Friday, August 6, 2010

Tonka Truck meets Manpurse- 2011 Kia Sportage

KIA showed off their new 2011 Sportage in San Francisco last week. It's the fifth all new product in just under two years, following on the heels of the Soul, subcompact Forte sedan, the two door derivative Koup, and the Sorrento SUV.

It's the third generation of Sportage, and this one looks like it came from Extreme Makeover: Kia Edition. It has a much larger footptrint- wider and longer with expressive exterior styling in the flavor of miniaturized Audi Q7 (no surprise to learn it was penned by former Audi stylist Peter Schreyer) and giant 18" wheels (standard on EX) which are worthy of the coolest Tonka trucks. Did I mention that the target audience is single and male? It's a stylish and playful look which has a MUCH more upmarket look than its predecessors. Status seekers might consider swiping a set of interlocking rings for the grille, I think the car could carry it off.

A much more upmarket execution permeates the interior as well. I called it a Manpurse inside- a black on black compartment with comfortable, well tailored leather seats, an Infinity Audio System with Bluetooth, USB, Sirius Satellite Radio heated and cooled driver's seat, and a ginormous Panorama sunroof. Yes, it's a lot of black but so is a Coach bag, and I found much more pleasing it more honest than fake wood or fake aluminum or fake carbon fibre which the Europeans love so much these days. (And didn't they malign us for our fake wood in the 70's? All fashion comes back, I guess...) The storage console is larger now, the glove box is cooled (Evian, anyone?) and the door pockets are roomy. All in all, a well designed Manpurse, and the rear seat will be more than comfy for taking the French Bulldogs to Palm Springs for the weekend. Also coming later in the year is Kia's handsfree UVO system, developed by Microsoft and rather similar to Ford's Sync. But more of that when it comes on stream.

Power comes from the 2.4 litre Theta four cylinder engine. In this guise, it produces 176 hp, and gets 22 mpg in the city and 31 highway. Compared to the last gen's V6, it has a bit more power, a bit less torque, and quite a bit better highway fuel economy. For those who need more go, a 270 hp turbo will be introduced mid-year.

Driving impressions are favorable. The Theta engine idles very smoothly and is quite adequate for the car's needs, although I think the Turbo will be much more suited for sporting drivers. While not a sports car, the Sportage handled quite nicely on the twisting roads of Half Moon Bay, the increased width made it feel quite stable, and the ride was quite pleasant for a vehicle of this wheelbase. Again a big improvement over past generations and in no way a "penalty box."

Possibly the biggest improvement is invisible to the naked eye- residual value. In the retail biz, the better the residual, the lower the lease payment and traditionally Kia has not been blessed with high residuals. However, one of the benefits of Kia's reinvention has been an improvement in the residual values that lenders have assigned to Kia models. In the case of Sportage, the improvement has been dramatic. A 36 month residual value of 61% has been assigned to the base Sportage, up twenty-two percentage points over the 2010 model. This is as dramatic of an improvement as I have ever seen in one year and, when combined with the price point of the car ($18,990 base and fully equipped in upper twenties) should result in a very compelling affordability story. Perhaps I should have mentioned that first.

So if your taste runs toward the tailored Audi look but budget constraints preclude such a reality, you might take a look at the Sportage. I was quite favorably impressed.

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