Kia Sportage competes well in small SUV category

Kia Sportage competes well in small SUV category

Kia Sportage featured

Kia’s 2011 Sportage is years ahead of its previous version and jumps to near the front of the small sport-utility class with the likes of Ford’s Escape, Honda’s CR-V and Toyota’s RAV4.

Its advantage is twofold: The Sportage is the best looking of the bunch, plus it’s the least expensive, as tested. The test model was a Sportage EX AWD, the top-level version. Compared with similar models of the other makers, it comes in at roughly $300 less than the Toyota, the next least expensive.

[![Kia Sportage snapshot]( "Kia Sportage snapshot")]( to enlarge.
Pricing is so close on these that you probably need to decide your buy based on ride, acceleration and overall comfort. For the most part, the Sportage is right there with the other segment big boys.

The Kia features a 2.4-liter I4 engine that delivers 176 horsepower, a tad more than the Escape and a few less than the Honda and Toyota. Like those, acceleration is OK, but nothing special. Yet the Kia has a six-speed automatic transmission, an advantage over the others. This new six-speed shifts smoothly and, in theory, should improve gas mileage.

Sportage also comes with a push-button choice of ECO or regular transmission modes. Both tend to shift early into fifth gear, which kills acceleration. But you still can hit the accelerator and override the system if you’re hurrying onto a freeway.

At 3,355 lbs., the Sportage is the lightest of these SUVs and that’s put to good use in its handling. The Kia feels nimble, and its rack and pinion steering is motor driven, giving it a more precise feel than you’d expect in a modestly priced small SUV. There is good road feedback via the steering, and while this is no sport coupe, Sportage is fun to drive and delivers a great feeling of control.

[![Kia Sportage exterior]( "Kia Sportage exterior")](, though, is excellent, with standard four-wheel discs, anti-locks as well as traction and stability control systems.
Cornering is excellent, with the SUV feeling stable in turns, even at speed. Eighteen-inch tires give it good grip, along with its all-wheel-drive system that provides the Kia with good footing in slippery conditions.

While the SUV has independent suspension at all four corners, Sportage’s ride is a bit abrupt at times, typical of a small SUV that rides on a 103.9 inch wheelbase.

Braking, though, is excellent, with standard four-wheel discs, anti-locks as well as traction and stability control systems.

Luxury package

[![Kia Sportage interior2]( "Kia Sportage interior2")](, the Sportage is attractive, with a simple dash layout that’s easy to see and understand.
Inside, the Sportage is attractive, with a simple dash layout that’s easy to see and understand. That’s becoming rarer in vehicles each year.

The silver test SUV featured black leather seats, part of the $3,000 luxury package that includes two-speed heated front seats, an air-cooled driver’s seat, push-button start, a panoramic sunroof in back, rear sonar system and heated outside mirrors, among other items.

Trim is a matte silver pewter-like look that is carried over to the door handles and steering wheel hub. Behind the climate controls is a shiny black plastic back plate, creating a clean look.

Sportage has power mirror and lock controls on the driver’s door armrest and a four-wheel-drive locking system button on that side of the dash. A hill-descent button is there too, if you’re going to crawl slowly down a steep, slippery incline. Such features used to be found only on the pricier large SUVs, but electronic wonders continue to spread to all makes and models.

There’s a tilt-telescope steering wheel with radio and cruise buttons on the hub. Climate control buttons are large, and this is a dual-zone system, but the radio buttons and knobs are small.

The test SUV added a $1,500 navigation system, and that package also upgrades the stereo system. A portable GPS system is loads cheaper, though.

Spacious interior

[![Kia Sportage interior1]( "Kia Sportage interior1")]( is comfortable and roomy.
Seating is comfortable and roomy. We had four adults in the Sportage several times and everyone lauded its comfort, and we could have fit another person in, if needed. The front seats are mildly contoured and this one had power seats, including a driver’s power lumbar button.

As with most small SUVs, the rear seats fold down to increase the cargo area. The Kia’s seats fold flat quickly to boost an already generous 26.1 cubic feet to 54.6.

My only real complaint inside is the rumble you get at highway speeds. Once you’re over 45 to 50 mph, there is more roar than in some small SUVs. A bit more insulation in the Sportage’s tail could help that.

I also wasn’t impressed with the gas mileage for a small SUV. I got 19.5 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates this much higher at 21 city and 28 highway.

The ending price on the test model also was high at $29,990. The base price on the EX AWD is $24,795 and with a delivery fee of $695 is still less than some of its competitors. But adding a lot of goodies really pushed this to a larger car and SUV price.

If you don’t need all of those add-ons, or even what is standard here, you can get a base front-wheel drive Sportage starting at $18,295. Move up a level to the LX and add four-wheel drive and the staring price is $21,795. That’s still a bargain for a good-looking little SUV that’s a pleasant drive.

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