With 2011 Sportage R, Hyundai-Kia Engages a Rare “4WD” Mode

October 22nd, 2010 | Posted in Hyundai | Kia | New Cars

Hyundai-Kia has been extraordinarily successful in China, where it has a 10% market share, accounting for 1/5 of its global sales, in the first three quarters of this year. But many frown upon its winning strategy. Having not enough new models, it populates market with not only parallel, Hyundai/Kia lineups, made up of mechanical twins like Accent-Rio, Elantra-Forte, Sonata-Optima, but also outdated models, those of previous generations, sold as new.

While automakers routinely do either of these two things in China (notably VW and GM), producing mechanical twins and selling outdated models as new, none has done both so consistently as Hyundai-Kia. Beijing-Hyundai has already completed doubling its lineup by retaining outdated models (Accent-Verna, Elantra-Yuedong, Tucson-ix35, Sonata Moinca-Lingxiang), and Kia is halfway through doing so. The inevitable result is quadrupling.

Quadrupling first happened to the Elantra compact sedan (Elantra-Yuedong-Cerato-Forte). Now with the release of Sportage R, or the third generation Sportage, on Wednesday, the Korean auto group has also made Elantra’s SUV sibling run as a combination of four: Hyundai Tucson and ix35 (second generation Tucson) together with Kia Sportage and Sportage R, all on the new car market at the same time.

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Sportage R was given a new name, Zhipao, to distinguish it from, and play down its connection with, the second generation Sportage. Besides styling upgrades, Sportage R gets better engines: a 2.0-liter rated at 120kW/6200rpm and 194Nm/4600rpm, and a 2.4-liter at 128kW/6000rpm and 226Nm/4000rpm. The 2.0L models are available in three trims–GL (FWD), GLS (FWD and 4WD), Premium (FWD); the 2.4L come only as 4WD in GLS and Premium editions.

A few advanced features are added, such as cruise control, dual zone AC, and automatic lights, to further justify a price gap of around 20,000 yuan between the 2011 Sportage R and existing Sportage.

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Compared with ix35, Sportage R is equipped and priced a notch below. For instance, cruise control is found on 2.0L GLS ix35 but not 2.0L GLS Sportage R, which sells for 3,000 yuan less.

Why can this be a winning strategy? The reason seems simple: in China, Hyundai-Kia intends to compete with native players which offer comparably equipped models for less. The otherwise outdated models like the second generation Sportage can continue to serve effectively at reduced prices, taking on cheap models of local brands like Chery Tiggo, Zotye 5008, and Great Wall H5. However, as home-grown automakers are quickly catching up, one wonders for how much longer the outdated can be as good as new.

For more photos and details of Sportage R, please click here.

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