Full 2011 Kia Sportage Review
What's New for 2011
The Kia Sportage has been completely redesigned for 2011.
Nowhere is it written that a crossover SUV must be bland and uninspiring, yet it seems that America's streets and highways have taken a turn toward dullsville as crossover sales march forever upward. In response, Kia has decided to inject this segment with a much-needed boost of adrenaline with its fully redesigned 2011 Kia Sportage, a small crossover with sharp styling and lively handling.
With no small bit of irony, you could have pointed to last year's Kia Sportage as a prime example of boring design. Underpowered plus generic to look at, the Sportage had little to offer beyond its low price and high value. But the 2011 Kia Sportage represents the Korean company's charge from the back of the pack to challenge those brands that sit at the head of the class. Thanks to chiseled lines and a sleek-looking interior, the 2011 Kia Sportage is one of the best-looking small crossovers for this model year.
In terms of engine performance, the 2011 Kia Sportage is still pretty average when it comes to actual output, because the standard 2.4-liter inline-4 makes 176 horsepower. But when you're behind the wheel, the Sportage feels much more athletic and engaging than any other compact crossover in its class thanks to taut suspension tuning. We expect the Sportage to get even sportier when the SX model with its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 debuts later in the model year with 270 hp.
The drawback to the Sportage's sporty handling is a ride that feels slightly stiff-legged. Rough pavement and washboard highways might lead some drivers to choose more comfortable crossovers, though the SX turbo will feature driver-adjustable dampers that might take the edge off the ride harshness. The Sportage also gets points deducted for having less cargo capacity than some of the front-running crossovers.
Among the competition, the stalwart Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 can accommodate about 25 percent more cargo, although that extra space will cost a few thousand dollars more than a comparably equipped Sportage. The Sportage also represents a relative bargain when compared to the Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-7 and Mitsubishi Outlander, as it delivers more standard features at a slightly lower price. While its lack of practicality means it won't be for everyone, we're happy to report that the 2011 Kia Sportage is a proverbial bright spot in an otherwise dull landscape.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Kia Sportage is a compact crossover SUV with seating for five. Initially, it will be offered in three trim levels: base, LX and EX. Soon after launch, a turbocharged SX model will be available.
Standard features on the base model include 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt steering wheel with audio and phone controls, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth and a six-speaker CD/MP3 player with satellite radio and USB/auxiliary input jacks.
Stepping up to the Sportage LX adds turn signals integrated into the exterior mirrors, tinted rear windows and keyless entry. Seventeen-inch wheels are optional, but only on the LX.
The Sportage EX comes with 18-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, foglights, chrome exterior accents, a rear spoiler, roof rails, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that also telescopes, a power driver seat and a chilled glovebox. Some EX features are available on the LX as options.
Available on LX and EX models are an upgraded audio system and a voice-controlled navigation system with a back-up camera. An optional Premium package is only available on EX models and adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, a ventilated driver seat, keyless ignition/entry, panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a cargo cover.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering the base, LX and EX examples of the Sportage is a 2.4-liter inline-4 engine that produces 176 hp and 168 pound-feet of torque. The base model is only available with a six-speed manual transmission, while other trims receive a six-speed automatic as standard. LX and EX buyers may also choose between front- and all-wheel drive. Later in the model year, a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine will be available in SX trim.
All-wheel-drive Sportage models are suitable for light off-road duties only. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway mpg and 25 mpg in combined driving for a 2.4-liter automatic with front-wheel drive. Opting for a manual transmission or all-wheel drive drops those estimates by a few mpg each. In our performance tests, a front-drive 2011 Kia Sportage accelerated to 60 mph from a standstill in 9.5 seconds, an average time for this class.
Standard safety features on all 2011 Kia Sportage models include front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active front headrests, antilock disc brakes with brake assist, traction control and stability control, as well as hill descent and hill start control. In Edmunds testing, the Kia Sportage required 124 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph, which is about average for a compact crossover SUV. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 2011 Sportage its highest rating of "Good" for frontal offset and side impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Kia Sportage's interior in EX trim features a pleasing mix of complex and organic shapes. There is quite a bit of hard plastic throughout the cabin, but for the most part, it's well-textured and adequately padded where passengers generally make contact.
Passengers and driver alike benefit from well-contoured seats and adequate head- and legroom. The rear seats comfortably seat two average-size adults, but a third second-row passenger will likely find the center seat decidedly less comfortable. Sadly, the seat doesn't recline or slide fore and aft, features that have been adopted by the competition.
The Sportage comes up a bit short in regards to cargo space, accommodating a maximum of 26.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 54.6 cubes with the 60/40-split-folding seats laid flat. In comparison, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 both can hold roughly 70 cubic feet.
Despite rather average test numbers, the 2011 Kia Sportage is reasonably fun to drive. Its stiffer suspension may be an item of contention for some, however, as road imperfections (especially with the 18-inch wheels) are felt more often and with more intensity. Power from the four-cylinder engine is adequate, and the automatic transmission shifts smoothly and quickly.