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There was a time, not that long ago, that Korean brand Kia was broadly perceived as the slightly more dour, more budget-focused brand to sister company Hyundai.
That line of thinking diminished with the edgy, desirable Pro_cee'd GT and Cerato Koup models, and now looks to be torpedoed for good beneath the striking, flowing lines of the company's all-new Sportage SUV.
These images are our first official look at the car due to be revealed at the Frankfurt motor show on September 15, but the good news for Australian customers is you’ll be able buy it in late February next year, according to company spokesperson Kevin Hepworth, for only a small premium over the outgoing model.
The outgoing model has been a huge success story for the Korean company
What we’re looking at is the fourth generation of Kia’s highly successful medium-sized SUV. The outgoing model has been a huge success story for the Korean company; a well-priced entrant in a booming segment that has hit the mark with buyers in the key areas of practicality, durability, long warranty and affordable running costs.
The new Sportage, with its striking exterior styling, will aim to further boost the nameplate’s sales penetration. Its design is claimed to be a collaboration between Kia’s design centres in Frankfurt, Germany, with input from its affiliated design studios in Namyang, Korea and Irvine, California.
The design boss who oversees these teams is also the man instrumental in bringing a fresh, bold design language to Kia’s models in recent years – Peter Schreyer.
The new Sportage is a fitting swansong for Schreyer
Prior to Kia, Schreyer was best known for his work at Audi, most notably as the father of the iconic TT model. Now, as the 63-year-old Schreyer prepares for retirement at the end of his current contract in two years, it appears likely that Luc Donckerwolke – most recently at Bentley, but previously revered for his flamboyant work at Lamborghini - will step up as his successor.
The new Sportage is a fitting swansong for Schreyer. It brings a level of contained aggression, of muscular modernity, to what has previously been a segment filled with cautious, evolutionary design, with an emphasis on sensible packaging rather than eye-catching edginess.
Viewed in profile, the new Sportage increases the swept-back silhouette of the outgoing model, with a roofline that tapers slightly towards the rear of the car, shortening the rear overhang while slightly increasing the front overhang. It’s all sculpted over a longer wheelbase for greater interior space and more soothing ride quality. As a soccer-mum conversation starter – or maybe even a conversation stopper – the Sportage is surely in a class of its own.
To better understand the dimensional changes, we need to look no further than the Sportage’s twin-under-the-skin, the new recently-launched Hyundai Tucson. Sportage shares its underpinnings with Hyundai’s slightly larger replacement for the big-selling ix35 small SUV. Early drive impressions of the Tucson has shown it to be a highly cohesive, well-developed model that has benefited from local suspension tuning, so this bodes well for the on-road abilities of Kia’s new player.
According to Kevin Hepworth, the other significant factor for Australian buyers is the change of country of manufacture for the new Sportage. Australian supply of the previous model was from Kia’s Slovakian factory; however, production will revert to Korea for the new model.
Why is this significant? Speed of supply for Aussie customers: “It’s good for us, as it knocks a few weeks off delivery time, and makes it quicker for special orders,” Hepworth told CarsGuide.
As for engines and transmissions that will be offered on the new Sportage, Hepworth was tight-lipped in the lead-up to the car’s official reveal at the Frankfurt show.
However, CarsGuide can provide some well-informed speculation, based on current powertrains available to the company, and the direction taken by Hyundai with the Tucson.
First up, expect a more tightly focused model line-up compared to the convoluted Hyundai Tucson range. Tucson is offered with no less than four engine choices and three transmissions, into which is mixed front- and all-wheel drive.
Confusing? Very. Expect Kia to keep it far simpler. We’d predict a small-capacity turbocharged petrol engine to be a certainty; the current 1.6-litre serving in the Cerato Koup and Pro_cee’d GT models would seem to be an obvious choice.
In those installations the engine makes 150kW/265Nm. It’s possible a slightly more mild state of tune could be offered in the Sportage in the interests of fuel economy, but we would not expect the outputs to fall by much.
Offering this engine in both an entry-level front-wheel drive Si model, a mid-spec SLi and an up-spec all-wheel-drive Platinum variant would also seem logical.
Likewise, the choices for those favouring diesel power: the current 2.0-litre turbodiesel used in the current Sportage makes a respectable 135kW and a very muscular 392Nm; we’d expect a lightly revised version of this engine to push torque past the 400Nm mark while also lowering consumption and emissions.
A top-spec auto AWD Platinum CRDi version would likely sit as the range topper if the current model nomenclature is retained.
As for pricing, don’t expect the new model to quite match the current car’s ultra-sharp $25,990 entry point. More equipment and improved standard safety features are a certainty, and this will push prices a little higher. A Kia insider told us, “Speculate in the region of three to six percent, depending on powertrain choice.”
So figure on paying a bit under $40k, drive away, for a very well-equipped, roomy family SUV with jaw-dropping good looks. Is it any wonder Kia dealerships are currently recruiting new sales staff?