Getting noticed on the road: Kia Sportage

Farm Forum

Kia’s entry in the compact crossover utility vehicle class is the Sportage. This is a crowded segment, packed with crossovers that are generally high in quality, but often low in excitement.

CUVs are still more concerned with function than fashion, so few of the choices make much of a statement with their styling. Kia’s Sportage (newly redesigned in 2013) has a clean, angular form, which should help shoppers single it out from the rest of the crossover herd.

Sportage is offered in base, LX, EX and SX trims in front-wheel-drive, prices range from $19,000 to $26,900. All-wheel-drive models are available in LX, EX and SX versions, and priced at $22,700 to $28,400, respectively. My test-driver was an EX with AWD and an as-tested price of $30,800.

Mileage is one of those rare things in life where being over 30 is unquestionably an advantage. But, it’s hard to argue against AWD for improved driving confidence in tough weather. Choosing AWD on the Sportage drops you below the big Three-Oh. However, most people would trade a couple of mpgs for the added traction and peace-of-mind that four-wheel traction provides.

The Sportage AWD system has a locking center differential. Models so equipped operate in FWD mode under normal road conditions. A portion of the available engine torque is transferred to the rear wheels when the system detects — or anticipates — wheel slip. Drivers can also lock in a 50/50 front/rear power distribution at speeds under 25 mph for enhanced stability in low speed, slippery situations (snow, mud, off-road, etc.). As in other on-demand AWD systems, the primary gain is the loss of white knuckles. Drivers notice a truer tracking vehicle, more predictable, hence easier to control.

Sportage base, LX and EX models receive Kia’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. SX models get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four. The turbo 2.0 is rated at 260 horsepower, while the 2.4L checks in with 176 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is the sole option on base models. All others are equipped with a six-speed automatic.

EPA estimates fuel economy at 20/27, city/highway, for the Base model with stick shift. LX and EX automatics are rated at 21/30 (FWD), 20/27 (AWD). The turbo four SX is estimated to return 21/28 (FWD), 20/25 (AWD). My 2.4 AWD EX had decent power, though passing took planning. The engine is generally fairly quiet. It only made itself known when you stepped on its tail for max power.

Sportage is big enough inside to fit adults in both rows. Cargo capacity ranges from 26.1-54.6 cubic feet, depending on how many seats you fold. Rear seat headrests will have to be removed before folding seatbacks, if the front seats are pushed back. Passengers 6-foot and over will need to duck slightly to get underneath the lift back gate. Lift-over height in back is moderate, and since the rear seatbacks don’t fold flush, the load floor isn’t flat.

A good sized, sectioned, storage space under the floor is a nice feature. The adjustable steering wheel houses redundant controls for the audio system. Other switchgear is generally within reach and easy to decipher. The absence of soft touch material detracts from the dashboard, though fit and finish appear fine.

Sportage’s sporty styling extracts a payback in visibility — especially to the rear, thanks to wide C pillars and a smallish rear window. A fully stocked option sheet allows the buyer to add a navigation system, rear view camera/rear obstacle detection and keyless entry/start. MP3, USB and Bluetooth connectivity are standard, while sound system upgrades, HD radio and Sirius satellite radio and traffic are optional. Leather upholstery is offered, as are heated front seats and a ventilated driver’s seat (not front passenger, though).

Standard safety gear includes front and front side airbags, side curtain airbags, traction control, electronic stability control and hill start assist with downhill brake control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution and a rollover protection system.

Sportage offers good value for the dollar, backed up by strong warranty coverage (5-yr/60k basic, 10-yr/100k powertrain, 5-yr/60k roadside assistance). Its right-sized dimensions and handsome looks should help entice buyers to check it out. That’s a plus for the Kia. In a the highly competitive, compact crossover class, it’s tough to get noticed.