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Kia Sportage 2016 review

CarsGuide gets access to a top-secret circuit to check the coming Sportage SUV — or as much as Kia allows.

The world saw the all-new Kia Sportage for the first time last week.

But before the official photos were released, we’d already sat in it, driven it, sweated in it and tortured it in California’s Death Valley.

In a brave departure from normal industry practice, Kia allowed CarsGuide into its top-secret proving ground to sample its important compact SUV — with warts, camouflage and all.

The bold strategy may have something to do with the fact that its sibling brand Hyundai has been hogging the limelight of late with its all-new rival for the Sportage, the Tucson.

Its roadholding ability inspired confidence

It’s too early to make any authoritative comparison of the two but we can report that behind the Sportage’s stylish good looks, Kia has added greater cabin space and improved manners both on and off the road.

The interior trim might lean to the conservative but its roadholding ability inspired confidence on a preview drive. Designed in Europe, with input from the company’s design studios in California and South Korea, the Sportage has always looked better than the Hyundai counterpart.

At the same time it has never sold in anywhere the same numbers.

The new Tucson is a vast improvement yet the design remains relatively conservative compared with both the current and the coming Sportage.

Tucson gets four engines including the flexible 1.6-litre turbo with a dual-clutch auto shared with the quirky Veloster, with 130kW of power and 265Nm of torque.

But don’t expect Kia to necessarily follow suit.

It’s not revealing much at this stage, certainly not whether the line-up will include the turbo, but it will almost certainly include a 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine as well as an updated version of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 400Nm of torque.

On the road

We got to drive the new Sportage briefly at Kia’s proving ground in the Mojave Desert as well as in the baking hot confines of Death Valley (more details after the verdict), about 500km northeast of Los Angeles.

Camo panels covered the exterior but there was no disguising the inside and we were a little disappointed to find the dashboard lacked the flair and imagination of the two-tiered arrangement in the current model.

It looks and feels conservative, sitting more upright with four large, rather square air vents, trimmed in a metallic finish — that frame a substantial eight-inch computer screen.

Our test car was well equipped, with leather and climate aircon, auto lights and wipers, plus heated and ventilated front seats along with a heated steering wheel (although there wasn’t much call for that in Death Valley).

There were no gear-change paddles but the transmission has a manual mode along with a new selectable sport mode — just like the new Tucson.

We didn’t get to drive a diesel and Kia kept a lid almost literally on what petrol engine was under the bonnet.

It felt smooth and comfortable to drive, with strong acceleration and plenty of power to climb the hills we encountered, the redesigned steering wheel fitting comfortably in the hands.

Off the road

Kia let us take our heavily disguised cars around the proving ground’s off-road loop.

As with the current model, new Sportage will be available in front and all-wheel drive.

The Sportage ought to be at least as handy as the Tucson

Ground clearance is the same on each but the AWD model has hill descent control and a differential lock for heavier off-roading. It performed well over a series of hills and low-traction surfaces but unless it gets more than the 167mm ground clearance of its predecessor, it’s going to be limited to dirt tracks and the occasional muddy surface.

Verdict

Initial indications are good. The styling is attractive, the ride and on-road handling are fine and it’s competent off-road. The Sportage ought to be at least as handy as the Tucson.

Death valley, next stop Mojave

Death Valley. It’s a desolate place that holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded, 57C in July, 1913.

Summer is drawing to a close in the US but it’s still stinking hot in the long narrow valley near the border of California and Nevada — 51C outside the Furnace Creek visitor centre. Everything is hot to touch — the petrol pump, the plastic paper towel dispenser, even the tap water.

This is where Kia comes to do its hot weather testing and we’re in the mid-sized Sportage SUV, due in Australia early next year — we’re the first journalists anywhere in the world to drive the car but we’re sworn to secrecy.

It’s barely recognisable in camouflage paint and wraps and is festooned with wires and instruments inside to take measurements. The Death Valley exercise was a curtain raiser to a drive at Kia’s Mojave Desert proving ground.

Launched in 1993, the stylish Sportage five-seat wagon is Kia’s largest selling model in Europe and the second largest in Australia behind the Cerato. It’s a big deal for Kia and the brand doesn’t want to get it wrong.

Death Valley is not red like our Outback, but has the same dry dusty feel, with low, sparse scrubby vegetation and occasional scrawny coyotes.

Hot-weather testing in part puts materials under stress, such as the steering wheel heat treatment. It also checks the performance of the airconditioning under extreme loads. The goal is to reduce the cabin temperature to 22C-25C within 20 minutes of starting the engine and moving off.

The cars sit in the sun waiting for the cabin to reach the 50C starting point.

We wait in whatever shade we can find, chugging down bottle after bottle of water.

Our photographer has to wear gloves to stop from burning his fingers on the hot metal casing of his camera. The camera in the phone of a Canadian journalist has stopped working altogether.

On the engineers’ signal, we get in and close the doors quickly to keep the heat in, then await the OK to turn on the air (truth be told,it’s still cooler inside than out).

With the air set to full blast, we start the engine and move off, keeping our speed as close as possible to 100km/h.

The air blasting from the vents is bliss and we are asked every few minutes to rate our comfort level — on a scale from 1 to 10.

Supervising engineer Ron Murray also does cold weather testing in Minnesota near the Canadian border — where it gets down to -40C.

Pricing guides

$20,990
Based on 254 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$14,950
Highest Price
$34,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GT-Line (awd) 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $22,400 – 30,360 2016 Kia Sportage 2016 GT-Line (awd) Pricing and Specs
GT-Line Grey Leather (awd) 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $22,400 – 30,360 2016 Kia Sportage 2016 GT-Line Grey Leather (awd) Pricing and Specs
Platinum (AWD) 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $19,700 – 27,390 2016 Kia Sportage 2016 Platinum (AWD) Pricing and Specs
Platinum (awd) (grey Pack) 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $25,100 – 33,330 2016 Kia Sportage 2016 Platinum (awd) (grey Pack) Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$14,950

Lowest price, based on 245 car listings in the last 6 months

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