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Sportage sets new Kia design direction

New look: Kia designer Massimo Fraschella with his creation, the new Sportage.

More Euro-look styles are coming as Kia differentiates itself from rival Hyundai

9 Aug 2010

KIA is banking on a crisp and elegant design language to help set its vehicles apart from sister brand Hyundai’s recently ‘Fluidic Sculpture’ styling themes.

The just-released third-generation Sportage compact SUV is the first Kia to fully adopt the new-look elements, which include a clamshell bonnet, ‘Tiger Nose’ grille, raked windscreen, low roofline, wide stance, high shoulder line, narrow side windows, thick pillars and a clean surface tension.

Next up wearing the new-look Kia couture will be December’s long overdue Magentis midsized sedan replacement, the Optima, while the Rio replacement – dubbed UB – will lob into Australia in May 2011.

A Kia insider hinted that a three-door Sportage ‘coupe’ might also be in the pipeline.

But while these and other future Kias will continue to be based on Fluidic Sculpture Hyundais (the Sportage and Optima are rebodied versions of the ix35 and i45 respectively) for foreseeable future, the two competing brands’ design philosophy could not be more different, says Kia design manager and the person responsible for the SL Sportage’s styling, Massimo Fraschella.

The 39-year-old former Bertone and Ford/Premier Automobile Group – now based at Kia’s Design Centre in California – was speaking to GoAuto Media at the Sportage’s launch in New Zealand earlier this month.

“Kia really a new company – a new concept. And it is our job to differentiate us from Hyundai – and this is a directive from upper management to do so,” Mr Fraschella said.

17 center imageFrom top: Kia Optima, Kia Ray concept, Kia Cerato.

“So I am very happy with the direction that we are taking. It is going to be an extremely high quality of design.

“We believe in clear design direction, a strong design identity. You should be able to recognise a Kia from a distance. And details like the daytime driving lights will help differentiate a Kia (from some others).

“I like sharp definition on a car. Soft, warm surfacing with hard, defined edges – crispness is the key. A car needs tension.

“Our cars are like an Italian suit – clean, strong we feel it is the right formula for a longer lifespan.”

Mr Fraschella revealed that while Kia’s other recent debutantes – the TD Cerato sedan and Koup, AM Soul, and XM Sorento – share some visual elements like the grille, their designs were locked in for production before the then-new design team led by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer could make any changes on his arrival in 2007.

He added that a complete visual breakaway from the previous, conservatively styled Sportage released in 2005 was another big priority.

“We wanted a more coupe-like SUV with this Sportage … because there is a market for this type of SUV,” Mr Fraschella said.

“If you want to differentiate from the others then you must do this. We wanted nothing (in the new car) to resemble the old model.

“I imagined myself as the target customer for this car.”

Although he said that no particular model of the past springs to mind as an inspiration for the latest Sportage, he cites the original TT from 1998 as one of this favourites (“the Bauhaus era of Audi”) while the Italian has always adored the styling of the Lancia Stratos.

Nevertheless, Mr Fraschella is realistic about the perception of the Korean company in the marketplace, admitting that it may take a long time before Kia is associated with the sort of good industrial design that sets others like Audi apart from their competitive pack.

“We drew a line in the sand three years ago and we literally built a new brand since. Only the name and the badge were carried over,” he said.

“In terms of quality of design it will take years for the public to see this. The new Optima and Sportage are the first cars that will express this.

“But Kia needs more iconic product to get people’s attention, to make people really aware of the brand.”

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