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Zilina is a name that I suspect most people in Ireland will never have heard of; but to South Korean car company it is very important for there in Slovakia is located their European production facility. Every day Ceed, Sportage and Venga models roll off the production line and since 2006 they have produced 4.5 million engines.

Recently I spent some time in Slovakia, based at Stebske Pleso, 1,346 metres above sea level in the High Tatras. Best known in winter as a ski resort, the surrounding roads delivered superb driving routes and my mission was to get behind the wheel of the updated Sportage, their most popular model in these islands.

The latest Sportage features a number of enhancements with updates to the exterior and interior and new safety and infotainment technologies, as well as efficient new engines complying with future emissions standards. One of the highlights is the all new EcoDynamics+ 48V diesel mild-hybrid power train which is the first to be launched as part of the company’s global power train electrification strategy. This sees Kia become the first manufacturer to offer hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery-electric and 48-volt mild-hybrid technology across its model line-up. Kia will launch 16 advanced power train vehicles by 2025, including five new hybrids, five plug-in hybrids, five battery-electric vehicles and, in 2020, a new fuel-cell electric vehicle.

A number of design studios led by Kia’s European design studio in Frankfurt with input from the company’s design centres in Namyang, Korea and Irvine, California have brought the Sportage right up to date and GT-Line models feature a series of unique upgrades compared to other trim grades. It was a GT-Line which I drove. A redesigned front bumper with new fog lamp housings, and new gloss black or bright chrome inserts leading from the fog lamps into the lower air intake; also now available an evolved version of its tiger-nose grille, with new gloss black or matt black. New full-LED headlamps with four-point LED daytime running lights and redesigned fog lamps also provide maximum visibility and silver painted front and rear skid plates are fitted to Edition 25, 4, GT-Line and GT-Line S models. While at the rear, the slim combination lamps retain their horizontal shape, with the revised design featuring a new C-shaped LED light signature. The reversing lamp is integrated into the new rear bumper. There are new 16, 17, and 19-inch alloy wheel designs, and some versions have the sill trim finished in chrome. Colour choice is excellent with five new colours including new shades of silver, grey, blue, and copper. The GT-Line features a new design gloss black radiator grille, gloss black and silver skid plates, and dark chrome inserts on the front bumper, the side sills and rear tailgate and the nineteen inch alloy wheels have been redesigned, and all models are fitted with a dual exhaust rear valance and revised ice cube LED fog lamp designs.

Power choice is excellent with a wider range of diesel engines, including the EcoDynamics+ two litre R diesel mild-hybrid power train and 1.6 litre U3 diesel engine. Ecodynamics+ has been engineered to deliver greater efficiency from internal combustion engines on the road, by using electric power delivered and recuperated seamlessly. The Kia system supplements acceleration with power from a compact 0.44 kWh 48-volt lithium-ion battery, and extends engine off time with a new Mild-Hybrid Starter-Generator unit. This is connected by belt to the engine’s crankshaft, and switches seamlessly between motor and generator modes. The EcoDynamics+ power train is paired with an all-wheel drive system, transmitting power via a newly-adopted eight-speed automatic transmission. My test drive was brief, however I did appreciate the seamless drive and the overall standard of the Sportage has been raised by the upgrades. Yes the SUV march continues on and it seems that there is no end to the appetite for such vehicles and the new Sportage will attract further new conquests and rightly so.

Ian Lynas

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