First Look: 2011 Kia Sportage

2011 Kia Sportage side view

Having made its world debut in Geneva, the 2011 Kia Sportage will share top billing on the Kia stand at the New York Show in a few weeks' time along with the new Optima sedan.

A crisp, handsome, compact SUV designed under the direction of Peter Schreyer, the third generation Sportage is 3.5in longer, 0.6in wider and 2.4in lower than the previous model. The wheelbase has only grown by 0.4in, however. Aerodynamic drag has been cut from a Cd of 0.40 to 0.37, and weight has been cut by 200lb. Although available with all-wheel drive as well as front drive, the new Sportage is even more road biased than its predecessor, riding an inch lower to the blacktop.

The exterior design was done in Kia's southern California studio, and clearly draws on the Kue concept shown the 2007 Detroit Show. A key design element is the relationship between its high shoulders and narrow glasshouse, says Schreyer. "We've created an SUV with a sportscar-like ratio between sheet metal and glass. The side-windows are very narrow which gives you an almost rally-car feeling." The striking reverse angle C-pillar enhances the car-like side graphic. "The size, the shape and the proportion of the C-pillar determines the entire look and feel of the car," confirms Schreyer.

A unique detail is the stepped line across the top of the windshield that echoes the design elements of Kia's new corporate grille. This feature first appeared on the Kee concept unveiled at the 2007 Frankfurt Show. "It's crucial that we draw real design inspiration from our concept and showcars and inject that motivation into our production cars," says Schreyer.

The interior, which features striking splashes of color in some versions, is the work of designers in the company's Frankfurt studio. Black cloth is standard, and unusually, an all-black headliner can be specified. Options include part-leather and full-leather seat trim, with a choice of contrasting stitching. Base models feature a dark Gun Metal colored dashboard and centre stack, but as with the Soul buyers will be offered a number of contrasting color treatments on higher trim level models.

Manual air-conditioning is standard. The audio system for new Sportage features CD player with MP3, USB and iPod connectivity. An all-new navigation system with a 7.0-inch screen, Bluetooth and voice recognition will be offered. Other available high-tech "comfort & convenience" features include a Smart Card (for keyless entry, together with engine start/stop button), "welcome home" escort lights, Xenon headlamps, LED Daytime Running Lights and a tailgate-mounted reversing safety camera with interior mirror display monitor.

The hatch-like design means the C-pillar has been moved 7.3in rearward compared with the old Sportage, improving rear seat access. Luggage space benefits from a 2.8in increase in the rear overhang. With the rear seats upright, the cargo bay is 3.2in longer and 4.3in wider at floor level, thanks to the more compact design of the new multi-link rear suspension. Kia claims cargo capacity is among the best in class, ranging from 19.9cu ft with the rear seats occupied, to 47.8 cu ft with the rear seats folded.

Storage space within the cabin includes a larger glovebox (cooled in some models), a larger center console and four door pockets. Two large cup-holders are located between the gear selector and the centre console, while the folding centre armrest in the rear seat has twin cup-holders.

U.S.-spec Sportages will be available with a choice of four cylinder or V-6 engines, driving through a six speed automatic transmission. Traction control is standard on the FWD Sportage. The AWD drivetrain delivers 100 percent of engine torque to the front wheels, with a percentage of torque automatically transferred to the rear wheels to maintain forward momentum if wheelspin is detected. In slippery conditions - such as rain, snow, mud, unpaved roads and off-road - the driver can manually select 'Lock Mode' for better stability. This mode shares the torque equally (50%/50%), between the front and rear axles and maintains that split up to a speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). Whether FWD or AWD, traction is also boosted by the available Hillstart Assist Control which prevents slipping backwards, and Downhill Brake Control which limits vehicle speed to just 5 mph on steep descents.

Steering is by way of a new electric power steering rack-and-pinion system that is speed-sensitive and requires just 2.96 turns of the steering wheel from lock-to-lock. Kia says switching from the previous model's hydraulic system to electric power assistance offers a 3.5percent improvement in fuel economy.

Both the front and rear suspension systems are mounted on a lightweight hydro-formed subframe. Up front are MacPherson struts, largely carried over from the previous model, while at the rear is an all-new multi-link system. Adjustable rear shocks are available as an option on European-spec Sportages.

The new Sportage will go on sale in the U.S. later this year.

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