by Huw Thomas, Vice Chairman, Welsh Motoring Writers
KIA has been Hyundai’s “other half” since 1998 when the latter acquired a majority stake during that decade’s Asian economic crisis. The Sportage line dates back to 1993 but the model which made it a real contender in the broad and highly competitive compact SUV/Crossover market was the third edition of 2010.
In a sector which tended towards a cautious sameness, the new Sportage (pictured right), was a stand-out car of style and ‘presence’. Evolving the previous model’s design theme, current (4th generation) car came in 2015 and revisions for the 2019 model year saw new engines and transmissions with a Mild Hybrid set-up for Diesel variants. Further adjustments to the range and equipment levels were made in May this year.
Kia’s best-selling car globally in 2016, the Sportage remains “No.1” for the company in the UK and, EU-wide, yielding top spot only recently (and closely) to the new Ceed family hatchback range. European Sportage models are produced at Zilina, Slovakia.
Kia’s EU+EFTA annual sales topped half a million for the first time last year giving it a 3.2 per cent market share overall. Hyundai-Kia’s combined share (EU+EFTA) was 6.7 per cent with sales of just over 1m units securing 4th place among the region’s top 15 players.
Sportage petrol engines: 1.6 GDi 130bhp or 1.6 T- GDi 174bhp. Diesel: 1.6 CRDi 134bhp. Transmissions: 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual- clutch auto.
Mild Hybrid incorporates a lithium-ion 48V battery and enhanced stop-start. No electric-only
running but it lightens the load on the engine during acceleration and/or hill ascent with energy recuperation on descent, in the cruise and when braking – performance and economy improved but emissions lowered.
The 4×4 system (“All Wheel Drive”) is the familiar set-up of front-wheel-drive under normal conditions with auto-activation of the rear axle should the need arise. It is available on 5 of the 17- model range. Up to 40 per cent of the drive can go to the rear axle and, up to 19mph, drive can be locked 50-50 to the two axles to optimise traction.
It will cancel out at 25mph but re-activate if speed slows to 19mph again. Stop-start can be switched off at any time but, when off-road, progress is helped further by hill-start and hill-descent assist. The ‘electronics’ include trailer sway mitigation.
The extra battery (underfloor) has had little effect on load-space and the cabin generally remains roomy and comfortable. The vehicle rides well for its type – a ‘high-rise’ body demands stiffer suspension. Steering/road-holding too are clearly up to the job if not class-leading. A relaxed, undemanding ‘get-you-from-A-to-B’ car.
There’s been the usual equipment up-grade (to complement an external ‘refresh’) with a further step-up in cabin quality. The cars are well-specified, mid-range models especially, but having to go via the main screen menu to ‘dial up’ a call rather than press a button is not a step forward. Otherwise the whole layout is well-planned and ‘user-
friendly’. This very easy-to-live-with nature explains much of the Kia’s appeal.