The Sportage has been part of Kia's lineup since the mid-1990s, when it was an inexpensive subcompact SUV. In the ensuing years, the Sportage has become larger as a mainstream contender among compact SUVs. Among its many competitors are the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape.
Kia keeps the Sportage model range simple with three trim levels: LX, EX, and SX Turbo. All Sportage models offer a choice of front or optional all-wheel drive. Both LX and EX are powered by a 2.4L inline-4, but the SX Turbo gets a 2.0L turbo. A six-speed automatic sends power to the front wheels, or optionally to all four wheels.
We tested a front-drive Sportage SX Turbo (MSRP $32,700). Standard equipment includes a panoramic sunroof, navigation, Harman/Kardon audio system, leather seats (heated and ventilated in front), heated steering wheel, 19-inch diameter alloy wheels, and LED fog lights. Active safety technologies include rearview camera, rear cross traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning. Although the SX Turbo is comprehensively equipped, the Sportage EX ($25,700) is a lower cost alternative.
The 2.0L turbo in the Sportage is among the highest output engines in a compact SUV. With 240-bhp @ 6,000 RPM and a generous 260 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,450 and 3,500 RPM, the Kia easily overpowers its Japanese and American competition. The all-aluminum inline-4 has dual overhead cams, continuously variable valve-timing and direct injection. The six-speed automatic in the SX Turbo has shorter (numerically higher) ratios in first through third gears, and a shorter 3.320:1 final drive ratio vs. 3.064:1 in non-turbo FWD models. EPA fuel consumption ratings are 21/26 MPG (city/hwy.) for the FWD SX Turbo. We averaged 24 MPG in mixed highway and suburban roads. Opting for all-wheel drive drops the ratings to 20/23 MPG for city and highway.
The Sportage's suspension has no surprises: MacPherson struts coupled to a stabilizer bar in front and a multilink rear setup with coil springs and dampers. Steering is via electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion system with 2.71 turns lock-to-lock. Disc brakes (vented rotors in front) are at all four wheels. The SX Turbo gets larger 12.6 in. diameter front rotors and 11.9 in. diameter rear rotors. ABS and ESC (electronic stability control) are standard. Only the SX Turbo is equipped with 19 in. diameter alloy wheels shod with P245/45R19 all-season Hankook Kinergy GT tires. The LX and EX get 17-inch or 18-inch diameter alloy wheels. Curb weight ranges from 3,666 lbs. to 3,898 lbs. for the SX Turbo.
As befits the top model, the Sportage SX interior is finished to high standard. Dark gray surfaces are offset by gloss black panels on the center console and doors. The padded dash appears appropriately premium. Perforated leather covers the steering wheel rim. Controls for audio, phone and cruise control are integrated on the spokes. The instrument cluster includes a speedometer and tachometer with a multifunction display in the center. Smaller coolant temperature and fuel gauges are integrated within the larger gauges. A large touchscreen on the dash shows audio, navigation data, along with other applications. Buttons and knobs below the display screen allow fast access to commonly used infotainment functions. The climate control panel and heated/ventilated seat controls are directly above the dual 12V outlets, USB port and analog audio inputs on the center console. Next to the shift lever are dual cupholders and storage bins. Under the center armrest is a larger storage compartment. A 12V outlet and USB port are also accessible for rear passengers.
Kia's perforated leather seats provide decent lateral support, but the firm cushions proved uncomfortable for any extended trips. Front headroom is adequate for occupants under 6 ft. tall. Rear seat occupants enjoy ample legroom, but headroom is just as limited as for front passengers. The center passenger position is barely tolerable due to the hard folding armrest in the seatback. An available panoramic sunroof slides back to bring fresh air and light to both the front and rear seats.
The turbo four in the engine bay endows the Sportage with impressive acceleration, an uncommon trait among compact SUVs. When all 260 lb.-ft. are sent through the front wheels, torque steer is inevitable, but less than we expected. A mild tug at the steering wheel reminded us that in wet or snowy conditions, all-wheel drive would minimize wheel spin. Below 1,500 RPM, the 2.0L turbo exhibits mild turbo lag, but torque output and throttle response improve markedly above 2,000 RPM. Using the steering wheel paddles, the 6-speed automatic snaps off quick shifts. Alternately, floor the throttle and the transmission downshifts promptly.
Around curves, the Sportage exhibits moderate body roll like most of its competition. The firm suspension tuning results in a jittery ride on lumpy roads, but body motions are tightly controlled, so the Sportage maintains its relatively precise handling. The steering assist is tuned for moderate effort and provides good feedback of road surfaces. With its all-disc brakes, the Sportage stops with assurance. A progressive brake pedal ensures smooth stops.
Kia's redesigned Sportage is a thoroughly competent compact SUV in a very crowded segment. Attractive pricing used to be a Kia attribute, but the Sportage SX Turbo is actually as expensive as its Japanese and American competition. The SX Turbo is certainly one of the most fun-to-drive compact SUVs, but its pricing places it among midsize SUVs. We think that most Kia customers will find the Sportage EX a superior value.