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The great sugarland escape

Kia Negros Exploration 2016

Manila-based motoring writers join KIA Motors Philippines President Ginia Domingo (center, in pink) for a photo opportunity with the Sportage GT.

Manila-based motoring writers join KIA Motors Philippines President Ginia Domingo (center, in pink) for a photo opportunity with the Sportage GT.

It’s undeniable that there’s an industry boom in the automotive sector. The tremendous growth of 20 percent increase in annual sales of vehicles is being blamed for the monstrous traffic, particularly in Metro Manila. So if brand new cars are the cause of heavy traffic, then why buy one, or two, or three?

What is the sense behind having all those powerful engines and advanced features if they cannot be enjoyed because the vehicle can only move at a snail’s pace in almost every corner of the metropolis?

This was the reason behind the holding of the KIA Negros Exploration 2016 when the executives of the Korean automaker led by its president, Ginia Domingo, hauled about 15 motoring journalists, including this writer, from Metro Manila to ‘Sugarlandia’ to allow us to experience driving and riding the latest models without obstructions.

In Bacolod City where the number of vehicles doubled in the past few years, the road networks in the adjacent towns remained clear and perfect for test drives.

Courtesy of the Kia dealership in Bacolod, owned by the father-and-son team of Peter and Jan Po, we drove new units of Sportage compact SUV, a Sorento SUV, a Soul, Carnival luxury vans, a Forte compact hatch and a Picanto mini hatchback, more than 250 kilometers from the capital city to Dumaguete with speeds that were impossible to do in Metro Manila traffic.

Aware of the nice long stretches, the motoring scribes grappled for the Carnival and Sportage which are both known for their superb riding comfort. For the young blood, they opted for the Soul for a high-spirited drive. However, many of us locked our eyes on the new Sportage 2.0-liter GT CRDi. With its all-new design, the new Sportage 2.0 GT is a testament on how Korean car technology and design can match the standards of European, American and Japanese brands but with competitive pricing.

Quiet but powerful, masculine-looking but tame at heart, the new Sportage knows when to behave and when to play with its responsive throttle control and precise steering characteristics. Adding up to its athletic stance are the 19-inch stylish wheels. This fourth generation Sportage is blessed with a sportier equipment like the ‘ice cube’ daytime running lights and uniquely-shaped grille, giving this beast a meaner stance than its predecessor.

In the rolling hills and twisty roads leading to Dumaguete, the Sportage GT Line’s body control was impressive, keeping us in command of the vehicle at any situation. Taking curves at high speed was easy with the all-wheel-drive system that kept the Sportage amazingly steady, neither oversteering or understeering.

From the driver’s seat, maneuvering the Sportage GT gives the feeling of driving a sports sedan with paddle shifts that control its Tiptronic. Take it easy on the pedal because there is so much more torque than you would expect.

The Sportage GT 2.0-L CRDi is so fun to drive that none of us — me, Ira Panganiban of Wheels Magazine or Dino Directo of The Manila Standard — wanted to change cars during interval stops en route to the target area.

Who can blames us? Even if we get the chance to bring the new Sportage GT home for a week-long test drive in Metro Manila, the driving fun is not gonna be the same as compared to the Negros exploration feat where most of the road stretches are clear and inviting for high speed runs.