Kia Sportage — A commendable remake

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Kia this spring introduced an all-new 2017 Sportage, the fourth generation of the longest running compact crossover nameplate. 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. And it comes at just the right time for the surging Kia brand because the compact crossover segment is exploding in popularity, outperforming the more traditional sedans in the segment.

Compared to some of its competitors,the Sportage 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.

The new Sportage has 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 — especially for rear-seat occupants who found the outgoing Sportage on the tight side — and helps give the vehicle 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 181 horsepower in the normally-aspirated engine. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission choice, and it's a good one. It just might be the best shifting automatic in the segment.

We found the base engine to be just okay for merging and passing —  keeping the pedal to the metal might be necessary to get the job done on some occasions. The turbocharged engine, on the other hand, was more to our liking with measured 0-to-60 time of 6.9 seconds, very good for the segment.

The downside is that the turbocharged engine is on the thirsty side of the equation at 21 mpg city, 26 highway and 23 combined in front-wheel drive and 20/23/21 in AWD although we averaged 22.9. The base engine is rated at 23/30/26 in FWD and 21/25/22 in AWD. Both take regular gas — a big plus.

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. Additionally we were pleased with the 2.0-liter's lack of turbo lag, something that used to be the bane of older turbocharged engines.

One feature that impressed us 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.

The ride also proved very compliant with a nice balance between comfort and handling control. The Sportage has a bit of athleticism to it taking the curves of our usual "test track" with surprising dexterity.

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 more generous than in the previous Sportage. It also features a flat floor with only small intrusions from the wheel wells. Cargo space with the rear-seats folded falls short of the segment average, but we think that for most people buying small crossovers, 60.1 cubic feet will work just fine. It would for us.

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, and UVO eServices featuring 14 telematics services.

The SX with standard navigation steps up to an 8-inch touchscreen and Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking. You’ll also find a premium Harman Kardon sound system. One clever feature on the higher content models is a hands-free tailgate that opens when you get within three feet.

The Sportage LX starts at $23,885 in FWD. If you need all-wheel drive the base price rises to $25,385. The range tops out at $34,895 for a well-equipped all-wheel drive SX, such as our test car.

Base price: 23,885; as driven, $34,895
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 240 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 260 pound-feet @ 1,450 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Length: 176.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,649 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 31 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 60.1 cubic feet
Towing capacity: NA
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 20 city, 23 highway, 21 overall
0-60: 6.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue

The Good
• Quiet interior
• Attractive dashboard layout
• Spacious seating for back-seaters

The Bad
• Cargo capacity trails some competitors

The Ugly
• Gas mileage below average