The last decade has seen Kia rise up from a bargain-basement discount outlet to a purveyor of quality automobiles at enticing prices. The 2019 Kia Sportage is no exception to this – it returns as an affordable but well-equipped crossover.

Best Value

There's three trims available for the Sportage: the bare-bones LX, the mid-level EX, and the snazziest SX Turbo. Of the three, it's tempting to be persuaded by the EX, and indeed, it's a good value as it is. But if you want the modern safety features, such as automatic emergency braking, park assist, lane departure warning, and so on, the best option is to leapfrog to the SX Turbo. It comes with everything standard, and by that we mean everything. Whatever options are available on the Sportage, the SX Turbo comes with it. The only choice a buyer is left with is color or all-wheel drive ($1,500).

If you tried to option an EX with the active safety features, you'll quickly find out that the out-the-door price balloons from about $27,500 to about $32,500 – a number just a bit shy of the SX Turbo's $33,100 advertised starting price. Considering that the SX Turbo also comes with a higher-performance turbocharged engine that makes more power at lower engine speeds, it's not a hard upsell over the EX.

Here's the full scoop on the 2019 Sportage we'd be ordering:

  • Model: 2019 Kia Sportage SX Turbo
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Output: 240 hp / 260 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 21 City / 26 Hwy
  • Options: None
  • Base Price: $34,095 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $34,095

Performance

Kia Sportage

There's a reason there's no Spec Crossover race class: these are machines of utility, not performance. Their powertrains are designed around that old idea about speaking only when spoken to. Unless the driver is planting their right foot to the floor, the hardware of an ordinary crossover should simply run quietly in the background, calling no attention to itself as it does its duty efficiently and effectively.

This philosophy is clearly reflected in the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder that powers the LX and EX models. With 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, it's no paragon of performance. Thanks to the lack of a turbo, peak torque doesn't come on until 4,000 RPM, meaning that going anywhere with haste requires gunning the engine to uncouth RPMs. The result is a crossover that feels lazy when left to its own devices, yet feels hurried and anxious when you're caning it. At least the engine is quiet. Even under duress, it won't start obnoxiously caterwauling, something that's much appreciated.

The 2.4-liter turbocharged four in the SX Turbo is another beast entirely. Here, there's 240 horses and 260 lb-ft of torque on tap, and it makes a world of difference in how the Sportage drive and reacts. The turbo itself is the biggest difference – it helps unlock all that torque at just 1,450 RPM. This allows for strong and purposeful acceleration, and ergo makes the Sportage more confident and sure-footed than it is with the base engine. The best part is that fuel economy hardly suffers: it's rated at 22 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway. The base engine musters just 23 city and 29 highway, which are modest increases of just one and three mpgs, respectively. The turbo's slightly worse fuel economy is a small price to pay for the better driving experience, in our opinion. However, the six-grand premium over an EX may not be, even if the SX Turbo does come with every feature in the book.

All Sportages ride well, with the base LX offering the cushiest ride thanks to its 17-inch wheels. The SX Turbo has a distinct personality in corners or bumpy roads, as it boasts a heavily revised suspension to go along with its more powerful motor. This uplevel suspension doesn't make it an autocrosser, but does certainly sharpen things up and eliminate the flabby handling of a typical crossover.

Style

This is Kia's volume model, designed to go against the segment's big guns – cars like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4. As a result, it isn't so much styled as it is designed to meet the demands of the customer. If you want style, go across the showroom and check out a Kia Soul. If you're looking for affordable functionality, though, the Sportage fits the bill.

This isn't to say it's completely devoid of style. Short overhangs keep things looking clean, and swooping character lines add some visual interest on the port and starboard sides of this front-drive schooner. It might take some time to warm to that odd-looking front end, but the rear fascia has a nice design to it, thanks to those horizontally-oriented taillights and the horizontal lines on the bumper and hatch.

You'd think the innocuous design would make for a space-efficient interior, but surprisingly that isn't the case. Cargo space behind the second row is a scant 30 cubic feet – that's nine cubes shy of what the CR-V boasts. Likewise, it also trails the CR-V in nearly every measurable interior dimension, as well as the dimensions of the Escape and RAV4. Even though many of the dimensional discrepancies are slight, it still underscores the fact that the Sportage isn't as space-efficient as its peers, and especially so in regard to cargo space.

At least the interior is a comfortable place to spend time in. The seats are comfortable and supportive; the various soft-touch materials and both the leather and cloth upholstery are of higher-quality than you'd expect of a car with a $24,000 starting price. The feature count is especially impressive, and only improves as you move up the trim ladder. Mid-level EX models, for instance, come standard with leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated front seats, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment unit, and dual-zone climate control. Move up to the SX Turbo and you get a full suite of active-safety features, an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a Harmon-Kardon stereo system, among other things.

The Best and Worst Things

The comfortable and well-quipped interior, as well as that turbo engine, make the Sportage a compelling choice.

The price of that turbo engine is off-putting, to say the least, and the base engine could use more power down low. Also, the fact that the active-safety features can't be had without spending over $32,000 is disappointing. Where's that value Kia is so renowned for?

Right For? Wrong For?

Kia Sportage

Young families or older folk on a budget who want the space and clearance of an SUV but the efficiency and comfort of a car would be remiss if they didn't at least window shop the Sportage.

If you're looking for a spacious cargo area or more capability from the all-wheel-drive system, the Sportage isn't the best choice.

The Bottom Line

Crossovers are the new de facto family vehicle these days, thanks to how they marry positive traits from both SUVs and sedans. The 2019 Kia Sportage taps into this red-hot segment with a model that's friendly to the needs and budgets of consumers. In a crowded field with lots of good choices, the Sportage is a solid option that's worth a look.