My very first car was a magnificent 1978 Golf GLS with an automatic gearbox.
It was the first time I ventured away from manual transmission and I was convinced the car never seemed to find fourth gear.
Armed with the owner’s handbook, clearly stating “four gears”, I headed off to the closest VW dealership to have a mechanic check things out.
“Four is right,” said the guy, “but do remember that one goes backwards”.
Having learned the embarrassing way what the difference is between four gears and a fourspeed gearbox, I knew exactly how many gears I’d have at my disposal – going forward – when taking the new Kia Sportage for a spin around Cape Town last week.
All the models featuring the the 2.0-litre CRDi diesel engine are paired with a fantastic eightspeed automatic box, while the rest of the models across the range either have a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual box.
I didn’t have the chance to drive the two six-speed models, but to adapt the famous line from the movie: “They had me at eightspeed.”
According to Kia this gearbox, which is also found in the new Sorento and Grand Sedona, was designed in-house and boasts 143 newly patented technologies.
It is said to require fewer control valves, enabling a more direct mechanical link to the engine.
This allows the transmission to shift more quickly than the outgoing six-speed automatic transmission, and enables more decisive acceleration.
In truth, most of this technical mumbo jumbo is over my head, but what I can tell you is that this gearbox is an absolute pleasure.
Very smooth gear changes result in smooth acceleration and the perfect ratios make downshifts during overtaking unobtrusive – exactly what the right pairing of engine and gearbox should be.
The 2.0-litre CRDI engine produces 131kW of power and 400Nm of torque between 1 750 and 2 750rpm.
Returning to Cape Town on the N7 south, our car managed to maintain 120km/h at the stupidly low revs of 1 700rpm, which should result in very economical road trips should your right foot be disciplined enough.
The line-up includes two petrol engines, with the 2.0-litre MPI (multiple point injectors) delivering 115kW and 196Nm of torque, while the newly introduced 1.6-litre GDI engine produces 97kW with 161Nm of torque available.
In a range realignment which sees the previous number of 12 models cut down to nine, Kia has introduced the 1.6-litre GDI with six-speed automatic box as the entry-level option.
According to David Sieff, managing director of Kia South Africa, the biggest action in the medium SUV market in South Africa is between R350 000 and R450 000 and he predicts their new offerings should bring a lot to the table in that price bracket.
“Priced at R453k the 2.0-litre CRDi Ignite Plus offers real value and is probably the pick of the bunch. The whole range offers not only real value, but very good spec as well,” says Sieff.
“Kia’s core values of price, value and choice have been brought back by the new Sportage.”
On the outside the facelifted Sportage features redesigned bumpers, a different treatment for the “tiger nose grille”, new layout for front fog lamp housing and a new taligate design and lightning signature, wheel designs in 16, 17 and 19-inch and also a selection of colours.
On the inside changes are minimal, with redesigned air vents and centre fascia as well as a new steering wheel design.
In the realignment the SX AWD and GT Line levels were removed along with the 2.4 GDI and 1.6 T-GDI engines.
The whole range, starting at the entry-level 1.6 GDI Ignite, is very generously specced, with the top model featuring an eightinch colour navigation system, 19- inch alloy wheels, wireless phone charger and panoramic sunroof.
The Sportage is considered to be Kia’s most successful model in history with the outgoing model selling more than a million worldwide in just over two years and around five million since its birth in 1993.
The tweaks should ensure this number maintains its healthy growth. All Sportage models ship as standard with Kia’s industry-leading unlimited kilometre, five-year warranty, as well as a standard five-year/900 000km service plan and five years of roadside assistance.
- Very efficient eight-speed automatic gearbox.
- Solid, comfortable ride.
- Manual shifting too cramped and close to driver.
- Entry level infotainment system’s display looks like an amber display computer monitor from 1985.
- Subtle changes to outgoing model should guarantee even better sales.