First drive: 2017 Kia Sportage in the UAE
Kia credits themselves with being the inventor of the crossover SUV, a title that is usually usurped by Toyota. The truth is Kia’s Sportage came out a full year before the first-gen RAV4. However, it was conceived back before Kia merged with Hyundai, and therefore the Sportage was better-known for 1-star crash test ratings and recalls for wheels falling off while driving. Somehow, it still managed to have a fan following over its decade of existence. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and the recent Sportage does 5-star crash ratings and among the top sellers in its segment. Now that’s an impressive transformation. The new 2017 model, sporting more controversial styling than the last well-received one, is going to hit showrooms soon, and we drove one at the launch event this week.
For the fourth-generation Sportage, Kia has introduced a new 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged engine under the GT-Line trim, a slightly more aggressive-looking version of the model. The turbo motor produces about 174 hp and 265 Nm of torque, and is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The GT-Line comes with a different front bumper with four-cube fog lamps, different front grille, front and back skid plates, dual exhaust tips, D-shaped steering wheel and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Another engine option is a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder with 176 hp and 228 Nm of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic.
However, we only got a chance to drive the base 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine which produces 156 hp and 197 Nm of torque, also mated to a 6-speed automatic. This is a carryover engine from the previous generation, so performance in terms of acceleration is pretty much the same. It required more input on the accelerator pedal when going uphill or doing some overtaking manoeuvres, but other than that it seemed adequate on city roads.
What has improved is the handling, being slightly more capable than its dull predecessor. We weren’t able to reach its limits due to the drive being mostly on the highways, but the few curves we did manage, it certainly felt more stable.
In terms of comfort, the ride was smooth and pleasant, with minor bumps soaked up by the suspension without much drama. Kia also claimed to have reduced interior noise levels inside the car and the ride was pretty quiet at speeds of up to 100 kph.
The interior has certainly got an upgrade, with our full-optioned tester having more soft-touch materials such as on the top of the driver-focused dashboard and the top half of the doors. The ventilated seats had leather upholstery as well. The touch-screen navigation was easy to use, while the automatic dual-zone a/c controls were pretty straightforward. The entertainment system sounded good enough and the big panoramic roof certainly gave it a more airy feel.
The Kia Sportage has been steadily growing in terms of sales, becoming the top seller in its segment eventually, especially helped by the well-styled last generation. While it definitely overtakes the competition with its impressive list of features, whether their new design language will help it retain its lead against its pricier Japanese rivals remains to be seen.
Photos by Kia Motors.