Korean car maker Kia surely knows how to create excitement amongst the Indian car enthusiasts. This was evident from the largest display of cars at the Auto Expo held earlier this year. Amongst other cars the most talked about was the SP concept which will be the company’s first official launch in India next year. Yes, they’ve taken their own sweet time but what they’re bringing on table has the potential to worry many car makers. A case in point is the Sportage. In a market that loves it’s SUVs irrespective of which segment they’re a part of, the Sportage is offering a lot of what the consumer wants. It’s not just about looks; Kia says it’s capable too. And to tell you from where it’s coming its one of the most popular Kia models globally.
About a decade back Kia decided to focus heavily on design, which would give all its cars a unique brand identity. A new design chief was hired and the results were remarkable. The now famous “tiger nose” grille became a signature element and can be seen on the Sportage too. The car also gets beautiful bi-projector headlamps and some very unique fog lamps. There’s enough aggression to make it look distinct from the more subtle Hyundai Tucson, a car it shares the platform with. Beautiful 19 inch alloy wheels add a lot of character. The rear appeals as well as the SUV gets beautiful swept back head lamps that merge together, sporty skid plates as well a nicely designed roof spoiler. The dimensions seem just right, not very bug and certainly not very compact.
We had with us the top spec GT trim of the SUV which makes it sportier. Apart from the differences outside, the all-black interiors as well as metal pedals are some of the visible changes inside. Design inside is impressive as well, especially the vertical AC vents and the way the buttons are laid out. Yes the size of the touch screen is somewhat small for a car of this size but it is very functional. Both the front seats are electronically controlled and can be heated as well as cooled. The steering wheel can also be heated and that’s bound to play a part when you take the long road trip to the Himalayas. Ergonomically too the Sportage scores well as the car comes with a lot of storage spaces on both the rows. And finally a big panoramic sunroof adds a bit of its own character. The Sportage gets a powered tail gate and the boot offers some great space too.
Internationally the Sportage gets a lot of engine options but the one that we got to sample was the 2.0 liter diesel engine that churns out 182 bhp and 400 Nm. It is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that comes with paddle shifts. And the Sportage also has an all wheel drive system. This diesel engine is very capable and responsive. It carries the weight of the SUV with ease and never do you feel that it is under strain. The gearbox is smooth and offers precise shifts. NVH levels too are kept in check. The new gen of the Sportage also gets mild hybrid system that will make the SUV more economical to run. And if we do get the Sportage in India, Kia could be showcasing its newer technologies to Indian consumers sooner than expected.
Ride & Handling
The Kia Sportage impresses with its handling characteristics. Despite being an SUV the dimensions feel just right. They’re not massive and certainly not compact. The car provides the needed stability at high speeds. The ride quality is decent as well but we have to remember that the Sportage you see here isn’t the one made for India. Whenever that time comes, the company is bound to work on the suspension set up to make sure the car is more suited to Indian road conditions. Three driving modes on the Sportage that include Eco and Sport ensure the car is able to provide different characteristics when needed.
The Sportage has all the potential to be a winner if it is launched in India. Yes it may see a few changes in terms of drive dynamics and check boxes on the feature list but that will only make the car more apt for Indian conditions as well as affordable to own and maintain. But if you like this one the least amount of time in which you see it running on the Indian roads could be two years. Kia has invested heavily in its new manufacturing facility in Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh which only means that it may have taken a long time to come but the intent is to stay forever. And this car just proves the company is more than capable of delivering quality cars.
Shams Naqvi is an anchor/producer for the News X motor show Living Cars