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Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Quick Thoughts: Watch Out, the Koreans are Coming Edition

Third time’s clearly the charm with Kia’s baby SUV, the Sportage.

The first generation of the Sportage impressed with it’s cheapness, off-road prowess and… well that’s about it*.  The second one, if we’re honest, had even less to recommend it: in a nod to changing market expectations of small SUVs, it dropped any semblance of off-roadability and was simply cheap.

1st and 2nd Generation Kia Sportage (click to enlarge)

Yet given the strides Kia’s been making in the design department of late (the conservative but nicely resolved Koup, Soul and Sorento all come to mind), the new Sportage was always going to represent a significant stylistic departure from its dowdy predecessors. In fact, having looked over the press shots, I’d go do far as to say that the new Sportage is the best resolved Kia to date and another indicator of just how serious the brand is about conquering the middle of the market.

2007 Kia Kue

2009 Kia Sorento

Reportedly designed under Peter Schreyer in Kia Motor Europe’s Frankfurt studio, the car takes many cues, as does the new Sorrento, from the 2007 Kue (is that a reverse pun?) concept car, penned under Tom Keams at Kia Motors America. Unlike the Sorrento, however, the new Sportage sits comfortably with the dynamic form language it inherited from its rakish forebear.

Where the Sorento’s surfacing appears somewhat lifeless and undernourished, that of the Sportage is more fully-blown, lending the little sport ute a pugnacious air and a tension to it’s key lines that is so sorely lacking in the Sorento’s. The immeasurably cleaner treatment of the lower-body cladding and wheel-arches also help the Sportage sit far better on it’s wheels.

The rear end is far more sculptural than the somewhat abrupt butt of the Sorento, with the LED-filled lamps reaching forward arrestingly. Their shape is mirrored in the nicely integrated fog lamp/reflector graphic while the extent of the bumper profile is hidden within the black lower cladding, leaving the eye to settle on the trimmer composition of body-coloured surfaces above. The fact that there’s a touch of Infiniti FX about the rear hatch profile should certainly do nothing to dampen sales prospects even if it does create the mother of all blind-spots

The DRG is well resolved, with its full-length lower graphic bucking the trend for 3 part openings that has grown so tiresome, although opinion will continue to be divided on whether the tiger tooth grille is enough to distinguish the Kia brand in a market flush with “look at me” faces. There appears to be some jewellery in the headlamps (hardly a surprise with ex-Audi Schreyer at the helm) and the LED running lamps that I’ll hate but will whisper come hither to the target market like no RAV4 or CR-V currently can.

2010 Kia Sportage and Competitors (click to enlarge)

All told, Schreyer and his team have created a solid, well-prportioned, tightly surfaced vehicle that doesn’t do anything remarkably new or break any rules. Indeed, it’s by sticking so dogmatically to the rules of good car design that this new Kia succeeds. As a result, it has that whiff of premium-ness about it that all well-designed objects do, something that the Sportage’s competitors (Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and, some would say, VW Tiguan) singularly fail to project. Of course, premium can evaporate in the detailing – which I won’t be seeing for a while – but it’s impossible not to think that there will be many an SUV downsizer wooed by this new arrival. With it’s combination of refined design, 5/7/10 year warranties, an attractive price tag and an interior that – hopefully – matches the exterior for perceived design value, Kia will have a serious mainstream hit on it’s hands.

* I’ve been told that the first gen Sportage has quite a cult following amongst financially challenged off-roadists. All I know is that the red one I used as a pharmacy deliver driver made me truly understand the phrase drive it like you hate it. I did and I did and to its credit, it always came back for more, despite the auto shift lever (oh yes…) knocking itself into neutral every time I launched the thing off a speed hump…

Category: Car, Design, Design Strategy

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One Response

  1. Massimo says:

    well what to say…
    YOU SAID IT ALL….

    Honestly there is nothing i could add…and i am still thinking on it…

    your review are coming better and better…a little bit like the Korean car…

    You never know may one day as the Korean will become the new standard (beating the Japanese), this blog will be too the standard for car design.

    Great review! ( and you know that i am always quite critic and hash…

    BTW “as you said it” the Sportage although Korean is FAIR…

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.