"Good design." When the Kia Kue was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit in January 2007, the reaction was pretty much along the lines of: "That is a really cool-looking crossover vehicle, but c'mon." Kia Motor America chief designer Tom Kearns said at the time, "Good design shouldn't look like you are trying too hard. The future Kia direction will incorporate the 'less is more' philosophy but still include a heavy dose of boldness to be distinct." The 22s on the Kue, to say nothing of the single side door with scissors-style opening and the 400-hp V8 were, well, a bit on the boldness side for any CUV, particularly a compact. But there it was.
Since then, Kia has been trying really hard when it comes to design. And succeeding.
With the likes of the Soul and the Forte in its lineup, it has combined the less-is-more (think the simplicity of the Soul's boxy-yet-broad-shouldered exterior) with the heavy dose of boldness (again: think the simplicity of the Soul's boxy-yet-broad-shouldered exterior) that Kearns spoke of.
Cue the Sportage. And it has now developed what they're arguing is the progeny of the Kue Concept, the 2011 Sportage CUV. It, too, like the Kue, was designed at the Kia design center in Irvine, California by Massimo Frascella, with a design brief that called for the development of a vehicle that combines "off-road rugged with urban slick." And like the Kue it has a level of design that surpasses the previous generation model, with a lowered stance achieved by making the vehicle wider (it has an overall width of 73 in.) and reducing the ground clearance (it is 6.8 in.). What's more, while it doesn't have the single side door (it has two on each side), there is a high beltline and a spearing shoulder line that connects the headlamps and tail lights with alacrity, as well as a strong, fast C-pillar.
Arguably, the design—particularly as compared with the previous generation—is more stylish, less pedestrian. One thing the new design does is make the vehicle seem far more expensive than it really is: it has a base MSRP of $18,295 (excluding destination). What's interesting to note about the 2011 model vs. the 2010 is that ALG (alg.com), the firm that rates residual values for vehicles (and publishes the "Automotive Lease Guide"), rated it as holding 61% of its MSRP 36 months after purchase, which is 20 points higher than the rating for the 2010 model.
New & Better. This third-generation Sportage has an all new platform below and an all-new bodyshell with considerable deployment of high-strength steels wrapping it. There are multi-link suspension setups in both the front and back, and they are mounted to a lightweight hydroformed subframe. The front has MacPherson struts and side-load coil springs. The rear multi-link system, dampers and coil springs are setup such that while they provide comfort and handling, there is minimal intrusion into the cargo area. After all: while the CUV is designed for good road manners—unlike the Kue, the Sportage has a standard 2.4-liter I4 engine that provides 176 hp—there is still the issue of "utility" as part of the descriptor for this type of vehicle: the five-passenger Sportage offers 26.1-ft3 of cargo volume with the rear seat up (54.6-ft3 with the seat down).
Branded AWD. One interesting aspect of the Sportage—interesting from a couple of points of view—is the available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
First, the electro-hydraulic system is engineered to be "anticipatory" in its performance, not reactive as most systems are. That is, the system has a controller that receives input from the engine control unit which, in turn, obtains input from other systems, such as the ABS and ESC systems. The AWD controller is continually analyzing the input and actuates the multi-plate clutch system when it is determined that torque will be needed to accommodate the driving conditions. This is performed transparently to the driver, who will only recognize such things as improved lateral stability when corners or no unintended over- or under-steer as the system reduces unwanted traction forces to the front and rear axles as necessary.
Second, this system is branded "Dynamax" and it is openly a joint development between Kia Motors and Magna Powertrain, an operating unit of Magna International. In May, 2010, production of these AWD couplings commenced at a joint-venture plant in Asan, Chungcheongnamdo, South Korea, operated by Hyundai Wia, a Hyundai Motor Group affiliate, and Magna Powertrain. The Sportage is the first vehicle to get the systems, which will be rolled out to other products. The plant has an annual production capacity of 600,000 units.
What's interesting to note about this second point is that while other vehicle manufacturers tend to downplay their suppliers of drivetrain components (nowadays the only suppliers that tend to get recognition are those providing infotainment, like Microsoft, Sony, Bose, etc.), clearly Kia recognizes the value of the affiliation with a well-regarded company like Magna for its system.
Microsoft, Too. And speaking of the aforementioned Microsoft, Ford isn't the only company (think Ford SYNC powered by Microsoft) that is using the Redmond, Washington-based software company's automotive capabilities. Kia is putting the Windows Embedded Automotive platform to work in its UVO powered by Microsoft in-vehicle communication and entertainment system. As Mukund Ghangurde, director of product management for Microsoft Windows Embedded business, explained, "An increasing number of consumers are craving and expecting connected experience in their vehicles, including being able to quickly and directly access music files, change radio stations and make or answer phone calls through voice-or touch-activated controls." Which UVO facilitates.
As the compact CUV market continues to climb, Kia has designed and engineered a stronger contender.