Kia Sportage: Compact crossover all-new for 2017

Staff reports
Farm Forum

An all-new Kia Sportage debuts for 2017 bigger. The fourth generation of Kia’s compact crossover utility vehicle is available in three trim levels (LX, EX, SX), with starting prices ranging from $25,500 to $32,500. My test drive was in a top-ranging SX AWD, with an as-delivered price of $34,895.

Sportage styling combines a rather angry-looking front end with an otherwise conventional crossover body. Sportage 4.0 is a little wider (.8 inches) and longer (1.2 inches) than the Gen 3 version. Cargo capacity increases 3.6 cubic feet over last year’s model. But, the total (30.1-60.1 cubic-feet, depending on seat configuration) still lags competitors in this segment like CR-V, RAV4, Escape, and Forester. The rear seatbacks fold flat, the load floor is height-adjustable, and low enough for easy loading. The Kia’s back-seat legroom improves to 38.2 inches, which is better than all but two of the previously mentioned models. Practically speaking, Sportage is now large enough inside to hold 6-foot tall occupants in both rows.

Overall, the interior presents a quality feel yet a fairly subdued look (especially in the case of my Kia tester, owing to the black-on-black color scheme). As one would expect at this price point, the SX was well equipped. This trim level packs in every available Kia option except all-wheel drive (which can be added to any model for an additional $1,500).

Among the many features included are a navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen and voice controls, rear view camera, a harmon-kardon premium sound system, satellite radio, and Android Auto smartphone integration (but not Apple CarPlay, as of this writing). Beneath the touchscreen are layers of conventional controls, happily straightforward to operate. Heated and ventilated front seats are leather trimmed. Overhead is a panoramic moonroof; outside, 19-inch alloy wheels. The array of SX standard safety technology includes blind spot detection, lane change assist, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, front/rear parking assist, and autonomous emergency braking.

LX and EX models are fitted with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 182 horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy estimates are up for 2017, with the EPA predicting 22 miles per gallon city and 29 highway for an AWD model. That’s a 3 mpg improvement in both city/highway modes, compared to last year.

The Sportage SX has sportier intentions, and gets a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood. The 241 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque that it generates are substantially higher than the base engine, but curiously, they’re also lower (-19 and -9, respectively) than the former SX engine.

Kia sacrificed some power in search of smoothness and improved fuel economy. The engine is still quick — the trip from 0-to-60 mph takes about 7 seconds — and perhaps smoother, but there’s no appreciable gain in mpg. This year’s EPA ratings for the turbo are 20/23/21 (AWD). An increase in gas tank size (now 16.4 gallons) does at least increase the theoretical cruising range of the SX to 344 miles (formerly 321).

Selectable drive modes (Normal, Sport, Eco) each have their own mapping for throttle response and shift points. Maximum towing capability of 2,000 pounds is above the norm for compact crossovers, though considerably behind the segment-leading Escape (3,500 pounds). Both engine choices are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

While the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 are the sportiest of the current class of compact crossovers, Sportage — in SX trim — handles capably. Ride quality, which had previously been knocked in some quarters for its stiffness, has now been softened.

As mentioned, Kia’s all-wheel-drive system is optional on all trim levels. This is an on-demand setup; Sportage operates in front-wheel-drive mode under normal road conditions. Whenever the system detects/expects wheel slip, a portion of the available engine torque is transferred from front to rear wheels as necessary to improve traction.

The closest that the typical, compact crossover gets to off-road driving is when someone misjudges a U-turn, and plows through the neighbor’s petunias. So, while it’s not likely that Sportage will be called upon for all-terrain travel, all-weather capability is key to the appeal of this class of vehicle in Snow Belt states. An AWD system like this is a winter weather confidence booster. Drivers can also lock the center differential in a fixed, 50/50 front/rear power distribution (at speeds under 25 mph) for enhanced stability in low speed, slippery situations (snow, mud, off-road, etc.).