2012 Kia Sportage
2012 Kia Sportage Expert Review: Autoblog
Kia likes to say it has the Power to Surprise. Back in the day (oh, five or so years ago...), the Korean automaker's customers were supposed to be pleasantly surprised that their new car, crossover or SUV was a better vehicle than expected. Perhaps you've heard the drill: "I bought it because it was cheap... and you know, it's really not that bad."
These days, though, being less mediocre than expected simply isn't good enough. See not-so-(inter)stellar brands Saturn and Mercury for proof thereof.
In other words, each new Kia has to be completely on-target and every bit as good as its competitors from America and Japan – and judging by the ambitions of its corporate partner, Hyundai, you might even be inclined to include Germany on that list.
And we've come to expect exactly that from Kia. If the company's first Sportage was a passable entry with a cut-rate price to make the masses take notice, and the second go-round was, you know... "not that bad..." then this crossover, the third-generation Kia Sportage, had better be good.
So, were we pleasantly unsurprised by the 2011 Kia Sportage?
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL
Clearly, the new-for-2011 Kia Sportage is an attractive small crossover. The currently en vogue high beltline and low-slung, sloping roofline is present and accounted for, which also means outward visibility for the driver and passengers has been compromised. In the case of the Sportage, the view out back would be acceptable only in an exotic, mid-engined supercar from Italy. We were able to see the front hoods of the cars following us from our rearview mirror, but we couldn't see the face of the driver and had no clue if there were red and blue lights atop the car. Best to get those side mirrors adjusted to your liking.
With the exception of the rear view, the interior manages to feel airy, particularly when both the front and rear sunroof shades are slid back, and even more so when the front glass is open to the elements.
We don't have any complaints about the external design of the 2011 Sportage. Kia and head designer Peter Schreyer have done a commendable job of making all of its wares identifiable through the use of a similar fascia and nicely organic, even slightly aggressive curves. As we noted in our initial drive of the latest Kia Optima, the automaker's stylistic efforts add up to a much sportier appearance than similar models from sister company Hyundai. Proof positive can be seen when comparing the Sportage with the somewhat bubblier Hyundai Tucson, which rides on the same platform.
We appreciate the look of the 18-inch alloy wheels fitted to our tester as the hoops did an exceptional job of filling the wheel wells and were complimented on by passers-by. Note, too, the twin fender and hood peaks on either side of the driver's straight-ahead sight line. The effect looks cool from the outside, but we think its best angle is actually enjoyed from behind the wheel.
Speaking of the view from the driver's seat, we commend Kia for crafting an interior that's both pleasant in appearance and functional in operation. There's plenty of space available, both for rear-seat passengers and for luggage. We managed to fit one six-foot passenger behind a six-foot driver, with no cracked knees in the process. Just over 26 cubic feet of space is available for the taking in the way back with the rear seats in their full upright position; lowering the rear bench opens up 54.6 cubic feet. Put into perspective, that ought to be enough for a couple of nights worth of luggage for the average family, if not for an entire week.
As with every other vehicle in the Sportage's segment and price bracket (more on that later), pretty much every surface is covered in some type of black or gray plastic. But at least all of it is nicely grained and non-shiny in finish. Also, all the touch points – most every spot your hard surfaces (elbows, knees, etc.) are likely to come into contact with – are covered with a thin layer of cushion to somewhat soften the blow.
Kia has done a nice job with the steering wheel, covered as it is by a rather tough-feeling leather cover with stitching at the rear, fitted with the traditional cruise and redundant radio controls on either spoke. As you'd expect, the stereo can pump the jams from AM/FM radio, satellite or CD, and USB and auxiliary ports can be used to hook up an iPod or other music player. Also standard are buttons on the bottom spoke to operate a Bluetooth phone, which functioned flawlessly when paired with our smartphone.
Other optional electronic doohickery includes an in-dash navigation system that doubles as a back-up camera, remote keyless entry and push-button start with a smart key that knows when you're in the vicinity for key-free access. Once inside, all the buttons and knobs are thoughtfully placed and well labeled, and everything is slightly canted towards the driver.
Seats, leather-clad and heated on our tester (plus a segment-exclusive cooled driver's perch), are nicely padded and somewhat firm, with bolstering that seems suitable for the mission at hand. After all, this ain't a sports car, right? Well, now that you ask, Kia actually wants its customers to think of the Sportage as "a sports car wearing a backpack." While it's definitely no Miata-beater, we'd certainly slot the Sportage in at the sportier end of the small CUV yardstick.
Handling is surprisingly good, which is surely due at least in part to the sophisticated all-wheel-drive technology our Sportage was delivered with. According to Kia, the Dynamax system constantly monitors what's going on between the road and the tires and can almost instantaneously use its electronic brains to minimize wheel slippage. Best we could tell, the full-time system worked a treat, affording us a nice, secure and sure-footed vibe when pushing the Sportage hard through the bends.
We were mostly pleased with the 176-horsepower 2.4-liter four cylinder. In normal driving, there always seemed to be plenty of horses available, despite it peaking at 6,000 rpm, and passing maneuvers were dispatched without complaint – likely helped by the perfectly-matched six-speed automatic transmission. The only real area the rev-happy engine felt underpowered was when we put our foot down from a dead stop. There just isn't much low-end torque (168 pound-feet doesn't come on until 4,000 rpm), and the final drive ratio seems to have been chosen more for its fuel-sipping tendencies than for its jackrabbit starting capabilities. At least the powerplant isn't buzzy at high speeds, again helped by the abundance of gear choices and a low final drive ratio, so keeping it on the boil isn't what we'd call a chore.
It's a good thing that the Sportage feels like a class-leader when it comes to handling, because the ride certainly couldn't be described as soft. Similar to its larger brother, the Sorento, most drivers are likely to think it's tuned on the stiff side – especially those who live in areas with less-than-ideal road surfacing. In locales free of frost heaves and tar strips, you won't be as bothered, and over the course of the week we never found the ride objectionable on Arizona's smooth roads.
Which leads us to only serious demerit: steering feel... or the completely artificial sensation that's substituting for it. If you drive mindlessly for a couple of hours and stop thinking about the act of piloting the Sportage, you won't notice the constant tiny corrections needed to keep yourself on the straight and narrow. However, you'll find yourself cursing the brains behind the electronic power steering system and the continuously variable feel and effort that will have you sawing at the wheel. It's all rather frustrating, as these types of electric power steering systems are becoming commonplace and replacing the tried-and-true hydraulic units we've known and loved for years. There are better applications out there of the technology, but this isn't one of them. So why has Kia employed it on the Sportage? Fuel economy.
Hydraulic pumps are little parasites feeding off the engine that reduce precious miles per gallon. It may take a few generations for engineers to figure out the tuning required to make electric power steering units feel like a good hydraulic setup – some manufacturers are already showing adeptness at this, though not consistently. At least the 2011 Sportage delivers the efficiency goods with EPA-estimated ratings of 21 city, 28 highway (22/31 for front-wheel-drive models). We averaged a decent 23 mpg in everyday usage. That's one of the better performances managed by a small crossover, though the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain offer similar EPA ratings and are about one size class larger.
Pricing for the 2011 Sportage starts at about $19,000 for the base model with a six-speed manual transmission, an example of which you'll likely never see in real life. Our Sportage EX AWD tester was nearly loaded and carried a sticker of $29,990. Expect most models on the dealership lot to fall somewhere between those figures. What that means is the Sportage is priced right in the sweet spot of its segment. It also means Kia's smallest 'ute isn't exactly the raging bargain some might expect from a vehicle wearing a Korean badge.
But then again, we shouldn't expect Kia to craft class-leading vehicles and then price them like bottom-feeders. Considering the equipment, ten-year warranty and the price, the 2011 Kia Sportage is a very good vehicle. We noted a couple of demerits – most bothersome being a somewhat flinty ride and artificial steering feel – but the same can be said of just about any machine engineered to meet the needs and wants of a large and diverse swath of the population. And that's exactly what Kia hopes the Sportage will do. And it will. Not very surprising anymore, is it?
Photos copyright ©2010 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL
The crossover is the high-fructose corn syrup of the automotive world. Think about it: Rather than using real sugar, Pepsi opts for a cheaper, highly refined and processed sweetener. Which, according to lots of studies, is pretty bad for us. Why would they do that? Higher profits, pure and simple. Likewise, CUVs offer all of the space of a comparably long station wagon or hatchback, get inferior mileage, don't handle as well, take longer to stop and in most cases offer none of the utility of a true off-roader. But guess what? They pull in fistfuls of greenbacks for auto companies.
Like high-fructose corn syrup then, car experts ("Hi, Mom!") can scream out their lungs until they're blue about the benefits of a more sensible, safer, smarter product (again, wagons). Yet consumers simply don't listen. The fastest growing automotive segment is – of course – the small CUV. Like the Snickers bar, the Twinkie and a twenty-piece Chicken McNuggets meal with BBQ sauce (all of which is mostly corn syrup), they are here to stay, forever. Buyers just seem to like the looks and the perceived safety that a high-riding vehicle affords them. Plus, for those with infant children, not having to stoop down to strap Junior into his car seat is the most luxurious feature on earth. With all that in mind, some CUVs are better than others – and not only in terms of looks, but also handling, packaging, content and value. Is the new 2011 Kia Sportage one of them? Read on to find out.
Photos by Jonny Lieberman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
The Sportage is arguably the Granddaddy of the CUV craze, as it was initially launched in 1996. That may not seem like a long time ago, but consider that the little Kia trucklet showed up before the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V or Ford Escape. Of course, when the Sportage initially arrived, the diminutive softroader packed a puny, 92-horsepower engine along with an archaic body-on-frame construction. In reality, the Sportage was actually an SUV, but it was one that wasn't terribly good at the roly-poly stuff. It looked a little funny, too. However, the Sportage proved to be a huge success for Kia, allowing them to offer customers a very inexpensive entry into the late-90s SUV-craze. In fact, the Sportage remains so integral to Kia's U.S. efforts that it's the only nameplate in the company's stockpile from the 1990s that's still on sale.
But while the Kia Sportage has always been cheap, it hasn't been particularly good – especially in the aesthetics department. But as you've no doubt noticed, there's a new design sheriff in Kia-town – Peter Schreyer, the man behind the Audi TT and Volkswagen New Beetle – and he's already made taken some big strides at Kia. Specifically with the Forte, Koup and Sorento. Now comes the 2011 Sportage and it's easily the best looking of the bunch. Designed in California and featuring Kia's signature bowtie grille (no, not that one), the Sportage is instantly recognizable as a Kia – to those who know what one looks like. Obviously, the reason for such strong design language (and to hire a superstar like Schreyer) is to make the brand more recognizable. We think Kia is well on their way, and like the Forte and Koup before it, this newest vehicle is leading the way.
Kia wants consumers to think of the Sportage as "a sports car wearing a backpack." A bridge too far, perhaps, but not entirely left field. The Sportage's target demographic is young, single men, the same sort of folks that purchase sports cars. Kia figures the Sportage will slot in between the smaller, cheaper Soul and the larger, seven-passenger, more family oriented Sorento. Even though the Sportage is clearly not a sports car (backpack or not), it does offer a number of sporting and even upscale touches that might just tickle a young man's fancy. For instance, it has LED running lights below the headlamps, exactly like an Audi R8 (a fact which no doubt has Ingolstadt's brand managers spitting nails in anger). Kia's also seen fit to include LED turn-signal repeaters in the side mirrors, another cue taken from pricier machines. Other thoughtful touches abound, including rear-parking assist, back-up camera, dual-zone climate control, ionized filtration A/C, a cooled glove box, a giant panoramic sunroof and a bottom-hinged throttle pedal, just like a Porsche. That last item is particularly appreciated by us.
The interior is about on par with the rest of the segment. Plasticy but fine, though people who really care about a finely finished interior will have to save their nickels for an Acura RDX. That said, the Kia's plastics are at least the non-greasy kind and our test vehicle had the bright orange accents and door panels that greatly helped break up an otherwise totally black cockpit. And the cross-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel is quite excellent, CUV or otherwise.
Electronically speaking, top end Sportage models get either the nav-stereo system Hyundai uses for cars like the Genesis Coupe or Kia's brand-new UVO connectivity system. Think of UVO as Kia's version of Ford's SYNC. Both systems ride atop Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive operating system, or WEA for short. Like Sync, UVO (which stands for "Your Voice" and is pronounced, "You-Voh") lets you connect your Bluetooth capable phone to the car's infotainment system. Then, using just "your voice" you can place calls and even respond to text messages. Sadly, like SYNC, you're forced to use canned replies – though with UVO, at least you can customize those replies.
The biggest difference between UVO and SYNC is that UVO will let you just say, "Play Led Zeppelin Black Dog," whereas SYNC currently requires an intermediary step where you must first say, "iPod," then the artist and track information. The UVO idea being that you might have "Black Dog" on your phone, a CD, your iPod, a USB stick or the Sportage's built-in hard drive. That being the case, UVO searches all of your media sources, finds the song you want then plays it. Pretty slick.
In theory, totally. Sadly, all the UVO-equipped cars we drove were pre-production – both the Sportages themselves and the UVO units. Out of about fifty attempts to get UVO to work using our voices, two were successful. Are we panning it? We should, but we're not – but only for one reason: As UVO shares the same operating system as SYNC, it has the potential to be an industry leader. Not only that, but the head of Kia's Connected Car unit is Henry Bzeih, a former SYNC engineer at Ford. We're therefore confident that Kia will get UVO working properly before it reaches consumers. For now, however, the jury remains unhappy – and they had better get it working, as going forward, all future Kias will have UVO as an option.
But enough gizmology. How's the Sportage drive? Solidly, like a sportier version of the Hyundai Tucson, a vehicle that impressed us with its firmly tuned suspension and near-athletic moves. This should come as no shock: The Sportage and the Tucson share the same basic architecture. Compared to the previous Sportage, however, the difference is night and day. The new model is three inches longer, two inches wider, but just over two inches closer to the ground. Amazingly, it's also 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, though we suspect that figure is compared to the outgoing V6, and the 2011 Sportage can only be had with a four-banger. But here's the good news: the new 2.4-liter inline-four produces more horsepower than the old 2.7-liter V6 – 176 hp compared to 173 ponies. Torque is down a bit, however, from 178 pound-feet in the V6 to just 168 lb-ft from the 2.4-liter. And to hear Kia officials tell it, the Sportage will never be available with a V6. It will, however, be offered with Hyundai's 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo motor, which should produce somewhere around 270 hp and 270 lb-ft of twisting force. Who needs those extra cylinders?
Back to the powertrain we actually drove. The grunt is enough to move the Sportage about in a quick – if not genuinely brisk – manner. Sports car? Again, not really. But definitely quick enough to easily merge onto highways and provide good entertainment when the going gets twisty. Just don't concern yourself with top speed. Speaking of which, the Sportage's suspension is set up unusually well for curving road duties. Up front, you'll find MacPherson struts and out back there's a multi-link configuration. For reference, the much-lauded BMW 3 Series is set up much the same way. The Sportage, then, can actually live up to its name. And there's more handling to come.
Remember the turbocharged engine we mentioned? It will ship with firmer, sportier shocks called HPD (high performance dampers). As it happens, the prototypes we drove around Washington state actually had the HPD shocks installed, so like UVO we'll have to wait for a production version to get the entire story. You can also opt for an on-demand all-wheel drive system that features a center-locking differential as well as the ability to "predict" conditions (i.e. use the traction control system to notice slip) and route torque front-to-back appropriately. We drove one AWD Sportage on smooth, dry roads from Redmond to Seattle, WA and noticed no handling difference between it and its front-drive counterpart.
On the negative side of things, the examples we drove felt pretty twitchy, with a ride quality that was sometimes jarring on bumpy, truck-worn freeways. It was also hard to keep one of them pointed straight. Again, these were pre-production vehicles. Moreover, the CUVs we drove were late coming in from Korea. So not only did the cars feature the wrong dampers, but Kia wrenches were actually changing out engine mounts the night before we arrived. As a result, all three of the Sportages we drove had different behaviors. This was most noticeable in each CUV's various steering feel. One was a bit slack on center, another felt under-boosted, and still the third had even more slack on center – until we ran into/over a curb while trying to negotiate a traffic circle. Oddly, that jarring bump seemed to clear the problems up. Like the Tucson and most Kia/Hyundai products going forward, the Sportage features electronic assist power-steering, which is one reason why it manages 22 miles per gallon in the city and an impressive 31 mpg highway. However, electronic power-steering needs to be tuned to the tastes of the target market and again, we don't feel these pre-production vehicles were adequately tuned at all. Like UVO, we have faith that Kia will get everything sorted out by the time the Sportage goes on sale later this summer.
We know that a review of a not-ready-for-prime-time player isn't the most useful piece of consumer information ever written. Trust us, Kia knows this, too. However, assuming that the kinks get worked out of the production cars – and they've pledged to do just that – what we've got here is a pretty compelling, good-looking, sporty handling, inexpensive crossover. Kia isn't set on the numbers just yet, but they say that pricing should fall in line with the current Sportage. Figure a stripped-out base price of just under $17,000 with a fully-loaded AWD and UVO example going for around $25,000. Like its cousin the Hyundai Tucson, this represents great value when compared to competition like the RAV4, CR-V and Escape, especially as the Sportage looks remarkably better than all of them – including the Hyundai. While we still maintain our starting mantra against CUVs as a segment, Kia's new Sportage is pretty easy to swallow.
Photos by Jonny Lieberman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new and more fuel-efficient.
The 2011 Kia Sportage, all-new for the first time since 2005, represents the latest move by the South Korea car maker in its drive to become a household name, if not a regular dinner guest, in U.S. new car-buying families. And as far as conveniently sized, sporty crossover utility vehicles go, Kia has executed well.
With gas prices showing no signs of retreating, Kia's engine masters have stepped up by obtaining better fuel economy and more horsepower out of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine than the previous model's 2.7-liter V6 produced. According to the EPA, the 2011 Kia Sportage earns a City/Highway rating of 21/28 miles per gallon (substantially reduced from the 2010 Sportage V6's 18/21 mpg). Helping those ratings is that, depending on the model and features, the 2011 Sportage weighs 100-200 pounds less than the 2010 version.
The 2011 Sportage lineup starts with front-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission. Uplevel models use a 6-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
We found the 2.4-liter engine delivers its power smoothly and mostly in a linear manner, with only an occasional, slight surge after an upshift in the automatic as the electronics adjust to the changing load. Those gear changes are clean, if not remarkably sharp, with ready downshifts for overtaking or merging. Steering feels heavier in the AWD version but reasonably responsive in both, with good directional stability. AWD comes with a limited locking feature for low-speed use in adverse conditions.
Kia's Southern California-based designers spared no pixels in styling the new Sportage. From every aspect, the 2011 Sportage is fresh and sharp, with the only obvious carryover feature the trademark oval logo centered in the grille and in the liftgate. Character lines are crisp but subdued, contrasting nicely with the overall rounded look. Blackened lower trim panels imply good ground clearance while keeping the tires visually in proper proportion to the body.
Interior accommodations in the 2011 Sportage are more comfortable than those in the 2010 model, if not as commodious. Front seats offer improved support in all areas, including for an occupant's often-neglected thighs. Leather-trimmed seats are available on the top model EX, as is an air-cooled driver's seat, which is a first for whatever the class segment is. However, the front seat passenger is left with fore-and-aft and tilt-seatback adjustments only, all manual. Hauling ability is a win/lose, with more space behind the second seat but less space with the second seat folded when compared with the previous model.
Creature comfort and entertainment features follow the traditional pattern, with an AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker stereo and air conditioning standard. The upgrade audio system adds a subwoofer and an external amplifier plus what's fast becoming the required navigation system, in the new Sportage with a touch screen that also integrates the display from an included backup camera. The EX gets dual-zone, automatic climate control.
Initially, all 2011 Sportage models will be powered by the beefy 2.4 liter four cylinder making 176 horsepower. Due later in the model year is a turbocharged, 2.0 liter four cylinder Kia promises will pump out more that 270 horsepower.
The 2011 Kia Sportage comes in three trim levels: Sportage, Sportage LX, Sportage EX., while Sportage LX and Sportage EX come with a 6 speed Sportmatic automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional.
The Sportage ($18,295) comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning; cruise control, tilt steering wheel, Bluetooth capability, power windows, power locks, power mirrors; AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius satellite radio with USB and auxiliary ports; 60/40 flat folding rear seat; trip computer; and P215/70R16 black wall tires on alloy wheels. The base model comes with a 6 speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive.
Sportage LX ($21,795) includes the 6 speed Sportmatic automatic transmission, LED turn signals on the outside mirrors, privacy glass on all but the forward windows and keyless entry. Optional are all wheel drive ($1,500); a Convenience Package ($1,300) with telescoping steering wheel, heated outside mirrors, cargo cover, floor mats, lighted vanity mirrors, cooled glove box, solar glass, and P225/60R17 tires on alloy wheels; and the Navigation Package ($1,500) with Sirius traffic information, rearview camera display and the premium audio system boosted by a subwoofer and an external amplifier.
Sportage EX ($23,295) and EX AWD ($24,795) add dual zone climate control with ionized air filter; power driver's seat including lumbar; telescoping steering wheel; auto headlamps; leather trimmed steering wheel and shift knob; lighted vanity mirrors; cooling glove box; solar glass; floor mats; and P235/55R18 tires on alloy wheels. The Navigation Package ($1,500) is optional. The EX Premium Package with Leather Seats ($3,000) includes leather seat trim, heated front seats, air cooled driver seat, push button start stop, panoramic sunroof, back-up warning system, heated mirrors ($3,000).
Safety features include full length side curtains with rollover sensor, ABS, Electronic Stability Control with traction control, Brake Assist and tire pressure monitoring system. Also standard on the 2011 Sportage are Downhill Brake Control, which when engaged automatically regulates downhill speed to no more than 5 mph, and Hill start Assist Control, which keeps the Sportage from rolling backward when starting on a hill. The optional backup warning system can further enhance safety by helping the driver notice small children behind the vehicle when backing up.
The first major redesign of the Kia Sportage in six years shows Kia doesn't consider itself bound by any evolutionary constraints, with impressive results. From nose to tail, from footprint to luggage rack, the all new 2011 Kia Sportage shares almost nothing with the previous model except for the South Korea-based carmaker's trademark oval badge prominently positioned front and center in the freshly styled grille.
That grille graces a fascia that is more rounded in every respect. Compact headlight housings with slightly protruding, clear lenses curve around the front fenders. A contrasting, horizontal, cosmetic, barbell-like inset, the extremities of which host fog lamps on the EX, splits the bumper, which itself thins in the middle to open a lower air intake above a flat black lower body trim. The concaved hood flows smoothly back into the decently raked windshield. Viewed head on, it's a more planted look than its predecessor, a direct consequence of a track (distance between the tires side to side) that's fully two inches wider and a roofline that's more than two inches lower than the 2010.
Highlighting the side aspect is a beltline (generally, the bottom edge of the side windows) that arcs dramatically from the trailing corner of the headlights to the leading edge of the taillights, giving the new Sportage a wedgier but still soft profile. The high beltline reduces the real estate available for side windows, making for almost a chopped look, like street rods of the mid-20th century. A creased depression in the lower portion of the door panels breaks up the expanse of sheet metal, thereby lowering the impression of mass. The flat black trim from the front lower fascia continues around the sides, outlining the wheelwells, which the tires fill quite nicely, and underscoring the rocker panels.
Most of the styling lines on the backside pinch inward, toward, again, the trademark oval parked in the middle of the liftgate. The backlight is about the same proportion to the bodywork as the side windows, i.e., smallish. Taillights narrow as they look toward the centerline. Turn indicators are slotted into the rear bumper, an interesting location that at first blush appears to favor a closely following driver at the expense of one two or three cars back. A creased lip marks the bottom edge of the liftgate, above a license plate space that occupies the middle of the rear bumper where a continuation of the flat black trim panel completes its circumnavigation of the Sportage's lower body.
The 2011 Kia Sportage interior takes the same leap as the exterior, from the 2010 model's mundane, ultra-base look and feel and feature organization to a modern, ergonomically friendly and eye-pleasing presentation in the 2011. Nothing too fancy or gimmicky, just well crafted and eminently usable.
Essential instrumentation is easy-to-read analog, with a large, circular dial for the speedometer bracketed by a half-circle tachometer and inversely stacked temperature and fuel level gauges. A small, rectangular, LED display inset into the speedometer face shows gear selection and trip data. The center stack is properly organized, placing the audio/navigation interface at the top, the climate control panel midlevel and power points and USB and auxiliary inputs tucked into the lower section, which also contains a smallish storage bin. Controls for the optional seat heaters fit in side notches forward of the shift gate. Climate and audio/touch-screen navigation controls are logically arrayed, finger-friendly knobs and virtual and real buttons.
A satin-finish, smoothly sculpted panel that hosts the instruments and the audio/nav panel seems to pop out of the pod-like dash, itself topped in industry-standard, glare-suppressing, grainy-textured, but not cheap looking, plastic material. The shift lever perches on the forward end of the center console, in which sit two cup holders (which need inserts for anything smaller than a Big Gulp) between curiously placed grab handles. The storage bin beneath the center armrest holds the charger for the transmitter for the optional keyless start/stop system, a less than optimal, and likely more easily forgotten, location compared with other systems' placement in the lower dash on either side of the steering column.
Visibility to the front is good, aided by the high seating position and the sloping hood. To the side and the rear, the smallish side and rear windows and an expansive C-pillar (the rearmost support between the body and the roof) make working heavy traffic a chore. On the bright side, the two-pane panoramic sunroof optional on the EX lets rear-seat passengers assist in keeping a watchful eye out for state trooper spies in the sky.
Front seats are comfortable, with sufficient thigh support and adequate bolstering. The front seat passenger is shortchanged when it comes to seat adjustability, relegated to a four-way manual setup. The perforations in the optional leather in the Sportage we tested kept the seats from being clammy or overly slick. Only in rear seat headroom is the 2011 more accommodating than the 2010, by a tick over one inch. In all other measures, the new Sportage trails the old, and generally by more than an inch; rear seat hiproom, in fact, is narrower by almost half a foot. Likewise with cargo room, at least measured at its maximum with the rear seat folded, where the '11 comes up fully 12 cubic feet short of the '10; interestingly, with the rear seat up, the '11's cargo rating is up by 2.5 cu. ft. over the '10's. Apparently, that's where some of the passenger compartment's lost inches resurfaced.
Against the expected competition, the Honda CR-V, the Subaru Forester and the Toyota RAV4, the new Sportage's interior accommodations make up a mixed bag, in most dimensions measuring within an inch, give or take. The '11 Forester, however, is tops in front seat headroom, by more than two inches, the CR-V in rear seat hiproom, like the '10 Sportage by just under six inches. The new Sportage's cargo space also trails all of the competition, with the rear seat up by as much as 10 cubic feet against the RAV4 and with the rear seat down by almost 19 cubic feet also against the RAV4.
We found the new Kia Sportage enjoyable to drive, and the all-wheel-drive models more than the front-wheel-drive models, but neither is boring or outside of its element in the overwhelming majority of circumstances and situations.
Kia has done a commendable job of milking maximum power out of the 2.4-liter four-banger, actually bettering the 173 horsepower of the 2010's 2.7-liter V6, all while getting better fuel economy, by three miles per gallon in the city and by seven mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. And for shoppers wanting more punch, due later in the model year is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 270-plus horsepower. The 6-speed automatic (there were no manual transmission-fitted Sportages at the press launch) handles gear changes reasonably smoothly, including downshifts when necessary for passing and merging, whether in regular auto or Sportmatic mode. Brakes did their job with confidence and no noticeable fade after several miles of reasonably rapid motoring on twisting two-lane roads winding through the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco.
Response to steering inputs was decent on the test EX wearing the low profile tires and 18-inch wheels, with understeer more easily induced in FWD than in AWD. The same held for steering effort, with the AWD feeding back a heavier, more solid feel. Given the relatively high center of gravity, body roll in tight corners was modest. Directional stability, i.e., the tendency to hold its line on straight stretches and through corners, raised no concerns, requiring corrections only in response to pavement irregularities. Suspension damping was decent over bumpy pavement, the worst of which produced something more like head nodding than head bobbing. If that bumpy road turns into mud or is blanketed with snow, the new AWD system offers a Lock Mode that puts equal amounts of torque to each wheel up to a maximum of 25 mph.
The test models we drove were early production models, i.e., not quite ready for prime time, so the minor squeaks and rattles emanating from somewhere in the neighborhood of the dash are likely not indicative of what will be in dealers showrooms. The tire noise from the stock Hankook tires, though, could be, which would be too bad, as otherwise, the ride and road holding were quite respectable.
Comparing overall handling, the Forester feels about the same in terms of road holding and overall stability, with its lower center of gravity making up for a track (distance between the wheels side to side) that's more than three inches narrower. The CR-V and RAV4 don't fare as well, tipping the scales at between 200 pounds and 300 pounds heavier than the new Sportage and riding on a track that's narrower than the Sportage's by two inches, the net effect of which is to allow more body roll in turns and to generate head gyrations that are closer to bobbing than to nodding over rough pavement. Basic ride quality, though, is comparable.
The all-new 2011 Kia Sportage is a refined, comfortable, well-developed and sharp-looking, but not cute, compact sport utility, with the emphasis equally on sport as on utility. With respectable power, more than respectable fuel economy and a competitive price, it continues Kia's transformation from a Pacific Rim wannabe to a confirmed contender in the U.S. market.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from San Francisco.
Kia Sportage ($18,295); LX $20,295); EX ($23, 295).
Hwaseong, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Navigation Package ($1,500) includes navigation system, rearview camera, Sirius Traffic; Premium Package with leather ($3,000) includes leather seat trim, heated front seats, air-cooled driver seat, push-button Start, Panoramic sunroof, back-up warning system, power heated mirrors, cargo cover, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and Compass.
Kia Sportage EX AWD ($24,795).
2012 Kia Sportage Information
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