Compact to medium-sized crossovers are the hot segment in the American car market, so most manufacturers are content to play it safe and follow the most obvious mainstream trends - which is why it's gratifying to see Kia show some initiative and individuality with the latest version of the long-lived Sportage. The well-rounded (and cheerfully round) Sportage fulfills buyer priorities – lots of safety and convenience tech, available all-wheel-drive, good cargo room – while providing an extra dose of driving enjoyment.

Best Value

Kia offers the Sportage in three trim lines – LX, EX, and SX Turbo – with few available options. All-wheel-drive is a $1,500 add-on to each, and expanded tech and safety packs can be selected for the LX and EX; the SX Turbo comes fully loaded and is priced accordingly.

On a more frugal level, if you can live without the leather seats and nineteen-inch wheels on the EX, the LX can be optioned past the base EX's equipment level, bringing such desirables as automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warnings, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at a similar price.

Our recommended value configuration for a Sportage balances safety, features, and a reasonable bottom line:

  • Model: 2018 Kia Sportage LX AWD
  • Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 181 hp / 175 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel-drive
  • MPG: 21 City/25 Hwy
  • Options: All-wheel-drive system ($1,500), LX Popular Package (UVO infotainment and telematics system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, 10-way power driver's seat, heated front seats; $1,200), LX Technology Package (autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning system, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high-beam headlights; $1,300)
  • Base Price: $24,590 (including $990 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $28,590

Performance

Kia Sportage

Take your driving expectations about a modern midsize crossover and raise them one notch. The Sportage is very much a product of its class but its performance shows a welcome degree of ambition and development. The base 181-horsepower 2.4-liter motor is smooth and capable in everyday driving; the SX Turbo's boosted 2.0-liter provides a healthy shove in the back and matches up well against class powerhouses like the Subaru Forester XT. That power is put to good use by a suspension that is set up to provide pleasantly solid and responsive handling.

On the flip side, that handling is controlled through a steering wheel that has about as much feel as a laptop touchpad; the Sportage is more pointed than steered. Those respectable power numbers are also matched with less respectable fuel-economy scores; a front-drive LX has estimated fuel consumption of 23 mpg city and 30 highway, while an SX Turbo with all-wheel-drive scores only 21 city/25 highway.

Style

Kia's design studio deserves more credit than it gets from the broad public for drawing up attractive, interesting sheet metal and well-considered cabins. The interior thankfully keeps a lid on stylistic excess without feeling Spartan, focusing instead on a control layout that is both easy to use and easy on the eyes. Materials feel substantial, and the front seats remain supportive and comfortable over long distances. This pleasant environment is complemented by Kia's UVO infotainment system (optional on the LX, standard on the EX and SX Turbo) which remains one of the best in the industry.

If the interior is thoughtful and rational, the sheet metal displays a more playful attitude. Friendly curves and a few well-placed character lines are a welcome change from the multiple creases and glowering demeanor of many competitors (looking at you, Toyota). Those chunky sides and solid rear pillars do limit outward visibility, though.

Space is adequate up front, with comfortable, supportive seats that would be pleasant on a road trip. The second row is tight, but with just under 31 cubic feet of cargo space, we're willing to overlook it.

The Best and Worst Things

Kia Sportage

It's not a sports sedan, but the Sportage's blend of ride and handling shows that a good bit of knowledge and care went into the suspension tuning. Instead of an acceptable-if-uninspiring default to dull response and bland softness, the Sportage is set up for accurate and confident handling and a secure, well-controlled ride.

Given its moderate size and weight and reasonable power, the unimpressive fuel economy numbers for the Sportage are both disappointing and somewhat mystifying. Sales figures and customer-survey feedback may indicate that fuel consumption concerns are not high on the priority list for most buyers, but the Sportage could be a bit more competitive in this respect.

Right For? Wrong For?

Do you need a well-rounded all-purpose vehicle that can manage standing snow and maintained dirt roads? Do you want something distinct from the hordes of grumpy-looking midsized crossovers from the predictable big names? Do you enjoy running family errands in a vehicle that looks a bit like a cuddly metallic Pokémon? Give the Sportage a serious look. It may not stand out in any one objective category, but it is an effective and enjoyable family mover

Do you require meaningful off-road capability? Like most comparable crossovers, the Sportage is tuned more for bad weather than overland work. Do you carry five people regularly? The rear seat is comfortable for two but will test the patience and civility of three over long trips.

The Bottom Line

The Sportage wraps a friendly exterior around an agreeable interior and installs a set of driving characteristics that move it ahead of class averages. It may not be one of the most popular choices in its ferociously competitive market segment, but it is safely one of the better ones.