Kia Sportage & Renault Koleos: Is being different good enough?

Korean with European influence meets European with Korean/Japanese DNA.

Malaysian car buyers are a funny bunch. We crave for all things new and exciting but when it comes to putting the money where the mouth is, safe brands tend to dominate. Maybe it’s a trust issue, maybe a brand image problem, but with resale values no longer what they are cracked up to be, there’s every reason to broaden the shopping list to include candidates that are otherwise not the usual suspects in the basket of consideration.

Take for instance the Kia Sportage and Renault Koleos; two distinctive-looking, comprehensively-equipped and competitively priced mid-sized SUVs that also happen to come with five-year unlimited warranties. Both have characterful personalities and are produced in South Korea with interesting multi-national origins and inputs, so hear us out.

We can’t see the tiger’s nose, but there are clear hints of the Porsche Macan.
Kia Sportage 2.0 GT 

Try as I might, I can’t see anything resembling a tiger’s nose on the Sportage’s indented grille, yet I’m also curiously drawn to it even if some might find it polarising. What I am seeing though is a courageous remake of the original Schreyer-penned tiger nose grille, now freestanding and entirely separated from the high-mounted, slim-cut headlamps (did I hear someone say Macan?). Suffice to say, it’s good to see a manufacturer changing design tack and staying fresh when others just regurgitate the same old.

sportage_02The Sportage’s new face may look busy at first glance, but the details exude an image that’s both high-tech and sporty, and you’ll never mistake this for the previous one. While it retains the familiar swept-back silhouette (overall length grown just 40mm), there’s a totally new look at the back with LED tail-lamps joined by a reflector-cum-chrome strip, all of which are set on a sculptured tailgate. It looks tasteful.

Sportage GT sits on pretty 19-inch alloys but rides oh-so-pliantly.

The interior is however more restrained compared to the exterior. Nothing grates and the Kia is ergonomically sound with plenty of room for five adults (and luggage) to coexist. But with expectations raised after the attractive exterior, the takeaway from the cabin is one of utility, which isn’t a crime but you’ll quietly wish there’d be more contrasting trim in the predominantly dark interior. Oh, some ambient lighting wouldn’t go amiss either. However, our GT Line-spec car does provide a grippy flat-bottom leather steering wheel (with shift paddles) and an excellent-sounding eight-speaker JBL audio system.

Flat-bottom steering (below) and 8-speaker JBL audio system are part of the GT Line goodies.

sportage_05And then we come to the Sportage’s party trick – the way it drives; or more specifically, the way it rides. Despite wearing low profile 19-inch 45-series tyres (GT Line as tested), the Kia’s ride quality really impresses; it’s taut, composed and remains compliant even when the road surfaces cease to be kind, which could explain why the Sportage is such a popular choice in Europe where motorists cover longer distances than drivers in these parts of the world. Okay, the naturally-aspirated 155hp/192NM 2.0-litre doesn’t offer much poke, but it doesn’t feel slow either since the six-speed auto seems to find the right ratios at the right time. It’s Korean, but the Sportage could easily pass off as something hailing from the continent of Europe.

Head and legroom aplenty within the spacious Sportage cabin.
New corporate grille looks imposing on the Koleos.
Renault Koleos

If the Sportage is a Korean citizen with European ambitions, then the Koleos is a French national with oriental parentage. Not many would have heard of the Busan-based Renault Samsung Motors – formerly Samsung Motors until it was acquired by Renault in 2000 – but this is where the Koleos was developed and currently being produced. It sits on the CFM platform shared between Renault and Nissan, and there’s no surprise in that what lies underneath the Koleos is essentially a front-wheel drive version of the X-Trail powered by a 171hp/226Nm 2.5-litre Nissan four-cylinder.

Koleos is proof that common platform doesn’t mean common aesthetics.

Not that you would confuse the Koleos with an X-Trail visually as just about every external sheet metal is different. It wears the new design language of Renault with its bold, slatted front grille and unmistakable C-shaped light guides that extends well into the bumpers. The Koleos looks confident and commanding, and if one appears in your rearview mirror, you’ll want to move aside. If you chance upon one in traffic up ahead, you’d also want to take a closer look at those expansive LED tail-lamps flanking the diamond shaped Renault emblem. For a shape that’s already familiar on our roads (particularly the greenhouse), Renault has done a fine job in making it look unique. I guess design flair never left the French.


Infotainment interface centered on 8.7-inch R-Link 2 touch display.

But it doesn’t end there. On the inside, you’ll find few carryover parts from the Koleo’s Japanese sibling, instead a tablet-style interface hogs the limelight, along with driver’s instrumentation that’s primarily presented in digital, there’s also multi-colour ambient illumination, even the air-con vents bear no resemblance to an X-Trail’s. The R-Link 2 touch-screen infotainment system isn’t as famous as Volvo’s Sensus, but I can tell you it’s easier to operate thanks to hardware controls for the air-conditioning, along with an interesting range of customisation. The Koleos also eschews the X-Trail’s three-row configuration and fully capitalises on the lengthy wheelbase of 2705mm to offer class-leading legroom for rear passengers. It’s a smart move that befits the Koleo’s upmarket (less soccer mom) image.

Digital speedo and tacho are impressive to look at; flanked by analogue fuel and temperature gauges.

Save for bragging rights, the omission of all-wheel drive on the Koleos probably isn’t going to matter much to urban users. What matters is that it drives much like the X-Trail; the 2.5-litre motor feels torquey while the lag-free Jatco CVT doesn’t hang about when delivering drive to the front wheels, though under full throttle the coarse engine note can intrude. Renault says the suspension was tuned to its specifications and it does show in ride comfort that’s comparable to its mechanical twin, even though the Koleos is sitting on 18-inch alloys, an inch larger than the X-Trail’s.

Koleos not saddled with a third row, so rear passengers get class-leading legroom.
It’s more than just being ‘different’

This isn’t a case where you go and get a Kia or Renault for the sake of being different just so you can stand out from your neighbours (of course, you can do so if you feel that way). That the Sportage and Koleos can do as good a job a CR-V or CX-5 does on a daily basis isn’t in doubt, but over and above the mundane tasks, they offer a high degree of style and personality that’s unique and attractive, one that you should never need to make an excuse for. So, are you ready for change?

Kia Sportage 2.0 GT
Price: RM141,888
Engine: 2.0-litre inline-4, FWD
Output: 155hp @ 6,200rpm, 192Nm @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: 6-sp auto w/ shift paddles
Performance: 0-100km/h in 10.5 seconds, top speed 190km/h (estimated)
Wheels/tyres: 19in alloys, 245/45 R19
Safety: 6-airbags, Electronic Stability Control
Warranty: 5-year / unlimited mileage

Renault Koleos
Price: RM182,800
Engine: 2.5-litre inline-4, FWD
Output: 171hp @ 6,000rpm, 226Nm @ 4,400rpm
Transmission: CVT
Performance: 0-100km/h in 9.5 seconds, top speed 200km/h
Wheels/tyres: 18in alloys, 225/60 R18
Safety: 6-airbags, Electronic Stability Control
Warranty: 5-year / unlimited mileage