Refreshed crossover. The Kia Sportage is the Korean brand's take on the popular compact crossover, and it has been updated this year with more safety features and a subtle face-lift. Like the rest of its competitive brood, expect the 2020 Kia Sportage to be everywhere soon enough.
Middling base engine, available turbo. It's called a Sportage, but it's no more a sport-infused crossover than a Denali-badged GMC is a snowy mountain. This is especially true with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that comes with most trims. Without a turbo to quicken the pace, its 181 horsepower come on slow and lazy; heavy applications of the throttle result in a raspy protest that's anything but refined.
The top-of-the-line SX Turbo turns up the heat with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Along with the greater power, the suspension has been tightened up and the steering tweaked for sportier feel. The whole of it makes for a fun and unique personality when compared to a lesser-engined Sportage, even if it's still no Porsche Macan. Drivers will have no trouble beating a fleeting yellow light or passing on the highway.
Poor fuel economy. Unfortunately, neither engine is particularly good on gas. Front-wheel-drive models with the 2.4-liter engine are the most frugal at 23 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway, and 26 combined, which is a mid-pack showing for the class. Adding all-wheel drive drops these ratings to 22/26/23 mpg (city/highway/combined).
The turbocharged engine returns 20/28/23 mpg with FWD, or 19/24/21 mpg with AWD. To put this into perspective, a Ford F-150 equipped with any of its turbocharged six-cylinder motors will be thriftier on gas. Needless to say, the competition will stretch a gallon of gas further than the thirsty Sportage.
Tight quarters. From a glance, you'd think the Sportage was styled foremost for utility and secondly for aesthetics, but the practical shape still leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to interior spaciousness.
The 31 cubic feet of storage space in particular is disappointing; most competitors, including the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4, all offer at least 36 or 37 cubic feet. With the second row folded, the Sportage only musters up 60 cubes, trailing the class leaders by a good dozen or so cubic feet.
Passengers are thankfully afforded more space than their cargo, but nobody will mistake this Kia for a limousine. This isn't so much due to the dimensions – which are about in line with the competition – but rather the high beltline, thick pillars, and dark interior that psychologically shrink things down. A contrasting-color headliner is available, as is a panoramic roof; both make the interior more inviting than the standard all-black color scheme.
Feature-laden. Features abound in the Sportage. While the headline-grabbing toys are reserved for the top-shelf models, there's still plenty of good stuff on the more affordable models.
To start, every Sportage boasts an 8-inch color touchscreen that handles infotainment duties. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, voice recognition, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker audio system round out the base setup. Higher trims can be equipped with navigation and an eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with 320 watts of power.
Manually-adjusted seats come on the LX and S, while heated and 10-way power front seats can be found on the EX and SX. Genuine leather is standard on the SX; these cowhides are sumptuous enough that they wouldn't be out of place in something wearing a luxury nameplate. Besides being rich in appearance and supple in texture, they're comfortable and supportive as well.
With competitors beginning to make active safety gear standard across all of their lineups, it's no surprise that Kia has followed suit for 2020. Every Sportage now comes with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and lane departure warning. All trims but the base LX also come with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Final thoughts. The compact crossover segment is one of the most popular and fiercely-contested in the market. Standing out becomes difficult when so many brands are building their products within such similar parameters, and the 2020 Kia Sportage just isn't distinctive in such a homogeneous crowd.
The biggest advantage of the Kia over, say, a CR-V or RAV4 is the value proposition. There's a lot of car for the money here, and it doesn't feel a step down from the competition when it comes to quality and materials.
A Sportage LX starts at just over $25,000 including destination, and it has enough standard equipment to let shoppers forget that they're sitting in a base model – let alone one that undercuts the segment sales leaders by a good bit of money.
The Sportage ultimately does some things well, such as the peppy turbo engine and high feature count. Other things it does not so well, like the mediocre gas mileage and meager cargo space. Yet, it will sell well because it will serve most buyers just fine, proving that being average is sometimes all it takes to succeed.