What's New for 2009
For 2009, the Kia Sportage gets a mild face-lift along with a few electronic upgrades, including new standard features for the audio system (satellite radio as well as auxiliary and USB jacks) and a newly optional navigation system.
Being the first in something doesn't necessarily guarantee commercial or critical success. The first-generation Kia Sportage was one of the original urban-friendly, small sport-utility vehicles, but it didn't exactly light the sales charts afire at the company's quarterly meetings. Soon after the Sportage debuted the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 sprang up to steal the Kia's thunder. Though reasonably capable on trails thanks to its rugged chassis and low-range transfer case, that first Sportage was underpowered, somewhat crude and too small on the inside.
Now well into its second generation, the 2009 Kia Sportage uses a car-based platform rather than the heavy body-on-frame, truck-style design of the first-gen model. Like its corporate twin, the Hyundai Tucson, today's Sportage boasts an attractive interior with quality materials, sensible ergonomics and a smartly designed split-folding rear seat.
This year brings a face-lift (in the form of a revised grille and headlights, color-keyed bumpers and new alloy wheels), a navigation system and some welcome upgrades to the audio system.
Typical for this segment, the Sportage offers a choice between four- and six-cylinder power. Compared to competitors' more robust power plants, however, the Kia's engines are both on the weak side. Consider that the Sportage's available V6 makes just 173 horsepower -- that's not much more than many rivals' four-cylinders. It doesn't help that the Kia must make do with a four-speed automatic, while many other compact SUVs now offer five-speed units. Still, those who don't need to race from light to light may find the Sportage's modest but smooth power delivery adequate.
With such a wide range of choices available in this class, the 2009 Kia Sportage doesn't stand out. It's not as quick as the RAV4 V6, as sporty as the Mitsubishi Outlander or as refined as the CR-V. However, its roomy cabin, impressive 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and good value mean it's still worth considering, especially for those on a tight budget.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Kia Sportage is a compact crossover SUV that's available in two trim levels: LX and EX. Either trim can be had in front- or all-wheel drive.
The LX comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, a rear windshield wiper and a six-speaker audio system (with a CD player, MP3 capability, satellite radio and auxiliary and USB jacks). Air-conditioning is also standard on all LX models except front-drive, four-cylinder models with the manual transmission. The EX adds the V6 engine, a sunroof, foglamps, heated outside mirrors and a trip computer.
Individual options include side step bars, a remote starting system, a navigation system and leather seating (for the EX). There are a couple of optional packages as well. The Sport package for LX V6 models adds foglights, 17-inch wheels, sport gauges, a black mesh grille, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a rear spoiler and the upgraded audio system from the EX. The Luxury package for the EX adds leather seating, heated front seats, an auto-dimming mirror and a premium audio system with a six-CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
Two engines are offered on the Sportage LX: a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder (140 hp and 136 pound-feet of torque) and a 2.7-liter V6 (173 hp and 178 lb-ft). The Sportage EX comes standard with the V6. The inline-4 can be had with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic, while the V6 is automatic only. A choice of front- or all-wheel drive is available in either trim.
We timed a Sportage V6 at 10.7 seconds from zero to 60 mph, about a second or so off the quicker four-cylinders in the segment and more than three ticks off the class hot rod, the RAV4 V6. Fuel mileage estimates for the Sportage are below average as well, ranging from 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for the front-drive, four-cylinder version down to 18/23/20 for an AWD V6.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are all standard equipment. In government crash tests, the 2009 Kia Sportage scored a top five-star rating for both frontal and side impact crash protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Sportage received an "Acceptable" rating (the second highest of four) in that agency's frontal offset and side impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Sportage's cabin boasts a modern design and good build quality. Front passengers have ample legroom, but larger passengers may feel cramped in the second row. The rear-seat design makes hauling a large amount of cargo a breeze -- the seat folds and lowers into the footwell, making for a flat load floor, and removing the head restraints isn't required. Thusly configured, the Sportage offers 67 cubic feet of cargo capacity, an average figure for a small crossover.
On the road, the 2009 Kia Sportage provides a carlike ride and relatively nimble handling that makes it a little more fun to drive than some other compact crossover SUVs. It's both a decent city runabout and a serviceable long-distance highway cruiser. Power from the standard four-cylinder is anemic, so we recommend that you opt for the V6. The four-speed automatic isn't quite as smooth as the five-speed units offered by competitors, but it's usually alert enough to keep the V6 right in its power band.