Kia has finally replaced the Sportage, the model that put the Korean company on the map in the U.S. back in the mid-'90s. However, the all-new Kia Sportage is entirely different from the previous model as it is based off a car platform instead of being a traditional body-on-frame truck-based model as in the past.
Although the Sportage is derived from the Hyundai Tucson it has different styling and Kia has tuned the suspension so it delivers slightly sportier, crisper driving characteristics.
The added performance from the V6 engine offers the best bang for the buck and if you can afford the extra $1,200 for a model with 4WD that is the best value of all. Even with a V6 the Sportage ends up being considerably less expensive than the similar sized Honda CR-V and the smaller Toyota RAV4, both of which are only available with four-cylinder engines.
Even more important is that the Sportage offers more safety features as standard equipment than other vehicles selling in this price range.
At a glance, the Kia Sportage looks just like all the other small SUVs on the market. Yet upon closer examination it's possible to see there are some styling cues that give it some character.
For starters, it does not look much like its kid brother, the Hyundai Tucson. Instead, if we're comparing its look to others it has a nose somewhat similar to the Land Rover Freelander and a rear three-quarter side view not unlike that of a Honda CR-V. Neither are bad company to keep. The clever way in which the two roof rack side rails continue down the back of the vehicle to the top edge of the tail lights is the most striking feature of the exterior design.
A long wheelbase relative to its overall length gives the Sportage short overhangs front and rear. This results in a more sporty look and better clearance during off-road travel. In fact, the Sportage is relatively short overall. Among its closest rivals only the Toyota RAV4 is shorter in overall length. The CR-V is 10 inches longer overall. Yet the Sportage matches the CR-V's long wheelbase. In theory, a longer wheelbase offers better stability on the highway.
Apart from the badge the only thing to distinguish the EX from the LX is the use of side cladding with fender flares, which is finished in unobtrusive body color. The front and rear bumpers are deep for additional protection.
Overall the Sportage gets good marks for a clean and functional exterior look that will not offend anyone and yet has a beguiling look that belies its low cost.
The all-new Kia Sportage offers generous interior space for passengers and cargo, a benefit of its long wheelbase. Its design also allows the doors to be wider than they might otherwise be for better access, especially in the rear seats. The Honda CR-V is the only close competitor with greater rear seat leg room, and it's a much longer vehicle.
Front-seat occupants get decent bucket seats with good side support. Sportage models with automatic transmissions get a large center console with a big armrest. A hook to the right of the center stack is provided for holding a purse or shopping bag. Plenty of cup holders and storage nooks and crannies make for a convenient cabin.
The dashboard is neatly laid out with a small instrument panel in front of the steering wheel with a large speedometer in the center, a smaller tachometer to the left and the water temperature and gas gauge in a combined matching gauge to the right. All are easy to read. The center stack is located high up so the large knobs for climate controls and stereo system can be reached easily. Overall the interior look, as one would expect, is not luxurious, but neither is it cheap looking.
Rear-seat passengers will find getting in and out is fairly easy as the rear wheel arch does not encroach into the door opening as much as on many small vehicles. There is also a decent amount of head and leg room for a vehicle this size. Even more impressive is the fact the rear seats can be reclined up to 18 degrees for increased comfort, a feature usually only found on expensive luxury cars.
If it is cargo you want to carry the Sportage delivers the goods. First the back of front passenger seat folds down providing a table top for the driver and allowing for carrying long objects. The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds down almost flat without having to remove the headrests, which is a great convenience. Kia calls the arrangement "Drop & Fold" as the lower seat cushion automatically moves forward and down when the seat back is released resulting in an almost flat floor.
There is also a rear cargo storage area under the floor for holding tools or hiding valuables. A rear cargo cover (standard on the EX and optional on the LX) hides things in the back when the rear seats are in use. A net is also included to keep things from moving around on the floor.
The window in the rear tailgate can be opened independently so small packages or grocery bags can be placed inside without having to lift up the whole tailgate.
Most vehicles in this segment are powered by four-cylinder engines and consequently tend to be underpowered, especially with automatic transmission and 4WD. The answer is a larger V6 engine, as offered in the Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty. However, that adds several thousand dollars to the sticker price.
Kia offers a V6 engine in the Sportage that ends up costing no more than a four-cylinder model from Honda or Toyota. That's why Kia expects the V6-powered LX model to be the most popular model in the lineup.
Because of this we concentrated on trying out the V6 models during a day of driving over various roads along the California coast north of San Francisco. But first we were lucky enough to get our hands on a four-cylinder LX model with automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
Driving up the hilly streets in downtown San Francisco we found the four-cylinder Sportage LX was fine as long as you pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor and didn't mind listening to a high-revved four banger. The Sportmatic automatic transmission lets the driver shift manually when desired, allowing him or her to keep the engine revving in one gear. From a performance point of view the four-cylinder engine is fine if you drive solo and spend most of your time around town.
We found the ride on the rough sections of San Francisco streets commendable. The Sportage is no sports car, but the handling is competent. Like a car, the Sportage rides on a four-wheel independent suspension.
We were pleased to discover that the ride and handling of a 4WD Sportage EX was all but identical to that of the base 2WD LX model, so there is no ride/handling penalty for adding the V6 and 4WD components. What's more impressive is that the fuel consumption from the V6, which only drops by three miles to the gallon, according to the EPA figures.
The 4WD system is sophisticated enough to direct the power to the wheels with the best grip. We didn't get the opportunity to drive in any real off-road conditions, but think it should work well in all but the toughest rock climbing environments. In normal dry driving conditions the permanent 4WD system directs up to 99 percent of the power to the front wheels only. The center differential can be locked for really slippery conditions, splitting power 50/50 front to rear. We drove down one fairly rough dirt track and found the ride was considerably smoother than in a sports car we happened to drive on the same track.
Overall, we had no complaints about the steering feel or the braking characteristics especially considering this is an inexpensive SUV with good cargo and passenger carrying capabilities. True, it's not a sports sedan nor does it feel like a truck. In reality, the Sportage is a really good in-between vehicle that should satisfy the majority of people who need an easy-to-handle vehicle that does not take up too much space on the road or in the parking lot.
The all-new Kia Sportage is a welcome addition to the segment as it offers a comprehensive set of safety features, excellent versatility, and tremendous value, costing thousands less than other small SUVs. The generous 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty coupled with the 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty make this a good buy for anyone looking to keep the vehicle for an extended period of time.
New Car Test Drive correspondent John Rettie filed this report from Northern California.
Build and price your dream Kia Sportage in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2013 Kia Sportage$19,877 | 2,512 mi
2013 Kia Sportage$25,993 | 23,910 mi
2012 Kia Sportage$16,993 | 55,960 mi
2012 KIA SPORTAGE$17,911 | 22,708 mi
2012 Kia Sportage$20,788 | 35,839 mi
2012 Kia Sportage$20,888 | 12,315 mi
2012 Kia Sportage$22,988 | 28,739 mi
2012 Kia Sportage$24,000 | 32,878 mi
2011 Kia Sportage$17,988 | 49,132 mi
2011 Kia Sportage$18,995 | 16,783 mi
2011 Kia Sportage$20,999 | 59,563 mi
2011 Kia Sportage$21,432 | 40,400 mi
2011 Kia Sportage$21,777 | 16,695 mi
2011 Kia Sportage$22,995 | 44,942 mi
2011 Kia Sportage$27,000 | 22,158 mi
2010 KIA SPORTAGE$13,887 | 41,003 mi
2010 Kia Sportage$15,300 | 38,312 mi
2009 Kia Sportage$11,988 | 97,094 mi
2009 Kia Sportage$13,388 | 93,995 mi
2007 Kia Sportage$8,988 | 67,996 mi
2007 Kia Sportage$10,999 | 79,577 mi
2006 Kia Sportage$10,593 | 63,588 mi
2002 Kia Sportage$4,999 | 141,335 mi
2002 Kia Sportage$7,990 | 61,035 mi
2001 Kia Sportage$3,763 | 177,441 mi
2001 Kia Sportage$5,775 | 89,751 mi
2001 Kia Sportage$5,999 | no mileage
1997 Kia Sportage$3,977 | 129,963 mi