The Kia Sportage's strongest attributes are amplified in the SX model with the addition of a turbocharged engine that provides the acceleration of a larger motor with little penalty to fuel economy or drivability. It also has a few exterior additions and more standard interior features.
Though it's powerful and respectfully quick in a straight line, the Sportage SX is less fun to drive than the Mazda CX-5, while the Honda CR-V is more comfortable and has greater cargo capacity. Still, the Sportage offers a compelling combination of sharp styling, solid performance, numerous features and a long warranty.
What Is It?
The Kia Sportage is a five-seat compact SUV with a functional, spacious interior and unique exterior styling that sets it apart from the class. The top-of-the-line SX trim is upgraded with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that delivers an extra 78 horsepower over the base four-cylinder engine. The upgraded engine doesn't change the 2,000-pound tow rating, but shoppers will be glad to know that the EPA mileage rating in combined driving is only 1 mpg lower than the standard engine.
What's Under the Hood?
With 260 hp and 269 pound-feet of torque, the turbocharged 2.0-liter is one of the most powerful four-cylinder engines you can get in this segment. Versus the base 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine, the turbo-4 produces 93 lb-ft more peak torque and provides it at lower engine speeds, meaning you don't have to rev the engine as hard to accelerate.
While smaller turbocharged engines can exhibit delayed acceleration called turbo lag, the Sportage only exhibited evidence of this during instrumented testing. In everyday driving, it's so well behaved that you might mistake it for a larger engine. It's also very quiet and smooth, more so than the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder.
How Does It Drive?
Yes, it has dual exhaust pipes and "Sport" in the name, but the Sportage drives like a normal SUV. It's a quick SUV, though, evident by its low 7-second 0-60-mph time, but it's not going to impress your friends. Instead, owners will be pleased at the ease in which it accelerates to highway speeds.
Quick steering gives the Sportage a nimble feel when maneuvering around city streets and tight parking lots. But the overall lightness in the steering wheel itself and a lack of feedback can make the Sportage feel darty and nervous at freeway speeds.
We noticed a fair amount of body roll during testing, but it didn't translate into a cushy driving experience on the road. The ride quality is acceptable, but on the firmer side. Some competitors, like the Honda CR-V, are more refined in this area.
What's the Interior Like?
There are some hard plastics, but everything you come in contact with during normal driving is soft. The gauges are easy to read and the controls are intuitive. We also liked the fast reactions of the standard navigation and infotainment system. We were less fond of the fact that there's only one USB outlet. Fortunately, Kia also provides two 12-volt power ports.
Large sideview mirrors provide good outward visibility, but the rear view is tighter than you might expect due to the rear headrests and small rear window. The standard back-up camera helps make up for it somewhat.
The sloping roof line contributes to the Sportage's attractive design, but it also means less cargo room behind the rear seats. At 26.1 cubic feet, seats-up cargo capacity in the Sportage trails the segment (the Honda CR-V has 35.3 cubic feet). Taller passengers might have to duck while getting in the backseats, and, when it's equipped with the optional sunroof, their heads might brush the roof when seated. Fortunately there's plenty of rear legroom, and while there are no rear climate controls, the Sportage does have rear vents.
Most of the additions that come with the SX Luxury package are worthwhile, like the massive panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirror and ventilated front seats. But we find the quality of the leather disappointing, so it's best to consider how much you really want the other items before upgrading to this options package.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Can You Expect?
The SX's turbocharged engine only pays a 1 mpg combined fuel economy penalty versus the base engine, while all-wheel drive drops the number another 2 mpg. Our all-wheel-drive test vehicle stayed close to its 21 mpg combined (19 city/24 highway) rating. It returned 22 mpg on our standard test loop, but averaged closer to 19 mpg during the duration of its 540-mile stay with us, which included both city and highway driving.
How Is It Off-Road?
Although it offers all-wheel drive, the Sportage is intended for light off-road use. Even with all-wheel drive, the low-rolling-resistance Hankook Optimo tires might not fare well in snow or extremely wet conditions. Still, it offers nearly as much clearance as more off-road-oriented vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. The Sportage's tall front bumper, for example, results in a high approach angle, meaning the Sportage won't scrape steep driveways or embankments.
The all-wheel-drive system automatically biases engine power between the front and rear wheels. It's primarily front-wheel drive to save fuel, but can sense slippage and reroute power to the rear wheels as needed. A "Lock Mode" button can be engaged to evenly split power between the front and rear wheels in low-traction situations. There is no low-range gearing, but the Sportage does offer Downhill Speed Control, which automatically holds the vehicle at 5 mph while driving down slopes with poor traction.
What About Towing?
When outfitted with a trailer hitch, all Sportage trim levels can tow up to 2,000 pounds. This rating is higher than most Japanese competitors, but some V6-powered SUVs of this size can tow more. For recreational vehicle towing, all-wheel-drive Sportages can only be towed on a flatbed. Front-drive models can be towed on a dolly with the front wheels in the air.
How Much Does It Cost?
Our Sportage SX started at $30,495. All-wheel drive tacked on $1,500, while the Luxury package added $3,350. Toss in carpeted floor mats for $130, and our tester totaled $33,975.
Base models start at $22,795 for the front-wheel-drive LX and $26,195 for the midgrade EX model.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
The Honda CR-V doesn't look as distinctive, but it does offer more cargo capacity, superior ride quality and better mileage. It can also be optioned with more active safety features, like a lane departure warning system and a collision mitigation braking system.
Slightly larger, the Jeep Cherokee has an eye-catching design like the Sportage. It offers both a standard four-cylinder and an optional V6 engine that ups the Cherokee's tow rating to 4,500 pounds.
It may not have a turbocharger, but the steering and handling of the Mazda-CX-5 provide a more enjoyable driving experience. Like the Sportage, the CX-5 emphasizes design, but it doesn't impinge on rear seating space.
Why Should You Consider This Vehicle?
It's a compact SUV that doesn't look like anything else in the class. And if you like a little more power under the hood, the Sportage SX provides quick acceleration that few others in the class can match.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
Minimal steering feedback and average handling mean it's not actually sporty. Some competitors provide a more engaging driving experience, while others have more cargo capacity and offer more comprehensive safety features.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.