2011 KIA Sportage Review
KIA is a car company destined for great things. In the last two years the Korean giant has (in collaboration with sister company Hyundai) produced some of the best packages on sale today. 2009 saw over five million KIA/Hyundai vehicles sold and this week sees the line up expand with the introduction of the all-new third generation 2011 Kia Sportage.
At first glance the new Sportage is not what you might expect from a KIA. In fact it's not even remotely an Asian-looking car. It's very much sporting a European look both front and rear.
The design elements come from former-Audi designer Peter Schreyer's KIA revolution which has already taken form on the Cerato and Sportage (and soon on the RIO and Optima). Despite Schreye's influence, the Sportage was designed by one of KIA's chief designers, Massimo Frascella who works at the KIA design centre in California.
When you have the likes of Schreyer and Frascella (who has previously worked for Jaguar and Aston Martin) you begin to see why the Sportage looks so good. Frankly, it's amazing how much looks can persuade opinion. It's hard not to admire the Sportage for its clean, crisp modern design. The package could be perfect under the skin but if doesn't appeal to the visual senses, it simply wont work.
The KIA Sportage is based on the same platform as the Hyundai ix35. That means it shares the same overall dimensions as well as all engine and transmission systems. However it does use a completely different AWD system developed jointly between Magna and KIA (more on that later).
The new Sportage marks the third generation of the SUV. Having originally launched in 1993, so far over 1.5 million buyers worldwide have taken one home. KIA expects the new model will find an additional 1.4 million buyers during its life cycle and given the overall package appears to be a certain winner on paper, it probably will.
To celebrate the launch of the new KIA Sportage, the Korean company took the automotive media to Queenstown, New Zealand. From here the program was destined to head to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds but the weather Gods didn't permit such a journey.
Instead, our drive program took us for a four hour drive through the surrounding mountains of Queenstown and up twisty roads to the “snow farm”. If you've never been to New Zealand's south island, I highly recommend you put it on your must-do-before-I-die list.
To put the KIA Sportage into perspective, the Korean company has recently had the benefit of learning from Hyundai's product launches in order to perfect its own. For example the recent Hyundai i45 launch resulted in criticism of the car's ride across the board, KIA has taken this on board and will launch the replacement KIA Magentis (more likely to be called Optima) which shares the same platform as the i45, with a different suspension setup to fit our roads (no doubt Hyundai is also retuning the i45 for Australian roads as I write this).
The story is the same with the Sportage. KIA representatives made a big point of how much work has gone into local tuning and suspension setup for the Australian market. The company says it brought out KIA engineers for a four day, 1,700km drive across local and rural roads before finalising local suspension settings. This resulted in Australian delivered Sportages being equipped with the UK suspension tune (plus minor adjustments) as oppose to Korean suspension settings. This benefits us in many ways, the Sportage has a very smooth and compliant ride over our third-world quality roads.
The new KIA Sportage is a good 90mm longer and 15mm wider than the previous generation but is also 60mm shorter. This results in a less box-like SUV look and a more aerodynamic, compact, go anywhere type vehicle.
The Sportage takes the same engine choices as the Hyundai ix35, so the range starts with a 2.0-litre petrol with 122 kW and 197 Nm of torque which is upgradable to a 2.4-litre with 130 kW and 227 Nm (more is better).
Those looking for the latest generation diesel engine can be assured the Hyundai-Kia developed R2.0 is by far one of the best 2.0-litre diesel engine available today (yes, that includes offerings from the Germans). It puts out an enormous 135 kW of power and 393 Nm of torque. It will move the 1609 kg (kerb weight) Sportage from 0-100km/h in under 10 seconds.
The base model 2.0-litre (which starts from $25,990) is basically for buyers interested in a car that will get them from A-B in style and with loads of practicality. It's relatively underpowered and if money isn't tight and if you think of driving as anything more than just a necessity, the 2.4-litre petrol or R2.0 diesel is a far better choice.
It's hard to pick between the 2.4-litre petrol and the R2.0 diesel. Both engines offer similar levels of performance (the petrol is 0.1 second slower to 100km/h) but the diesel has better fuel economy, 7.5L of diesel per 100km as oppose to 9.2L of petrol per 100km.
From a driving perspective the diesel does offer much more torque throughout the range and that means smoother acceleration and a better driving feel overall. However, the additional $3,000 premium for the diesel engine will take some time to recoup (but resell will be better for the diesel than the petrol). If it makes your life easier, the diesel variants are in short supply given the massive demand in diesel-loving Europe so a 2.-4L petrol may be the hassle-free choice.
Our drive program started from the Sofitel Hotel in Queenstown, from here we drove around 50km of twisty mountain roads to the Cardrona Hotel.
It's easy to notice that the Sportage feels very stable, smooth and compliant on rough rouds. Our quick journey took us through a series of gravel and loose-surface roads that highlighted the car's well-tuned suspension.
Driving around normal urban environments is simple and gearshifts from the six-speed automatic transmission are seamless (the 2.0-litre version is offered in a manual – this variant was not driven).
The first driven variant was the 2.4-litre petrol and despite the initial feeling of “it's not quick enough”, the more it's driven to more you come to appreciate it. Yes, it's not as torquey as the diesel but it performs the necessities rather well. It can overtake on the highway with ease, it accelerates out of corners without hesitation but does tend to think a little longer than one would expect about which gear it needs to be in.
Our hour-long stop at the Cardrona hotel meant an introduction to Graeme Gambold who is in charge of the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds. Although we were not going to head that way for some snow-testing, the technical presentation went through the Sportage's new Magna developed intelligent All-Wheel Drive system that differentiates it from the Hyundai ix35.
To cut the story short, Dynamax AWD is the next-generation in compact SUV AWD systems. It uses all the information from the car's traction and electronic-stability program to distribute power to each wheel accordingly. It can analyse data so quickly that it senses a slide on any wheel in just 150ms and sends power and torque to the appropriate wheels to compensate. It's rather similar in theory to the Haldex system used in Volvo vehicles.
In real-world conditions, it feels very similar to the ix35 in how it distributes power in a loose-surface situation. However, the Sportage does feel more assertive and confident around corners than its Korean brother.
Technicalities aside, my co-driver and I headed up to the Snow Farm. This meant a 30 minute drive up a twisty, snow and ice covered mountain road without any barriers or safety nets.
For those of you who are interested, this is the exact same road used for the “Race to the Sky” hillclimb which ran from 1998 to 2007. You may also remember that New Zealand rally driver Possum Bourne died on this exact same road. So then, one nasty slide and it would've been a goodbye-dive off the mountain.
Nerves aside, our KIA Sportage conquered the mountain with ease, climbing the challenging road at speed, cornering smoothly and maintaining maximum traction at all times. During the few little slides the Sportage's array of computer systems instantly took control and fixed the situation. Up and down the mountain, Sportage felt more than capable of this task.
From the inside, Sportage is a vast improvement over its predecessor. The cabin feels far more upmarket thanks to soft-plastics and clever interior design. Seats are comfortable and have enough lumbar support for long distance drives. One rather unique feature found in the top of the range Sportage Platinum is the ventilated driver's seat which can cool or heat up the seat. It will be a life-saver in those hot summer days.
The cabin ambience is very much European-inspired. It can be a little dark but thankfully it doesn't suffer the tacky “buttons-everywhere” look. The stereo system, which worked first time when connecting natively with my iPhone, is a also great standard feature and provides more than adequate bass, treble and clarity.
Safety is paramount and standard across the range. KIA believes the Sportage will have no issues achieving a five-star safety rating when it gets tested later this year. All variants come with a mirrad of active-safety technology which includes: ABS, EBD, ESC (Electronic Stability Control), and HAC (Hillstart Assist Control) and DBC (Downhill Brake Control).
SLi and Platinum variants also gain 130-degree wide-angle revere camera that displays through a clever LCD screen placed in the rear-view mirror. Active safety is assured thanks to six airbags (dual front airbags, dual front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags).
Before our flight back home, a 45 minute drive in the diesel was in order. This is by far the best model in the range, although on paper it's not much quicker than the 2.4-litre petrol, it certainly feels like it. If you can afford the additional $3,000, this is the pick of the lot.
The 2011 KIA Sportage hits the sweet-spot when it comes to exterior and interior design, engine performance, fuel economy, handling and interior practicalities. Perhaps the only real-world complaint I could justify in the short drive program was the lack of Bluetooth technology (simply not available). KIA says the issue will be sorted in the not so distant future. No Sportage variants are available with Satelite Navigation either.
The Sportage goes on sale this weekend.
- KIA Sportage Si 2WD Manual – $25,990 – 2.0L
- KIA Sportage Si 2WD Auto – $27,990 – 2.0L
- KIA Sportage SLi 4WD – $31,990 – 2.4L
- KIA Sportage Platinum 4WD – $35,990 – 2.4L
- KIA Sportage SLi 4WD – $34,990 – 2.0R diesel
- KIA Sportage Platinum 4WD – $39,990 – 2.0R diesel
For specification information and official photo gallery click here.
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