THE YEAR was 1991. Jokes about Skodas were outnumbered only by the breakdowns suffered by the cars, and the Czech brand was facing a new budget-priced rival from South Korea: Kia.
Kia boasted that its outdated Pride supermini, with whitewall tyres, was the first stage in a plan to take sales from cheap brands such as Skoda, and then outsell the big European car companies. If the Pride’s cabin hadn’t been so noisy, the handful of buyers could have heard the guffaws for miles.
But next year, a quarter of a century on, the final part of Kia’s plan will be complete with the arrival of the new Sportage crossover (pictured here). Just like Skoda, the company has grappled its way up the British car class system. Its executives believe Kia has done enough to be taken seriously.
The company already sells more cars in the UK than Fiat, Mini or Renault and it’s close to the sales levels of Citroën. Kia is so confident of the brand’s appeal that the new crossover will be priced above the outgoing Sportage (which starts at £17,465), bringing its cost close to that of rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and the new Renault Kadjar, which has been well received.
Buyers of the new Sportage are promised a high-quality cabin with up-to-date technology including wireless charging for their mobile phone, plus a slick dashboard touchscreen. Driver assistance systems that can park the car and help motorists to leave a tight space will be available, along with automatic steering that can keep the vehicle in a motorway lane. High-end versions are expected to get a premium entertainment system, and the Sportage is likely to be available with two or four-wheel drive.
The new model has a sportier look, with chunky wheelarches and swept-back headlights, though its target market will remain middle-class families more interested in ride comfort on the school run, and its ability to swallow full supermarket carrier bags and buggies in the boot.
So far we have only pictures of the car and Kia’s own claims to go by. The company has yet to confirm exact specifications and prices. What’s certain is that when it arrives early next year the new Sportage will be up against stiff competition in the ever-growing family crossover market, especially with the expected launch of a new Volkswagen Tiguan. Based on Kia’s past performance, though, it will more than hold its own.