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Kia’s new lineup shows us the folly of SUVs

Wednesday, 7th November, 2018 4:37pm

When news filtered through last week that Ferrari was ending the longest will-they-won’t-they since Ross and Rachel by confirming that it is going to build its first SUV (which is the equivalent of Ross ditching Rachel and shacking up with, I dunno, Janice?), it seemed that the war was truly over and that the SUV has unquestionably won.

Well, not while I have breath in my body it hasn’t. You may well have other hills upon which you’ve chosen to die, but mine is trying to convince you - the Irish car buying public - that SUVs are generally not worth the candle and that you should return forthwith to your hatchbacks, saloons, coupes and, especially, estates.

Through sheer serendipitous chance a perfect illustration of why I’ll defend this small, lonely hill to my last breath came along today and it was because Kia chose to launch its two newest models with a joint event.

Those models are the updated Sportage, and the new Ceed SW. Let’s start with the Sportage, being as it’s the most significant in sales terms.

On sale since 2016 in its current form, this is not an all-new model, but a modest refresh of the current car.

Make no mistake though, it’s an important car for Kia in Ireland. It’s the brand’s top selling model here, and the only Kia to make an appearance in the top-ten best sellers list. In fact, it’s currently the sixth best selling car in Ireland, and its 2,788 sales so far this year represents 39 per cent of Kia’s total sales in 2018.

What’s new? The whole front end of the car has been restyled, and while it still looks a little like an early-2000s Porsche Cayenne, there is a reprofiled grille, new bumper, new LED lights, and around the back more new lights and more new bumper.

The cabin hasn’t been changed much but there’s a new central touchscreen, new main instruments, and very definitely a sense of higher quality levels. It looks especially smart in a mix of black and beige.

It’s always been a bit of a puzzle to me that the Sportage lags behind the Hyundai Tucson in the sales charts. The Tucson is, of course, the best-selling single model in the country, ahead of the Sportage by 1,200 units, but the Kia is arguably the better-looking car and, unarguably, has the longer warranty.

I asked James Brooks, Kia Ireland’s managing director if he felt that that Sportage was now ready to step up and meet the Tucson head on. “If I see any growth in Sportage sales I’ll be pleased,” Brooks said.

Sportage sales are, in fact, down by 5.9 per cent year on year, but that’s less than the Tucson’s fall of 18 per cent in the same period. Nonetheless, Brooks says that the focus is on keeping existing customers and keeping them sweet by introducing a zero per cent finance offer.

That will help, as the Sportage’s price tag has gone up by some €1,200. €4-500 of that, says Brooks, is down to the increase in CO2 emissions thanks to the new WLTP test, and there’s another €300 or so to pay for the addition of an AdBlue system which quells the nasty, noxious, NOx emissions.

There is a new engine, though. The Sportage’s old 1.7 CRDI diesel has been binned, and a new 1.6 litre diesel introduced in either 115hp (with a manual gearbox) or 136hp (with the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox) forms. Its CO2 emissions range from 123g/km to 126g/km, hence the higher price tag than the old 119g/km engine.

I’ll say one thing for this new engine, though and that is that it’s very refined. 115hp doesn’t sound much, and isn’t, but 280Nm of torque is decent, and the Sportage rows along nicely, and quietly.

The improvement in cabin quality is palpable, although the side is let down somewhat by seats that are too hard and too high-up for my comfort.

This is where the SUV pedestal starts to get rather worn away. In general, such cars are simply not as good to drive as a ‘normal’ car and while that may seem an ephemeral concern for many drivers, it shouldn’t be.

A car that communicates with you and involves you in its driving process is a safer car, QED. As shown, amply, by the new Ceed SW. Thankfully shorn of its awkward punctuation, the new Ceed is a simple, handsome, well-appointed car that reminds you of what made a good family motor before we all started getting SUV notions.

You can have it with a 1.0 litre 120hp turbo petrol, or that same 115hp 1.6 diesel as in the Sportage. A 1.4 litre 140hp petrol will also shortly be available, but we’d just go for the 1.0. It’s so much more refined than the diesel, punches hard as long as you’ve got north of 1,500rpm on the clock, and has proven itself impressively economical in other Kia and Hyundai models.

With that sweet little engine on board, the Ceed SW is a delight to drive, almost matching the new Ford Focus for its responsiveness and agility. Its steering, although still quite light, is far more chatty and informative than that of the Sportage, and its pleasantly damped suspension much better at dealing with the rigours of rural roads.

Okay, so you’re not as high up, but then the Ceed’s low-set seats are also much more comfortable, and if anything the cabin looks even smarter.

Still want a touch of Porsche magic? Well, the SW’s estate body may not look like a Cayenne, but the four-point LED headlights look very Porsche-esque.

Besides, it’s hugely practical. Rear legroom is nowhere near as good as what you’ll find in the Sportage, but the boot has it well and truly beaten. In the Sportage, you can cram in 491 litres of whatever it is you need to carry before you’re loading above the window line.

In the Ceed, it’s 600 litres — the second biggest in its class, beaten only by the vast Skoda Octavia Combi.

OK, I get it — SUVs have their appeal, not least in the fact that everyone now has one, and let’s face it we all need to keep up with our own, personal Joneses.

But the Sportage-Ceed comparison really does just show that you’re paying for marketing guff when you buy an SUV.

The K4-specification Sportage we test drove lacked for nothing in terms of equipment, but clocked in with a €33,045 price tag.

The Ceed SW, which comes in a single K3-specification, starts at €25,295 for the 1.0 litre T-GDI version and, while less grand inside, is still very well equipped.

It’s certainly the better family car, by far, than the Sportage, so it just comes down to how much you’re swept up by the SUV’s phony war.

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