Kia Sportage big

Down Under

Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, front, static
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, side
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, rear, static
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, front
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, interior
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, dashboard
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, nose
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, tail
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, side
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, side, static
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, rear
Kia Sportage, New Zealand drive, mirror

IT'S not ‘all black' in New Zealand if you'll pardon the pun as I discovered during a three-week visit where I clocked up a few thousand miles in a pure white Kia Sportage.

If ever any proof was needed that the Korean car maker has come on in leaps and bounds over recent years, then the success story in the Land of the Long White Cloud, as New Zealand is affectionately known, is the ultimate proof.

In a country where the pick-up truck is the go-to vehicle for its hard-working and practical approach to life along with go-anywhere capabilities, it's the Kia Sportage that is gaining all the attention and grabbing the headlines amongst the car-driving populous.

And it has now reached the heady heights of being New Zealand's best-selling passenger car.

That's a status the company is very proud of as Todd McDonald, general manager, Kia Motors New Zealand, explained: "The Kia Sportage has won a special place in the hearts of New Zealand motorists thanks to the combination of stylish good looks, performance, economy, excellent passenger space and comfort - it's an incredibly competitive vehicle.

"To date, it is the best-selling SUV of any brand in New Zealand for the first six months of 2017. Just to put that into perspective, the top selling vehicles in New Zealand are the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux pick-ups, which are usually purchased as double cab models. Although they can carry five passengers, they are classed as light commercial vehicles, so that makes the Sportage the most popular passenger car in New Zealand, as well as the most popular SUV."

During my visit, I was driving the Sportage EX 2.4 model with petrol engine and all-wheel-drive - an engine we don't get in the UK where the Sportage comes either with a 1.6-litre petrol or 1.7 and 2.0-litre diesels.

Although diesel is much cheaper at the pumps than petrol in New Zealand, there is an additional charge to drivers.

Petrol prices range from NZ$1.97 per litre to NZ$2.06 for premium fuel which equates to about £1.12 to £1.17 depending on the rate of exchange.

Diesel is priced much lower at NZ$1.29 which would be just 73p per litre but then there is a Road User Charge (RUC) that must be purchased in advance.

This is based on the number of kilometres a vehicle travels. RUC is levied on a graduated scale, based on the weight of the vehicle, so light passenger vehicles pay a small amount per kilometre and large 50-tonne trucks pay a large sum.

Heavier vehicles pay more because they are deemed to cause more damage to roads.

However, even though diesel passenger vehicles pay the least, it still works out similar to the cost of petrol for most small cars and SUVs, when the RUC and fuel costs are added together.

Anyway, there was no need for me to be concerned about mileage as I was in a petrol-driven vehicle and the first thing I noticed about the car was the number plate. How cool is it to drive a Sportage around with a registration plate that reads KIA121.

Our car was priced at NZ$41,990 (plus on road costs) which equates to £23,870 and it was certainly a head-turner thanks to its distinctive tiger-nose grille, sweeping light clusters with LED daytime running lights, a sculpted bonnet, low roofline, chiselled rear end and smart 18-inch alloys. Move inside the five-door model and the interior is equally impressive with an ultra-modern, clutter-free cabin and oodles of technology to explore.

There are lots of soft-touch surfaces and the dashboard is horizontal in its layout.

The upper section houses the seven-inch colour touchscreen and the lower part, referred to as the ‘control area', is where all controls for the sound system and climate control are located. Other features on the test car included leather upholstery, heated seats, dual zone air conditioning, a six-speaker sound system along with a reversing camera and parking sensors.

Obviously, storage space was of paramount importance as we were constantly on the move and I can happily report back that the Sportage has a boot big enough to swallow two huge suitcases, a couple of daypacks, coats and the usual supplies of snacks and refreshments - and that's before you explore the numerous storage options scattered throughout the cabin, including a good-sized glovebox, door pockets and practical cup holders.

As our visit coincided with the beginning of winter it was reassuring to know we had all-wheel-drive capabilities even though the worst side of Mother Nature we saw was a few minutes of sleet and some unthawed overnight frost at the side of the road.

That said; it did rain lots and there was a fair amount of surface water at times, but nothing that troubled the Sportage.

When it comes to the Sportage's performance it was difficult to find fault. The acceleration was smooth through the six-speed automatic gearbox, the road-holding was assured, the steering precise and there was no sign of body roll into corners.

The cabin was well-insulated against engine, road and wind noise and the highly-efficient suspension system ironed out any bumpy surfaces, which to be fair, were few and far between.

The fuel gauge did drop quite quickly if I were to be particularly picky and the car has an official mpg of 33.2mpg with carbon emissions of 199g/km, but that was my only minor gripe.

And as one would expect, the Kia Sportage is packed with safety specifications and scored highly in New Zealand's equivalent to Euro NCAP testing called ANCAP.

All in all, the Sportage is a perfect car to travel round a country like New Zealand and we honestly felt completely lost when it was time to hand it back and make the choice between public transport or walking for our last couple of days.

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