|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Arriving at the Silay-Bacolod International Airport, the Sportage GT-Line, Soul, Forte, Sportage AWD, Sorento, and Grand Carnival all stood ready to ferry us to the first destination: Kia Bacolod. While feasting on authentic chicken inasal, the event marshals led by veteran racer Pepon Marave laid down the itinerary for the first day: a 250-kilometer drive that’ll take us from Bacolod to Dumaguete. As the luck of the draw would have it, Angel Rivero and I, had the Sportage AWD as our first vehicle.
Opting to be a passenger, we bucked up for the drive down to Dumaguete via San Carlos. As Angel made use of the Sportage’s broad torque curve to keep up with the convoy, I started fiddling around the interior of this fourth-generation model. Photos don’t do it justice, but the interior is actually spacious, offering good amounts of shoulder and leg room. The manual air conditioning system is quite adept in handling the midday summer heat although the 1980’s music on the pre-prepared USB stick does reveal something about Pepon’s peculiar taste in music.
A third of the way in, it’s time to swap drivers and cars. Going in sequential order, my first driving duty was behind the wheel of the Grand Carnival. Blending comfort with style, the cavernous interior was just too hard to resist that two cameramen hopped aboard to “take some shots”. Apparently, a few minutes in, I found out that was just their code for “taking a nap”. And who could blame them? The Grand Carnival simply glided though the rough patches and road cuts like they weren’t there. And more than once, Pepon actually mentioned that over the two-way radio. Despite the large size, it’s assuring enough to drive through the expected understeer and light steering do make themselves evident. While not a corner carver, it devoured the miles effortlessly with its powerful yet efficient 2.2-liter diesel engine and 80-liter fuel tank.
As the sun was beginning to set, it was time to switch to the final car of the day: the Sorento. Sharing the same engine and being lighter by a hundred kilos compared to the Grand Carnival, the Sorento’s added performance made itself evident after just a few hundred meters. In a straight line, it felt lighter allowing for more explosive overtaking maneuvers. Great in a straight line, the suspension was clearly tuned more for comfort than handling. This meant it could glide through potholes easily but understeered through corners. The added all-wheel drive system though gave me more confidence to power through a corner midway with more gusto than the Grand Carnival, but again, this isn’t a canyon carver.
Reaching Dumaguete just in time for dinner, the group headed first to Casablanca, the first fine dining establishment in the “City of Gentle People” before calling it a night at the oldest hotel of Negros Oriental, the La Residencia Almar Hotel.
Day Two started quite early because of the excursion by boat to Sumilon Island in Cebu. Taking the Forte 5 for a short 10-minute drive to Sibulan Port, everyone jumped onto outrigger boats for the 75-minute boat ride to the country’s first marine protected area. The 24-hectare coral island is best known for its shifting sandbar. After the hearty lunch, some took the opportunity to do some snorkeling, scuba diving, or even clandestine photo taking of girls in two-piece bikinis. Before sun down, everyone called it a day and went back to the main island of Negros for the night.
The final day of the trip was similar to the first day: a drive back to Bacolod, but this time using a shorter route through Mabinay and a new set of vehicles to drive. This time, I got to try the new Sportage GT-Line. Tuned as close as possible to its namesake, the Sportage doesn’t have an ounce of waft. The moment I sat in, it felt much more driver-focused with the small diameter, flat-bottomed steering wheel and short, stubby shifter. The seating position is more akin to a hot hatch than to a SUV, a fact that can turn some people off, but excellent visibility make it much more fun to drive.
The first part of the drive back to the City of Smiles had long straights with light traffic. In this setting, the Sportage had enough grunt to blast past 150 km/h effortlessly and in the process actually made a sizeable gap to the next car in the covoy, the Soul. It was also remarkably quiet and refined at speed with no hint of diesel clatter. In fact, it felt much more refined than the Forte 5. As the flat plains turned into mountainous roads, the high-performance dampers, beefier brakes, and all-wheel drive kept me pointed in the right direction. It does understeer at the limit, but adding just a tad more steering angle while shaving off speed does quell it. It rides noticeably firmer than the other Kia vehicles (including the non-GT-Line Sportage), but not enough to call it uncomfortable.
The final part of the journey meant swapping to the funky Soul. This boxy crossover may not look any different from before, but underneath, it features a new gearbox that pairs with its 1.6-liter CRDi engine. A 7-speed dual clutch automatic replaces the old 6-speed automatic and despite being down some 60 horsepower to the Sportage, I could easily keep up as long as I wasn’t afraid to bury the throttle. The gearbox itself is noticeably smoother than other dual clutch system, but it’s tuned more towards fuel efficiency as even a heavy right foot won’t be enough to coax a downshift. Paddle shifters would have been a welcome addition in this case.
After a late lunch at Ading’s in Bacolod, it was off for the evening flight back to Manila.
The Kia Negros Exploration 2016 helps awaken the sense of patriotism and pride that we Filipinos should have with our country. With the right vehicle (or set of vehicles), it becomes a perfect platform to discover the many gems our country has to offer. Through activities such as these, I’ve learned to see and appreciate what the country has to offer. And in the company of colleagues and friends, they become a much more memorable experience.
And now, Kia Philippines is offering you and two other sets of lucky winners the chance to drive the all-new Sportage in the ultimate road trip for four. Simply log-on to this website, answer the questions, and upload a photo of you and your family or friends that you’ll take with you on that road trip on the website.