wheel drive models mix and match both grades and engines (the 2.4-litre petrol and the carry-over 2.0-litre CRDi diesel).
Every Sportage comes with plenty of standard kit. In fact there’s so much on offer in the EX and Ltd models especially, they’ve had to invent a whole new grade — the GT-Line, which sits above Ltd — to house all the really good stuff, such as 19” alloys, rather attractive two-tone leather upholstery, a wireless charging tray to charge compatible phones without fussy cables, a 7” colour touchscreen with integrated satellite navigation, a 4.2” TFT LCD instrument cluster, a sporty-looking multi-function steering wheel, paddle shifters and aluminium pedals to list the highlights.
Overall the standard specification list is extensive, with reversing cameras, touchscreens, Bluetooth hands-free streaming capability, a full-size spare wheel, keyless entry, Hill Start Assist software, six airbags and a host of safety-related acronyms in every single Sportage.
Every grade except LX features leather upholstery, while Ltd and GT-Line grades feature smart boot technology and an electronic park brake. Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert software is present on EX, Ltd and GT-Line cars.
But beyond the brochure bulletpoints, what else has improved with the 2016 line-up? Three factors really stand out; exterior styling, interior space and ride and handling.
The fourth generation Sportage does a neat trick of looking exactly as you expect a Sportage to look, yet somehow entirely different from the previous iteration. Up front everything has been finessed, with a new take on Kia’s hallmark ‘tiger nose’ grille design and headlights that are now positioned higher. The Sportage’s daytime running lights are actually incorporated into the headlight cluster, while every grade features fog lamps.
In all there are three variations on the grille set-up across the Sportage range. The GT-Line, for example, features exclusive quad “ice cube” LED fog lamps to set it apart. At the back, every model except the entry LX 2WD receives LED tail lights, while all models feature a roof spoiler and roof rails.
In addition to the 19” alloys of the GT-Line, 17” and 18” alloys are also available.
Inside the nicely detailed cabin, passenger space has increased, with headroom for both front and rear passengers and legroom millimeters all expanding. Again, Kia has achieved a neat trick here, as the Sportage’s C-pillar is swept back to look much lower in profile; it doesn’t look like a car that should boast more headroom in the rear, but it does.
The 2016 Sportage has grown externally too; it’s 40mm longer in total with a 30mm longer wheelbase. Ride and handling has greatly improved. The old Sportage featured a bit of a lumpy ride quality and a fair bit of road noise in the cabin. But all that has been improved here; revised bushing mounts are positioned for greater stability and stiffer wheel bearings and bushings give a more direct feel to what’s happening beneath the car on patchier road surfaces.
The sweet spot in the range is probably the Sportage 2.4-litre petrol Ltd AWD, which feels well balanced and has plenty of power. The GT-Line feels a tad heavier on the move, but the car is easy to place and very responsive. A lot of work has been done to make it quieter too, with sound deadening material used liberally during construction; the end result is a Sportage that feels very refined and enjoyable to drive.
With the updated Optima sedan arriving soon, Kia NZ have a lot on their plate during the first quarter. Based on the evidence thus far, the Sportage should comfortably set the tone for success.
KIA SPORTAGE ENGINES: 2-litre petrol (114kW/192Nm), 2.4-litre petrol (135kW/237Nm), 2-litre diesel (136kW/400Nm) PRICES: $35,990 (LX 2WD), $38,990 (EX 2WD), $43,990 (Ltd 2WD), $41,990 (EX AWD Petrol), $45,990 (Ltd AWD Petrol), $51,990 (GT-Line AWD Petrol), $44,990 (EX AWD Diesel), $48,990 (Ltd AWD Diesel), $54,990 (GT-Line AWD Diesel) PROS: Improved looks, better ride and handling, plenty of depth to the model range, GT-Line in particular is impressively specified CONS: 2-litre petrol thrashy under acceleration