Kia's new Sportage gets a heavy dose of technology in its 2011 edition, with a trio of technologies the company thinks will appeal to a whole new set of buyers.
The new Sportage is being tasked with moving out of the crossover bargain basement and into a richer market segment filled with 20-something guys who love music--and make enough money to afford it in all its forms, from downloads to concert tickets to high-end audio hardware.
To accommodate those tastes and at the same time, catch up with companies like Ford in the in-car technology race, Kia's adopting a flavor of the same Microsoft technology that powers the Ford SYNC system. Here it's called Uvo, and it's been shown off at tech events like the annual CES convention to seed the ground for a transformation of Kia's image along more cutting-edge lines.
We told you earlier this year that Uvo does much of what Ford's SYNC does. Users can answer and place phone calls, send and receive SMS text messages, and access music via voice commands. It even allows different voice profiles, and supports natural-language prompts like, "What's playing?" And thanks to an upgrade to Microsoft's underlying infomation architecture, the Uvo system comes out of the box with a much richer command list than did Ford's first version of SYNC. Now, the bigger list of commands (which SYNC has also added) lets drivers drill down into playlists, genres, media types and even artists in a single voice command--like, "AM 1130" or, maybe less often these days, "Artist Amy Winehouse."
Bluetooth streaming is included in the system, and it relieves owners of having to spring for a special $39 cable to connect all the functions of their iPod or iPhone to the Sportage. We're mixed on the performance of Bluetooth streaming, but there's no denying its safety hook. When Bluetooth streaming is enabled, drivers can also control playlists, search and seek, and other functions from steering-wheel controls. You can't do that on a similar Toyota with Bluetooth streaming, and enabling those functions from day one is a conscious effort, Kia says, to keep drivers' hands on the wheel instead of having to pick up and manipulate the music player.
It's even more important when you consider the features that are coming in the near future. Down the road, Kia will expand Uvo service to include plug-ins for social media. An app-based system will allow users to let Uvo read back their Twitter feeds, Facebook updates and RSS feeds--even prompt the system to deliver an automated response if need be.
The Uvo will be joined by real-time traffic through Sirius, another feature the system will have in common with Ford (no surprise, given the number of ex-Ford folks wandering the halls at Hyundai/Kia these days). And Kia's also due to offer mobile hotspot connectivity in the Sportage via a USB dongle. Rolling WiFi is emerging as a trend, with Chrysler and Subaru offering it on their vehicles as well--but it does raise the question of how new data caps from 3G providers like AT&T and Verizon will affect the budding technology.
Stay tuned - we'll have a full review of the 2011 Kia Sportage shortly. If you're curious, or haven't seen Uvo or SYNC in action, here's a quick clip from our Sportage drive and a high-definition demonstration by Microsoft: