KIA Insider

Sunday Drive: Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sportage GT-Line

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited
Base price: $82,990.
Powertrain and performance: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel with 147kW/440Nm, 8-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel-drive, combined economy 7.5 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 9.3 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4770mm long, 1680mm high, 2765mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 130 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels.

Kia Sportage GT Line Urban
Base price: $45,990
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with 114kW/192Nm, 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive, combined economy 8.2 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 10.7 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4495mm long, 1655mm high, 2670mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 466 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels.

What word do you imagine the parent of two brands well-placed here used to describe the year just gone?

"Tepid." Sub-forecast sales in China and North America were why Hyundai and Kia – together the world's fifth largest carmaker - came up 300,000 short of a 7.5 million units' target.

* Why the Hyundai Santa Fe is our Top Large SUV of 2018
* Never mind the ride, we've jammed a lot more stuff in this SUV
* Santa brought something nice to Tucson in December

Hyundai Motor's boss Euisun Chung has urged more effort to sell sports utility models. A call that might resound here because, even though soft-roaders have become core local sales feeders, there's been slippage.

Though comfortably Kia NZ's No.1, Sportage dropped to third in small SUV, bumped by Mazda's CX-5, while Toyota's RAV4 remained on top.

Hyundai's Santa Fe has in three years fallen from gold to bronze, being trumped first by Tucson then Kona. It also fell to third in the sector it once owned, large SUV, Toyota's Highlander and Holden's Captiva getting ahead.

No thought of waving the white flag, of course. Three years into its cycle, Kia's wee baby is being revitalised with new derivatives, including the intriguing GT Line Urban on test, whereas Hyundai's largest model has just refreshed entirely, into fourth generation, also driven.

The latter's the bigger news. Santa Fe's mission continues as before, filling the hole between more recreational SUVs and full-sized monsters, it's perfectly suited to Kiwi lifestyles.

Now with an eight-speed transmission, a fresh all-wheel-drive and more kit than comes with the entry petrol, the turbodiesel editions continue with an engine that accrued 95 percent penetration in the previous line, so seem the best choice. They're not inexpensive, however; a minimum $75,490 for the Elite, rising a further $7500 for the Limited tested.

This, and a cabin that's less radical than the utterly on trend exterior crafting, are the only obvious issues before you drive. Yet it is packed with technology, safety and convenience items you might not expect from Hyundai.

Like the look? This test reinforced why you should steer away from black, it makes it look blobby in profile. Some will quibble the headlight shape as too radical, yet it ensures closer ties to the Tucson and Kona and illumination is fine. Nineteen-inch rims as standard might seem mean, because the optional 22-inch rubber is so trendy. Don't be fooled: The smaller items are quieter and offer better ride.

The cabin's ambience is a bit dull and the touchscreen looks a bit cheapskate. The sat nav annoys for destination inputting, in that when asked to plot a route to a city or town, it won't obey until also given a specific street address – not useful if your familiarity isn't that strong. How about a simple 'town centre' cue?

Useable space is crucial and the front and middle seating rows are generously roomy. Yet it's still seven at a stretch with the rearmost chairs being short on space for adults and using them destroys luggage space; you'll have to reconfigure into five-up mode to have a decent bag drop-off zone.

Suspension that does well at filtering out rippled and pock-marked surfaces is tuned for comfort, yet it's far from cumbersome, there's good grip and traction. Naturally biasing on-seal drive toward the front wheels, the all-wheel-drive has a lock mode, plus Eco, Comfort and Sport drive settings, the later being best when you're pushing for time.

It seems a bit sad towing capacity is only 2000kg with a braked trailer; perhaps some of this limitation is due to the powerplant. For sure, this diesel is far more of a a torque trouper than the alternate petrol, with the transmission improving economy and efficiency, yet it just doesn't impress me as much as it used to.

By comparison, the 2.0-litre four in the Sportage GT Line Urban is a wee gem, not overly muscled, but what it lacks for absolute performance it counterbalances by delivering peppy response and liveliness. It also seems reasonably frugal to run.

Sportage has been in the market for three years, long enough now that you'd think that the distributor would have a very clear idea about who buys this model and what they expect of it; yet there hardly seems to be a month goes by when Kia NZ doesn't seem to have another trim or specification change.

Not that I'm being critical. This latest special blend is a good flavour as taps into a growing consumer demand for less and more.

The 'less' refers to trad SUV abilities; there's an increasing count of buyers whose main driving domain is as the name suggests: Urban. For them, front-drive is fine. What they want more of is luxuries. So this variant ups the game in that respect. The end result is a model that works quite well as a plush higher-riding alternate to an orthodox hatch.

Sportage has been around for long enough for its strengths and weaknesses to be pretty easily defined. The frontal styling still divides opinion, but though extra brightwork and a contrast-coloured skid plate here adds some sophistication. The 19-inch alloys are flairful, too, though this size of rim, when implemented with a firm suspension tune, can make for a slightly busy ride. The price of fashion.

Sportage's interior is solid, but struggles now to attract any particular high praise. The GT Line package adds a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel and the touchscreen now sits flush with its framing trim, which is an improvement, but you can't ignore the budget plastics.

The spec has stepped up with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and active lane keep assist now standard, but you'll still get a blank stare if expecting adaptive cruise control.

Just as welcome for new-age types is that it now also integrates a feature I enjoyed in the Santa Fe: A wireless charge pad. Priorities, right?