For someone like myself, with more than a passing interest in marketing and reputation management, it has been fascinating to watch those manufacturers who have built their reputation in recent years.
Two examples that I feel are particularly admirable are Skoda, who have reinvented a car company whose reputation was in tatters. I remember, with a shudder, the Skoda Favorit with its instrument graphics that look like they were badly peeled off a bit of sticky-back plastic. Then just a very few years later, I recall standing in the crystal cathedral that was the new Octavia factory – so clean and bright that I could take photographs on the production line. What a transformation.
The other example I would highlight is Kia. Let me quickly say that they never produced a vehicle that would produce a gasp of disbelief at its lack of finish. Maybe just a yawn. “Worthy” and “keenly priced” were the words I kept coming back to in my road tests of the early Kia imports into the UK.
What spurred this replay of the changing fortunes of manufacturers was my recent drive in the latest Kia Sportage.
I drove the Kia Sportage for this blog in 2011
and, at first glance, not much seems to have changed. That is quite deliberate. Ian Mathews, Head of Product Planning at Kia in the UK, explains it was a case of “if it aint broke…”. What a statement for Kia to be able to make!
For the 2014 Sportage, Kia have concentrated on adding engine options and new technology, such as the trailer stability assist. This system applies the brakes if it detects any loss of control. If that doesn’t work the system will slow the vehicle with gentle braking and a reduction in power.
The now familiar Kia front grille has been given a new look with a distinctive black honeycomb mesh on the test car. At the back there are new lights. Changes inside have focussed on giving the Kia Sportage new trim materials to give it a more quality feel.
Like most manufacturers – even the off-road masters at Land Rover – the Kia Sportage comes in front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions, so you can enjoy the image of an SUV without the cost and economy penalties of the four-wheel-drive hardware. The test car was the Kia Sportage 3 1.7 CRDi.
The 3 designates that this is the third trim level, just one short of the top-of-the ladder Sportage 4. The Sportage 3 comes with heated leather seats front and rear, climate control, reversing camera, xenon lights and 18-inch wheels. It also adds flex steer, which offers three levels of steering power assistance – comfort, normal and sport.
The steering settings really do change the weighting of the steering and, in my initial drive, before I had found the steering control I had noted that the steering felt overly light and a bit lifeless. Thereafter, I constantly drove with the steering in ‘sport’, which gave it a little more weight while still being light enough for most drivers.
When I tested the 1.7 CRDi in 2011, I noted its good fuel economy. This is where having only two driven wheels counts, along with not having to drag the additional weight of the four-wheel-drive components. The combined fuel economy remains the same as 2011 at 52.3 mpg and the carbon dioxide emissions and performance are also the same as the were in 2011.
My real-time mpg was a shade over 40 mpg for a mixture of city and open road driving. It’s very easy to drive, with a good ride quality and is pretty strong on refinement.
When you take to twisty by-ways, even with the steering on sport, enthusiasts will still crave more feel from the steering. For the same enthusiasts, the suspension feels a little on the soft side, but the body control is good.
Space is good for passengers all round thanks, in part, to the high seating position. Luggage space, too, is pretty good, although the load floor is quite high to allow for the space needed for the rear differential in four-wheel-drive versions.
Visibility to the front and the sides is good, but the rear window and heavy rear pillars made me glad of the reversing camera on the Sportage 3 models.
Oh, and while you are craning your neck to see out the back, you can see the other good reason for buying the Kia – the discrete ‘7’ sticker in the back window boasts about Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Kia Sportage 3 1.7 CRDi
Carbon dioxide emissions: 143 g/km
VED band B???
Combined fuel economy 52.3 mpg
Top speed: 107 mph
0-62: 11.9 secs
Power 114 bhp
Engine size 1685cc diesel
Boot capacity 564/1353 litres (rear seat up/down)