My boss has banned the words ‘Peter Schreyer’ and ‘design genius’ in the same sentence, all because he took one look at the Sportage. How the mighty fall, huh?
Schreyer’s claim to fame was as part of the Sexy Six that designed the original 1998 Audi TT, which admittedly looked like nothing that had come before…
The Nineties were mostly horrible for car design, littered with grey cladding over ovoid shapes, chrome wheels, and Eddie Bauer badges. Even then it was only Schreyer and colleagues who stood out with the TT (when it comes to a kind of mainstream vehicles only – please don’t write in to shout at me about how good the FD RX-7 looked) and revolutionised car design – especially how we looked at surfaces. Suddenly everyone realised acres of grey plastic door cladding weren’t particularly attractive. Incredibly we needed Schreyer to show us that. Nowadays, he is busy turning public perception around regarding Korean design and quality. The former is a done deal. The latter needs more work.
And then this thing comes along looking like a very confused Pikachu. All it needs is three permanent dots hovering in the air above it with a speech bubble that says ‘Huh!?’ Remember the Subaru B9 Tribeca? The universally abhorred one? It was ugly, and it seems to have directly influenced the front end of the new Sportage. Subaru had to cancel the first B9 prematurely. Kia won’t be able to make the Sportages fast enough.
Because honestly, who cares what your crossover looks like? It’s there to do a job, and it’s all subjective anyway. The bottom line is, even though it’s nowhere near the bottom yet, the Sportage costs Dh99,000 as you see it here. So really the question is, why wouldn’t you buy it?
Maybe because the engine is a bit depressing. Maybe you don’t like the mug – though I doubt you’d care. From every other angle this thing looks absolutely fine. Inside, Kia seems to have taken inspiration from Audi and BMW and blended the two interior design themes, so that can’t be a bad thing. The interior materials aren’t anywhere near German standards, or Japanese, but they’re darn close considering the money, so it’s not a fair complaint.
Moving on, considering this is basically the same thing as the Hyundai Tucson I drove in Spain last year, I’d expected it to drive just as fine. It does, and the steering is just as artificial and nobody will care, because it isn’t unnecessarily cumbersome. The engine, a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated unit worth 181 horsepower according to the manufacturer, is a bit hesitant to rev and squeeze it all out. I wish we had the modern 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 241 horsepower available here, but we don’t get it so that’s that. You could do worse and choose the 155bhp base motor. For the first time, the fourth-generation Sportage offers a GT Line trim model, which happens to be our tester, which Kia says is designed for a sportier driving experience. In truth, it’s a bunch of LEDs, aluminium effect skid plates, dual exhaust pipes, and a metal effect rear diffuser, which diffuses nothing, because of course nothing says sporty like fake aluminium. The GT Line’s 19in wheels are nice, and the interior is a fine place to spend time in — with a 30mm longer wheelbase than before, I’m willing to bet there is class-leading space inside, and rear legroom stands out too. Kia and Hyundai get it all right, including if we can stop being so subjective, the design parts, but refinement is an area where the Koreans are still playing catch up. Kia is sweating the little things, like minimising vibrations in the seat while saving 2.5kg in each chair, fitting a reclining rear bench (a blessing on long journeys), lowering cabin noise intrusion (even if it’s just by 1dB) and improving safety with six airbags available. Adding the value factor and the frankly implausible level of kit on board this thing, we can conclude that if the company paid this much attention to the way Kias drive and feel on the road then the rest of the industry would be in big trouble.
Instead, this is the direction we’ve chosen to go in as a car-dependent society, because toys and equipment are easily quantifiable assets that every consumer can understand – I have more than you…
For driving feel and enjoyment behind the wheel we have to go back to the battle between subjectivity and objectivity. God forbid a manufacturer was to force you to wind up your own windows, yet always drive around everywhere with a smile. Right?