Text: GG van Rooyen
If one had to point out a specific moment when the Kia brand gained its own unique identity, it would have to be the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show. During the show, Kia unveiled its Kee concept vehicle, which was the first car to feature the company’s signature “Tiger Nose” grille. This distinctive grille was the brainchild of chief design officer Peter Schreyer, and it made the manufacturer’s creations instantly identifiable.
“I wanted a powerful visual signal, a seal, an identifier,” said Schreyer during the introduction of the new Sportage at the Geneva International Motor Show in March. “The front of a car needs this recognition, this expression. A car needs a face and I think the new Kia face is strong and distinctive. Visibility is vital and that face should immediately allow you to identify a Kia, even from a distance.”
In addition to producing eye-catching designs, Kia also stated in 2009 that it wanted to be one of the top three vehicle manufacturers with regard to quality by 2012. And judging by its newest creations, the company is well on its way to accomplishing this. The latest Sorento, for example, is unquestionably one of the best vehicles in its segment. It offers class-leading performance and comfort at a price significantly lower than those of rivals such as the Land Rover Freelander and Honda CR-V. The interior of the Sorento might be somewhat generic and lack the tactile quality of more expensive vehicles in the segment, but overall, it is very impressive.
When we tested the Sorento in July (issue 75, page 26) we said that “more often than not the Kia brand is getting its designs right first time, and no longer needs to be recommended with any provisos or conditions. It is now very much the real deal, and the perfectly-pitched soft-roader.”
Well, we can stand by what we said because the Sorento’s (slightly) smaller brother, the Sportage, appears to be equally impressive.
The Sportage is a very attractive vehicle. It might be built on the same platform as the iX35, but Hyundai’s crossover utility vehicle (CUV) looks lumpy in comparison. The Sportage – with its sharply angled windscreen, large headlamps, stocky bumpers, vertical C-pillars and, of course, Tiger Nose grille – appears, dare we say, almost manly. At last, here is a smallish CUV that might appeal to men.
According to Peter Schreyer, the vehicle will appeal to both sexes because it strikes the perfect balance between robust, off-road appearance and traffic-dodging, on-road practicality.
“It embodies Kia’s new-found visual dynamism by successfully taking the key features of an off-road vehicle – the raised ground clearance, the commanding driving position and heightened sense of security – and enveloping them in a sleek and urban-friendly design with global appeal. With its athletic and muscular design, the Sportage fits its name perfectly.”
Indeed, Kia’s new CUV does look sporty. And it offers performance to match. The Sportage will be available locally in three engine variants, two petrol engines (a 2-litre and a 2,4-litre) and a 2-litre turbodiesel. The 2-litre petrol engine generates 122 kW of power. The 2,4-litre petrol and 2-litre turbodiesel engines both produce a very respectable 130 kW. According to Kia, all the models will go from zero to 100 km/h in around 10 seconds. The diesel version reaches 100 km/h in 9,4 seconds.
Potential buyers can also choose between a two-wheel-drive and an all-wheel-drive (AWD) version. Most, however, will probably opt for two-wheel-drive, which makes sense. The two-wheel-drive iteration offers reduced weight, faster acceleration and enhanced fuel economy, and most Sportage owners won’t have any interest in taking on difficult 4×4 trails anyway. But those looking for better performance on dirt and gravel roads can, nevertheless, opt for the AWD drivetrain. Apart from offering enhanced traction, the AWD system can also be locked if the vehicle is travelling below 40 km/h. This results in the central differential lock distributing equal power between the front and rear wheels.
The interior of the Sportage gets all the luxuries that you’d expect. There’s a leather-trimmed steering wheel, air conditioning, electric windows, CD player and iPod compatibility. AWD models also boast keyless entry with push-button start function, a 6-CD sound system and optional panoramic sunroof.
Like the Sorento (and the iX35), the Sportage isn’t an off-roader. What it is, however, is an efficient and affordable CUV that boasts trendy styling and great drivability. The Sportage might share components with the iX35, but it is a unique vehicle that definitely deserves to sport the Kia Tiger Nose grille.
“When it comes to encapsulating Kia design, I always refer back to the simplicity of the straight line. It means that we are trying to keep our designs simple,” says Schreyer. “And in design, simple is the hardest thing to create.”
Well, Kia seems to have succeeded with its latest CUV. The Sportage’s design is simple, but very effective.