As you all may have noticed, we at Leisure Wheels are celebrating our 100th publication of adventure motoring! This, of course, has made the whole team very nostalgic about past issues. As a tribute, we’ll be posting road tests and driving impressions for the good, the bad and the ugly vehicles of the past 15 years. Many of these are relics – and some are missed more than others.
Time Warp 01
The year: 2000, Leisure Wheels issue 12
The car: Kia Sportage
The scenario: The team has been invited to drive the facelift, 2000 model Kia Sportage. So, they set out on a convoy of the 2000-year-model 4×4 Sportages, into the Maluti Mountains of the Eastern Free State. Do they foresee the longevity of this product? Or the dramatic transformation it would undergo ten years later?
Kia Sportage: “Affordable Leisure”
Up to this point on the trip, the going was reasonably easy. We’re in convoy on a sandy little “tweespoorpaadjie” twisting its way through the Maluti Mountains in the Eastern Free State, near the quaint little town of Clarens.
We pass an old mill, follow the course of the Caleodn River, and then the road climbs higher and higher into the Maluti Mountains.
The convoy comprises Kia Sportage 4x4s, driven by motoring journalists, whom Kia wants to convince that the Sportage is as capable a four-wheel drive vehicle as you can find.
Succeed in convincing them, Kia does. The road deteriorates into a series of axle twisters on a rocky, steep uphill section, and the convoy comes to a standstill. Low range, second gear, and off the Sportages go, jumping from rock to rock like a couple of mountain goats. Thanks to the high clearance, the low-down torque of the powerful two-litre engine and the excellent traction, the motoring journos make it to the top without problems.
The next moment we’re on top of the mountain, 2 200 km above sea level, with magnificent views over the Rooiberge, the Caledon River far below, and Lesotho. The Kia Sportage certainly proved itself more than capable.
Though a relatively new contender, Kia’s combination of advanced engineering and styling, together with excellent pricing, offer a very attractive package.
The Kia Sportage has made its mark on the world markets with credible finishes in the exacting annual Paris-Dakar rally, and numerous events in the US off-road racing calendar as well as being chosen as the “Best Buy” compact 4×4 on the US market by leading off-road magazines.
The Kia Sportage stands out in a somewhat cluttered market sector with its unique and very distinctive styling. The sophisticated suspension system also imbues this off-roader with excellent on-road characteristics, providing a smooth, comforatble drive – both in town and on the open road.
In the front the double wishbone suspension isolates the body vibration and road irregularities while the strut-type coil springs work with the stabiliser bar to provide car-like ride and handling.
In the rear a four-link suspension delivers all the stability of a leaf suspension with the smoother, more comfortable ride of an independent suspension and the coils on the rear axle enhance the optimal ride under any conditions.
Occupants are comfortably and safely ensconced in a one-piece body that has been engineered to stand up to the rigours of all-purpose usage. This solid structure also blocks out most exterior noise, ensuring a quieter, more pleasant interior.
The proven 16-valve 2,0 litre DOHC engine powers the package by way of an automatic or manual gearbox. Power produced is 94 kW at 5 300 r/min and maximum torque of 175 Nm comes in at 4 700 r/min.
The top-of-the-line executive model is luxuriously equipped, providing as standard ABS brakes, electric windows, central locking and alloy wheels, a radio/CD combination with four speakers and an electric aerial, air-conditioner and leather upholstery. With the dual capabilities of the Kia Sportage there is a considerable demand for the luxury option.
In the rough, the Sportage’s excellent stability is brought about by a 45-degree rollover angle, a 36-degree approach and a 33-degree departure angle, together with gradability of 38 degrees.
The auto-locking design on the front hubs allows for shifting between 2WD and 4WD at speeds of up to 60 km/h, prevents unnecessary wheels spin and makes for lower fuel consumption. The transfer case that distributes the power to the front wheels utilises a “silent chain” transfer mechanism for exceptionally quiet operation.
Safety is built in from the vehicle’s design stages and teh result is a strong box ladder grame with front and rear crumple zones, a high-strength one-piece steel body and door impact beams that meet the most demanding safety standards. Also, the fuel tank is safely situated in the central frame section ahead of the rear wheels, while the T-shaped front sub frame located behind the dashboard prevents the engine entering the passenger cabin in the event of a frontal impact.
The Kia Sportage comes with a three year / 100 00 km warranty and a one-year / unlimited km AA Fleetcare membership. In addition, all purchasers of new Sportages have the option of participating in a free off-road driving course.
The Kia Sportage retails at R156 995 for the manual version and R169 995 for the automatic.
Present day: The Sportage has since undergone a dramatic aesthetic make-over, as well as i.t.o model line-up and market situation. While the little Sportage of the late nineties was clearly marketed as a serious off-roader, the term “SUV” has since entered the playing field. While 4×4 models are still available, none have low-range equipped and are more suited to city life. Engine choices now include 2,0 and 2,4 litres petrol engines and a 2,0 litre oil burner; prices range from R261 995 to R342 995*.
Furthermore, Peter Schreyer was recently made the Kia Design Director/Chief Design Officer, and has overhauled the entire Kia offering. Widely considered one of the best automotive designers of contemporary times, Schreyer was behind the influential Audi TT design. He was hired by the South Korean company in 2006, and changed the old, “neutral design” to what is, according to him, a more “recognisable” design language.
Kia Sportage sales are not reported in South Africa.
*at the time of publication