Apart from the revitalised rollout of the B-Segment Seltos that was half-heartedly brought into the Malaysian market at the time of its initial launch in early 2021, the Kia line-up under new local distributors Bermaz will be graced by the larger Niro for the first time as well as the newest 4th-gen Sportage, but how effectively can the pair take the fight to the Proton X70 and Honda CR-V?
Just like most other Malaysians having their 2021 plans sidetracked by even more days spent under lockdown, Bermaz is looking to spring back with quite a few models from their newly allied brands Peugeot and Kia. Ironically, one of the Niro/ Sportage’s biggest competitors will also be the Peugeot 3008.
However, while the French SUV is a few years into its life-cycle, Kia has only recently (in late November 2021) revealed their all-new 2nd-generation Niro, promising some bold styling inspired by the HabaNiro concept of 2019, the use of eco-friendly interior materials, and an interesting assortment of tech and powertrain options.
Being one of the newest Kias out there, there’s definitely speculation as to whether operations at Bermaz’s own CKD plants are up to the task of local assembly, especially if the rumoured introduction of plug-in hybrid and fully electric versions of the Niro are to arrive in showrooms before too long.
In its previous incarnation, the Niro was Kia’s spearhead into electrified vehicles, utilising an 8.9kWh battery supplying a 44PS electric motor that, when paired alongside a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, produced a combined output of 141PS and 264Nm that was sent to the front wheels via an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission while boasting an electric-only range of around 42km.
Those figures are still pretty spot-on with 2022 standards, especially with the Niro straddling the line between the B and C-Segment in terms of size and value.
That being said, Kia, themselves have yet to fully detail the full spread of variants, trim levels, and technical information of what exactly lies under its bonnet. Still, it’s reasonable to assume that it will be some permutation of their already existing PHEV and EV inventory. The Hyundai Kona Electric, for example, will likely have its EV innards transplanted into the newest Kia Niro EV.
Things are a little less hazy with regard to the Kia Sportage (NQ5), another nameplate that Bermaz is keen to bring back to Malaysia. Just like the Niro, the C-Segment Sportage in its newest 5th-generation guise had made its international reveal earlier in 2021 and was unsurprisingly very similar to the 4th-generation Hyundai Tucson (NX4) - its sister model - on a technical level.
Both feature a selection of combustion-only as well as parallel hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. We’re likely to see the Sportage arrive with the 2.0-litre Smartstream G20 naturally aspirated petrol and/or a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot (also rebranded Smartstream from T-GDI) with up to 179PS and 265Nm.
A likely candidate to sit at the top of the Sportage’s local range is the PHEV, which pairs that same 1.6-litre turbo with a beefy 90PS electric motor for a combined output of 265PS and 350Nm and will likely be trimmed out in the sportier GT or GT-Line interior/ exterior cosmetics.
Naturally, Bermaz, seeing the importance of advanced driver aids rise in the eyes of Malaysian buyers, will probably prioritise the inclusion of active safety features in both the Niro and Sportage for 2022, perhaps even if the cars make their initial landfall here as fully imported units.
Prospective customers are already spoiled for choice with regard to B and C-Segment SUVs, and though the incoming high-riding Kias make for a formidable trio, it could struggle against established rivals if their debut is marred by unattractive pricing.
So far, Bermaz has successfully shepherded Mazda as the automaker transitioned into a more mature, upmarket brand with their own range of ‘CX’ SUVs being consistently popular here. Can the same be replicated for Kia and, by extension, Peugeot?
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.