kia-sportage-brawn-brains The first Kia variant presented to Motorsportchannel.com for a test drive was the Sportage compact SUV in late 2012, courtesy of the folks at Naza Kia Malaysia.


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In just a matter of three years, the Kia marque has made great strides in the country, thanks to the 2012 UEFA EURO campaign where Kia was one of the major sponsors and the brilliant mind of Peter Schreyer, Kia’s Chief Designer, who’d single-handed transform Kia cars into objects of desire. “Der Deutschen volk” Schreyer joined the Kia group in 2006 from Audi and immediately recreated the brand in his – envisioned – image.

On the domestic front, Naza Kia last year held plenty of major roadshows to appease to the citizens and utilized social networks to spur domestic acceptance of the Kia brand and its products.

Indeed, Kia and its domestic distributors Naza Kia put up a synergistic knowledge of the industry and forward thinking imagination to present the products that their buyers want and desire most. And imagination is doing wonders for the Korean car maker as the company is enjoying an explosion in popularity around the globe.

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The Kia Sportage like its passenger car siblings is dressed in Schreyer’s clean and modern design philosophy. There is something flabby or dim-witted about the way most SUVs look, like an oversized rhinoceros minus its horn. Schreyer on the other hand, managed to eschew the Sportage’s appearance from that image and create something that is athletic and sharp in its looks.

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The Sportage’s shape, with its exaggerated proportions of pumped up wheel arches, brazen “Tiger Nose” grille, and rakish front windscreen, certainly looks dramatic, just like how a supercar should look like next to the everyday Perodua Myvi.

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Despite its beefed-up looks might suggest, the Sportage is slightly smaller than a Honda CR-V, at 4.35-metres in length and 1.8-metres in width. A little short and narrow it may be, but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of legroom and shoulder room for an SUV of its segment. That said, we do feel that some of the rear headroom has been sacrificed for the design sake of that sloping rear roofline. Fit some six feet tall individuals behind and they might find their heads already grazing the roof liners. You don’t need to stuff lanky basketball players in the back to realize that the narrow rear window panel doesn’t provide much rear vision out the back in the first place. Thankfully for its list price, the Sportage does come with a rear-view camera, with images relayed back to a full-color screen neatly integrated into the rear view mirror. It might sound like we are nitpicking, but we preferred to have the rear-view camera display located to the middle of the mirror instead of the side, as it blocks the rear-quarter view. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, the addition of a rear-view camera does make reversing the Sportage all the more easier.

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Like its exterior styling, the cabin too is imaginative with a cowled instrument panel, and a dual level center console, which is placed at an angle and works well for high-seated drivers. And fortunately, the bits and pieces of the interior feels like they will last the car’s lifespan, as its interior build quality is right up to the standard seen on its Asian peers, though the appearance of plastic buttons with a glossy finish does dampen the general quality in the cabin.

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It is a bit of a pity that the 2-litre Theta II engine which produces 164hp at 6,200rpm and 197Nm at 4,600rpm doesn’t quite deliver the pace to match its sporty appearance. With the power diverted between the four-wheel drive system, pickup from standstill does feel brisk at first, but the feeling of progress quickly plateaus once you get it up to a moderate pace. Load the Sportage up with passengers and their accompanying cargo and it does feel underpowered, which makes us wonder if power-sapping four-wheel drive is all that necessary for an SUV that would most definitely appeal to the city-faring urban buyers. A front-wheel drive model would have certainly been a much better fit for the SUV customer of today, improving fuel efficiency as well as performance. In addition, there is no denying that a number of SUV buyers will feel more secure and safe with the Sportage’s dependable four-wheel drive grip.

For an SUV that is riding on big 18-inch wheels, and straddling high, the Sportage hits the ride and handling sweet spot where the damping kept body roll in check, while keeping the ride from being choppy or bone-shatteringly harsh.

If we were ever administered a blindfold test on this SUV, we would have certainly felt that the Sportage had similarities comparable to a European car, based on its ride quality and levels of refinement in the cabin.

Wring all of the engine’s power and drive it with plenty of gusto and the Sportage really can deliver some driver satisfaction, thanks to a sturdy chassis that promotes the Sportage’s adequate handling and steering feedbacks. The only fly in the Sportage’s polished dynamic ointment is its steering, which does come across as slightly over-assisted and over-sensitive for such a high-riding SUV, but it is a shortcoming that is easily overlooked in light of the talented chassis and spot-on suspension setting.

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Furthermore, when you consider that the Sportage is priced at RM138,888 with goodies such as the reverse camera, front and rear sunroof partitions, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with USB and iPod connectivity, it does make a value-buy case for itself. Throw in its eye-catching looks together with its refined interior and it doesn’t take a genius to see that the Sportage has the right recipe for success.

Motorsportchannel.com & Won KK