If it was possible to put a dollar value on Kia design chief Peter Schreyer’s contribution to the South Korean carmaker, what would it be? A million? Five million? Ten perhaps?
“Correction. Hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Kia Motors New Zealand general manager Todd McDonald.
McDonald has just launched the fourth-generation Sportage, a medium-size SUV that has Schreyer’s signature all over it. Just like the third-generation Sportage, and every other Kia for the past eight or so years.
So, too, every Hyundai over the next few years – Schreyer is now a vice-president of the Hyundai-Kia conglomerate.
The German design whiz has transformed the look and fortunes of Kia since 2006, when he moved from a senior role with the Volkswagen Group to a life shuttling between Kia’s European design studio in Frankfurt, its American studio in California, and its head office in Seoul.
His work has been honoured many times. Now he’s about to get another gong, this one as winner of the 2016 iF Product Design Award, an annual crowning conferred since 1954 by the iF International Forum Design. It’s for the new Sportage. The forum’s 60 international judges reckon it’s a standout.
So does McDonald and his outlets in New Zealand. Kia dealers have already gobbled up 500 of the 550 Sportages McDonald ordered in the first shipment from Seoul, a mix of front-drive and all-wheel-drive. More are on the way. “It’s the most anticipated new model we have ever launched,” he says.
Nine Sportage models are in the works, the entry-level front-drive LX and its 17-inch alloys listed at $35,990 but offered at a very inviting launch price of $29,990. “We built the brand on the acquisition of customers,” said McDonald. “We have to reward them.”
After the LX comes the badges EX, LTD, and premium GT-Line, each one with more safety kit and equipment than the other. And there’s plenty of kit, including a wireless phone charger on the GT-Line. There are 18- and 19-inch wheels, too.
There are three Euro5-compliant engine choices – a first for the Sportage – each one mated to an automatic six-speed gearbox with manual mode. Alongside the largely carried-over MPI 2.0-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel there’s a 2.4-litre direct-injection petrol, a reworked version of the Optima sedan unit. It’s there to better compete with rivals like the 2.5-litre Mazda CX-5.
- The 2.0-litre MPI petrol unit delivers 114kW/192Nm and powers the LX, EX ($38,990) and LTD ($43.990). Point for buyers: Multi-point injection engines don’t mind missing a due-date service by a week or so.
- The 2.4-litre GDI generates 135kW/237Nm and is in the EX ($41,990), LTD ($45,990) and GT-Line ($51,990). Point for buyers: Direct-injection engines can get grumpy if they’re late for a due-date service.
- The 2.0-litre diesel puts out 136kW/400Nm and drives the EX ($44,990), LTD ($48,990), and GT-Line ($54,990).
The 2016 Sportage is slightly longer and taller than the outgoing model and has a 30mm longer wheelbase. It features a bold new look, most noticeable for the reworked front end. The hallmark ‘tiger nose’ grille and the headlight assembly no longer sweep into each other, as they did in the outgoing model.
The headlights now sit higher and sweep back along the outer edges of the bonnet. The lower, wider grille adds more volume to the lower half of Sportage’s face.
The 1855mm width of the new model is exactly that of the old, but the changes up front give the SUV a more stable stance. The rear end offers a similar assessment, the separation of the turn indicators and reversing lights adding more visual weight to the lower half.
There’s just as much design integrity on the inside, roomier than the outgoing Sportage. It’s a simple, modern layout, blending a functional, driver-focused centre console and dashboard with soft-touch materials.
It’s a scaled-down layout from the bigger Sorento SUV, the large SUV of the year in the automotivenews.co.nz car of the year poll. The outgoing Sportage was the best-selling Kia model. The new one will be Kia’s next best seller.
A brief drive of the Sportage range on roads south-east of Auckland showed up the front-drive base model LX as the most nimble. It mightn’t get as many goodies as the EX, LTD, and GT-Line, but at $29,990 it’s ridiculously good.
The medium SUV market is the most crowded segment – there are rivals in every direction. Importantly, one of the rivals Sportage will wrestle with includes affiliate company Hyundai’s Tucson. It will be interesting to compare sales figures at the end of 2016.