Anyone who wants proof that South Korea is on a roll as a world-class vehicle manufacturer, should consider this forecast regarding Kia: over the next five years it intends launching 51 all-new or updated models.
Among new vehicles in the pipeline are a mid-sized sedan, a compact people-mover, a crossover vehicle, and a
KIA SPORTAGE LIMITED DIESEL
POWER PLANT: 2.0-litre R Series DOHC CRDi turbo- charged four cylinder diesel, 135 kW at 4000 rpm, 392 Nm at 1800-2500 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: On-demand all-wheel drive with Dynamax coupling. Six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift. MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link setup at the rear. Downhill brake control and hill-start assist control.
HOW BIG: Length 4445mm, width 1855mm, height 1635mm, wheelbase 2640mm.
HOW MUCH: $52,240.
WHAT'S GOOD: Rakish good looks, sound turbo-diesel performance, very good all- wheel drive system.
WHAT'S NOT: Power steer too light and skitterish.
OUR VERDICT: Proof yet again that the Korean turbo-diesels are among the best around.
Late last year, Kia Motors' vice- chairman Lee Hyoung-keun outlined all of this at a gathering of the company's top worldwide dealers and distributors. He said the plan is for Kia's brand power to be on a par with the best from Europe and Japan, and for it to enter the so-called list of "first- class brands" within that five years.
Many would argue that when it comes to first-class product, Kia is already there. Vehicles such as the Optima sedan and the Sorento R SUV are excellent product that are helping the Kia brand develop a following of motorists who know improving quality when they see it.
All of this came to mind recently when I got to spend a few days behind the wheel of one of the best models currently in the Kia fleet - a turbo-diesel-powered Sportage Limited medium-sized SUV.
This generation Sportage has been on the market since late 2010. When it was first launched, it was available with 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre petrol power only, but the fleet has since been joined by a couple of models that have Hyundai-Kia Group's very good R-Series turbo- diesel under their bonnets.
While the same series engine in the larger Sorento R is 2.2 litres, in the case of the Sportage it is a 2.0-litre unit that offers 135 kilowatts of power and 392 Newton metres of torque.
It's an excellent engine. All that torque is available from 1800 rpm and it continues to make itself available through to 2500 rpm, which is the revs band that motorists find themselves operating in almost all of the time.
The engine is mated to a six- speed automatic transmission, and it works well to make good use of the engine's output.
This Sportage is all so quiet too, with the diesel note much less of a clatter and more of a muted burr. Nice.
I've driven the R series turbo- diesels a number of times in Kia and Hyundai product, and they really are among the best around.
Not so good with this Sportage is the steering. I found it somewhat too light for my liking, and I suspect that, with the Limited model, things were made slightly worse by the vehicle being fitted with 18-inch alloys shod with 55-series tyres.
This isn't to say the Sportage isn't a safe SUV to drive, because its Dynamax all-wheel-drive system does offer a high level of handling security. But the on-road experience does feel too light.
Dynamax has been developed in conjunction with well-known US company Magna Powertrain. It's a continuous and fully active four- wheel-drive coupling system that operates incredibly quickly - to the extent it is able to distribute torque around the four wheels in a little as 150 milliseconds.
For that reason, Kia claims the system has the ability to think forward. It's also very flexible, able to deliver up to 100 per cent of engine torque to the front wheels when the Sportage is being driven in normal conditions, to a 50:50 torque split.
The driver can also manually select Lock mode for permanent all-wheel drive in really rough conditions up to 40 kmh.
Too-light steering or not, this Sportage Limited has to rate as one of the best medium-sized SUVs on the market. Good-looking, spacious and comfortable, and at the Limited level it is also very well specified.
Upholstery is full leather, the front seats are heated and have full electric adjustment, the rear windows feature privacy glass, and it offers such niceties as remote central locking and push- button start, climate-control air conditioning, and a very good seven-speaker stereo system.
It also has cruise control and audio controls on the steering wheel, 'welcome home' escort lights for getting out of the vehicle at night, LED daytime running lights, reverse warning sensors, and a reversing camera that shows what's behind the driver via the rear-view mirror.
So, overall, this diesel-powered Sportage Limited is an impressive vehicle that offers a dynamic and urban look, while still retaining a certain amount of off-road ability via it's all-wheel drive, and it has all that low-down torque that I love with the new-age turbo- diesels.
Only hassle? It retails for $52,240. But, if Kia's Mr Lee Hyoung-keun gets his way and the Korean brand does end up as even more first-class than it is now, then maybe we should be comparing the vehicle against luxury Euro product and recognising it as a value-for- money proposition!
- © Fairfax NZ News
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