Kia has upgraded and enlarged its Sportage small sport-ute to keep it competitive with the likes of Subaru’s Forester, Honda’s CR-V, Ford’s Escape and Toyota’s RAV4.
This is an extremely competitive market with many good products, but Kia maintains its strong styling edge and then lengthens Sportage’s wheelbase from 103.9 inches to 105.1 to give it an even better ride than before. It’s right up there with the top small utes now for comfort.
I tested a beautiful “Burnished Copper” Sportage SX AWD, the top-level model. The color reminds me of my family’s handsome 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass S that was decked out in “Aztec Gold.” Great to see some gold tones return to automotive color lineups.
Ride and power are Sportage’s strengths. While the longer wheelbase and re-tuned suspension give it a well-controlled ride with no harsh moments, the power is impressive. The SX model features a high-revving turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 with an impressive 241 horsepower and 260 ft.-lbs. of torque. Same engine is used in Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport.
Cruising around town you don’t need that power often, but when zipping up to highway speeds it’s fun to kick in the turbo and boogey down the entry ramp. A smooth six-speed automatic uses the power well too.
All this is in Normal drive mode. A button on the console allows you to kick it down to Eco to save fuel and power, or up to Sport for higher engine revs and more torque off the line. While there’s plenty when you jam the accelerator in Normal mode, the Sportage turns muscle SUV when Sport is engaged.
The down side is the already heavy steering in Sportage become even stiffer in Sport mode. Some drivers may find that tiring.
Plus handling wasn’t as good in this test SUV as in my previous Sportage drive, despite Kia’s work to improve its electric power steering. Steering feel was actually better on the previous model I drove, steering here was heavy, even in Normal drive mode, and there’s a fair amount of body lean in turns, even in mild city street driving.
I remain surprised at Sportage’s mediocre gas mileage too. Many car makers use small displacement engine with turbo for their power, but also because they usually get better gas mileage. Conventional wisdom is that around town when you’re not needing, or using, the turbo so much, the vehicle will get better gas mileage. Not so much here.
I got just 21.6 miles per gallon while the EPA rates the SX model at just 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. That’s not great. A 2.4-liter, 181-horse I4 is standard in the base LX and mid-level EX models. It’s rated at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. However, in a drive a few years ago I managed just 19.5 mpg with that more efficient engine.
By way of comparison, the best I’ve had in small utes of late is the Subaru Forester at 26.4 mpg and Toyota RAV4 at 26.1 mpg. A Mazda CX-5 got 24.6 mpg and a Ford Escape 22.6 mpg. All had less power than this model though.
Braking was fine and the Sportage has stability and traction control and while front-drive is available, this model had all-wheel-drive, a plus in sloppy weather.
Sportage features a pleasant, handsome interior, the SX featuring black leather seating and a gray headliner. The leather seats are mildly contoured with gray stitching to give them a high-quality look, plus the driver’s seat is powered and includes a power lumbar support.
The dash is well laid out and while its 23 buttons may seem a bit much, they are logically arranged and well labeled so easy to use while the SUV is in motion. The SX also comes with an 8-inch touchscreen for the radio and navigation system. A 5-inch is standard on the LX and 7-inch on the EX. The screen splits so you can see both navigation and radio, although around town I preferred the full radio screen for ease of adjustment.
Seats in the SX also are both heated and ventilated up front and the steering wheel is heated, a major plus in winter.
Kia loads up the SX with all the electronics that you usually expect to pay more for these days, a lane departure system, blind-spot warning system and rear cross traffic alert. A rearview camera is standard on all Sportage models.
There’s also a giant panoramic sunroof in the SX, with sun-blocking sunshade. In back are split rear seats that fold flat to extend the cargo floor, already a generous 30.7 cubic feet, up from the previous model. With seats down that expands to 60.1 cubic feet. This model also features a power hatch.
While a few small SUVs have more cargo room, space feels plentiful here and there’s good head and legroom front and rear for four adult passengers. The rear seatbacks also include several angle adjustments to make for better long-distance ride comfort.
A few other pluses include sun visors that slide, a roomy open bin below the center stack. That area also features two 12-volt hookups, plus an auxiliary outlet and USB. The back seat has 12-volt and USB outlets too.
With the turbo engine the Sportage also will tow 2,000 lbs., so small trailer hauling is possible.
Pricing is moderate, although up quite a bit from my drive a few years back. The base LX starts at $23,885 with the 2.4-liter engine that’s rated at 21 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Moving to AWD model raises that to $25,385.
The EX with front-drive starts at $26,395, while the tested SX lists at $34,000. Add the $895 delivery fee and this one settled at $34,895. That’s still a moderate price for a fully loaded small SUV, but again, you’ll be spending more on gas with this one.
FAST STATS: 2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD
Hits: Good looking ute with major power and good ride. Comfy seats, a well laid out dash, giant sunroof, heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, all the bells and whistles too and a power hatch. Feels roomy with good cargo space.
Misses: Heavy steering and some body lean in turns, plus mediocre gas mileage
Made in: South Korea
Engine: 2.0-liter I4, turbo, 241 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,765 lbs.
Length: 176.4 in.
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Tow: 2,000 lbs.
MPG: 20/23 (EPA)
MPG: 21.6 (tested)
Base Price: $34,000
Invoice: $33,083 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $34,895
Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage