2017 Kia Sportage

SAN DIEGO — You only need to look around you and it's easy to see that the compact crossover SUV, or CUV as many like to call it, has become one of the most popular type of vehicle on the road. It's not surprising perhaps as these car-based SUVs are more like a car — dare we say it, they are more akin to a hatchback or small station wagon — than they are a traditional truck-based SUV.

Indeed the only real difference between a CUV and a car is the higher ride height, much appreciated by shorter drivers, and the all-wheel-drive option with increased ground clearance that provides traction in snow and the ability to tackle light-duty off-road adventures.

Kia has just introduced the all-new 2017 Sportage, which is the fourth generation of the longest running nameplate in the Kia range. The CUV has been on sale for several months in Europe and is well regarded by the media and buyers across the ocean.

That's perhaps not as surprising as it might sound — although the Sportage is built in Korea, it was designed in Kia's Frankfurt studio under the watchful eye of Peter Schreyer who worked for Audi several years ago.

Compared to some of its competitors it has a more aggressive looking front end and some stylish cues such as the “high-mounted” headlights and quad “ice cube” LED fog lights on the SX. The side profile pretty much follows the trend of shallow windows with a definite upward slant through to a strong rear C pillar. It might be the current styling craze but it does make the interior feel a little claustrophobic for rear seat passengers.

The 2017 Sportage is all new with a slightly longer wheelbase and an increase in overall length of 1.6 inches, compared to the previous generation. This provides slightly more interior space and helps give the Sportage a better ride.

Two four-cylinder engines are offered — a 2.4-liter in the base LX and mid-range EX; while the top-of-the-line SX gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that produces 240 horsepower compared to 181hp in the normally-aspirated engine. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission choice.

Pricing starts at $22,990 for the base LX model and rises to $34,000 for the all-wheel drive (AWD) SX Turbo (plus $895 shipping charge). Standard equipment includes the usual myriad of safety equipment.

Several driver enhancements — such as Forward Collision Warning System (FCWS) and Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with Pedestrian Detection; Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS); Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Lane Change Assist (LCA); Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) — are offered in additional packages and are standard on the SX.

Overall, during a brief few hours driving the Sportage, I found there was nothing that disappointed me. On the other hand there was nothing that particularly excited me. That's not a negative, it means it's, what I call, transparent — it does what it's supposed to do with no fuss. One feature that impressed me was the new steering system which felt very precise. Kia engineers moved the steering further forward so a single straight steering column could be used without resorting to a two-piece column that inevitably introduces some slack.

Unfortunately we only had the opportunity to test drive the SX Turbo (front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions), which obviously provide better performances, thanks to the more powerful turbocharged engine. I was pleased to not detect any turbo lag, which is something that used to be a bane with older turbocharged engines. It was also difficult to ascertain any difference in driving characteristics between the FWD and AWD models on dry highways. Kia employs the latest version of the Magna Dynamax system, which is the first continuous and fully active AWD system that is integrated with the car's control electronics. Magna claims that it can anticipate events and adjust early-on rather than react to changing conditions like other AWD systems.

The interior is pleasant without being overdone. Placement of controls seemed fine. Rear seat leg room is adequate for adults and the cargo area with the seats in position is quite a bit more generous than in the previous Sportage. It also features a nice flat floor with only small intrusions from the wheel wells.

In keeping with the desire for cars to be connected, the Sportage features a number of new technologies. The LX is equipped with a standard 5.0-inch color touchscreen that features Bluetooth hands-free phone operation and streaming audio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and rear-camera display. The EX is upgraded with a 7-inch touchscreen with the latest version of Kia's telematics and infotainment system, UVO3, which is making its debut on the 2017 Sportage. It includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and UVO eServices featuring 14 telematics services.

The SX Turbo features all of the above, plus an 8-inch touchscreen and onboard navigation. A 320-watt Harman Kar
don premium audio system is also available and features eight speakers including subwoofer, an external amplifier, and Clari-Fi music restoration technology.

One clever feature on the higher content models is a hands-free opening tailgate. Unlike other hands-free solutions though you don't need to place your foot under a sensor, instead the car senses the remote key in your pocket and opens when you get within three feet of the tailgate. The only potential problem I foresee is  that the tailgate might open at times when you're too near, even if you didn't want it to open!

In all honesty I'm not the sort of buyer that the Sportage is aimed at — I'd rather have a minivan or station wagon for utility or a sporty hatchback for everyday driving. However if a CUV is your cup of tea the new 2017 Sportage is certainly worthy of being on your shopping list, especially if you want a model that has just a bit more styling panache than most of its closest competitors.  It's also worth noting that Kia finished second to Porsche in this year's JDPower Initial Quality (IQS) study. Kia has certainly come a long way in style and quality in the past decade.

— John Rettie