For what started out as a "cheap and cheerful" brand at the bargain-basement end of the South African market two decades ago, Kia has come a long way. When the Korean marque launched here in 1998 with the humble Pride hatchback, it sold only 310 units in its first year. Today Kia Motors SA sells that amount in a week. The brand was initially considered something of a poor cousin to Hyundai, which has a 33.88% stake in Kia, and for a while it trotted out well-priced but stylistically challenged vehicles like the Spectra, Sportage and Picanto. But the tide turned in 2006 with the appointment of Peter Schreyer as chief design officer. The German, famous for styling cars like the Audi TT and new-generation VW Beetle, turned Kia into a more aspirational brand almost overnight. With the introduction of the now iconic "tiger nose" grille and swoopy new curves, the new-generation Kia Sportage and Rio shed their formerly dreary clothes and adopted eye-catching designs that could share the sp...

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