The Sportage is a pleasing city runabout. We like its easy-to-use controls and value for the dollar. But in terms of real performance, driving refinement and fuel economy, the Sportage falls below what we consider acceptable in the class. It has some advantages, but there are just as many reasons to look elsewhere.
How does the Sportage drive?
The Sportage performs best around town, where its ample low-end torque, smooth braking and nicely weighted steering can shine. But when taken out of its comfort zone, the Kia largely disappoints. Our Sportage test vehicle had the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. With it we managed a 0-60 mph sprint of 9 seconds, which is a poor showing for a small SUV with an upgraded engine. The brake pedal is a little soft, but it's easy to gauge the amount of pressure needed to bring the Sportage to an easy stop.
While the ride feels sporty, the suspension feels sloppy on twisty roads. Combined with numb steering and sometimes on-off power delivery, the Sportage reveals itself to be anything but sporty.
How comfortable is the Sportage?
We like the supportive front seats that have plenty of adjustment and above-average heating and cooling capabilities. The climate control system quickly adjusts cabin temperatures too. The interior is well isolated from traffic noise and from road noise over bumps, but tire noise is noticeable at freeway speeds.
In keeping with the Sportage name, the ride is a bit firm and sporty. Around town, the suspension does a great job absorbing small bumps, but at higher speeds and over larger bumps, there's noticeable bounciness and rebound. It can be almost boat-like at times.
How’s the interior?
The Sportage's interior feels high-quality for the class and has some nice features, but the sleek roofline creates compromises. Drivers and passengers more than 6 feet tall may note a lack of headroom. The low roof makes the interior feel smaller than it is, and the thick roof pillars create a number of blind spots. Yet even with the low roof, it's easy to get in or out of the SUV due to the wide door openings.
The seating position offers a good range of motion, especially with the generously telescoping steering wheel, but taller drivers will wish the seat could go lower. Buttons are clearly labeled, but each panel features buttons of identical shape and size so you will be relying on those labels rather than finding controls by touch.
How’s the tech?
With few exceptions, the Sportage's tech features are top-notch. The logical and approachable touchscreen is user-friendly, and we appreciate the standard smartphone integration and charging options for front and rear passengers. The available upgraded stereo is among the best in the class. Navigation graphics are clean and crisp. But voice commands are disappointing — the system is easily confused, especially when you're trying to control navigation — and can't be accessed while using smartphone projection. A subscription to Kia's Uvo services, which our tester lacked, is said to improve voice recognition.
The Sportage's suite of driver aids works well, handling traffic without false positives or unsettling jerkiness. Only lane keeping assist has issues; it can misread lane marker lines and doesn't provide much steering assist to keep you within the lane.
How’s the storage?
Cargo capacity is average for the class. There's 30.7 cubic feet of space behind the second row and 60.1 cubic feet with the seats folded. The low cargo floor makes it easy to load items, but the the wheelwells intrude into the space. In the cabin, there's not much space for small items. We like the generous phone cubby, but the center console bin is on the small side, and the door bins are narrow.
Got small children? The reclining rear seatback and clearly marked car seat anchors make fitting a child seat easier, but installing a bulky rear-facing seat will require moving the front seats forward.
How’s the fuel economy?
EPA estimates range from 26 mpg combined for the base front-wheel-drive Sportage down to 21 mpg combined for the turbocharged 2.0-liter model with all-wheel drive. Neither of those numbers is a strong showing in a class where competitors can claim up to 30 mpg.
On our real-world testing route, the Sportage returned 20.6 mpg, coming close to the EPA estimate. Still, considering the relatively slow acceleration from even the turbocharged model, these economy numbers are disappointing.
Is the Sportage a good value?
Where the Sportage was once a standout, it's now caught up in the mix as automakers hone their value propositions. The Kia has a slight price advantage, especially if you place more priority on comfort and tech features than performance or practicality. But the real value proposition is Kia's warranty: The five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty are matched only by Hyundai.
Starting at around $24,000, the Sportage undercuts the base CR-V, but it's less practical and comes with a less desirable base engine. Our top-of-the-line tester came in at a bit over $37,000, which just undercuts the highest-trim CX-5 that offers better performance with similar practicality. For the class, you're not quite getting everything you're paying for.
The Sportage lives and dies on its features, and it really only shines as a commuter. It's certainly an SUV that feels good to get into, with its well-built interior and comprehensive feature set, but push it outside of its comfort zone and the veneer cracks. In the end, it's hard to do anything but assign a split score here.