2011 Kia Sportage Review [Video]

Kia’s compact crossover might win awards for most improved, but that’s about it

2011 Kia Sportage Review [Video]
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The latest sister car to its Hyundai counterpart, the Kia Sportage is in many ways mechanically similar to the Tucson, a fact that is particularly important to our review of the new compact crossover.

FAST FACTS

1. The 2011 Sportage comes with just one engine, a 176-hp 2.4L 4-cyl that actually makes more power than the previous-gen’s optional V6.

2. Fuel economy is a near best-in-class EPA rated 22/31-mpg (city/highway) or 21/28-mpg for AWD models.

3. While cabin room has increased, total cargo room is down 10 cu.-ft. from the previous model.

4. Pricing starts at $18,295 with $20,295 for a more suitable model. Our EX AWD test car with the optional Premium Package retails for $27,795.

While the Tucson wowed us with a fresh new look, vastly improved interior and an engine that was both peppy and fuel efficient, the Sportage is lacking despite many of the same upgrades.

EXCELLENT FUEL ECONOMY, POWERFUL 4-CYLINDER

The Sportage’s vastly-improved fuel economy is the same as it’s Hyundai counterpart, getting one of the best ratings in the compact crossover class at 22/31-mpg, city/highway for automatic models, while AWD versions are rated at 21/28-mpg. Power is also quite solid with a new 176-hp 2.4-liter 4-cyliner that’s actually got more ponies on tap than the old V6.

And yes, the new Sportage is completely redesigned for 2011 with a significantly more attractive and modern look. The only problem is, it’s a lot too familiar, looking nearly identical to it’s big brother the Sorento. So while the Hyundai was fresh and new, the Sportage has “we’ve seen this before” written all over it.

When outfitted in top-level EX trim like our test car it does look rather premium however, with chrome accenting, fog lights, 18-inch wheels, roof rails, a rear spoiler and even LED running lights.

NEW DESIGN MAKES FOR POOR VISIBILITY

Subjectivity aside, the design of the Sportage has one important drawback, namely, that it significantly compromises outward visibility. The second you slide into the cabin and shut the door it’s as though someone just slammed the lid on a coffin – which is only exacerbated by the monotone black interior. In fact, we haven’t driven a car this claustrophobic since the Camaro.

The crossover’s more aggressive look comes at the expense of tiny windows, notably the windshield and rear glass. There’s not a lot of greenhouse up front to see out of and far less in the rear. Making the forward visibility even worse are massive A pillars that block most of your view.

MUCH-IMPROVED INTERIOR

Interior trim is a massive step forward for Kia, and we have to say that upon initial inspection the cabin is well designed, uses materials of good (enough) quality and much of it even feels nice thanks to soft touch buttons and dials that have a premium smoothness of motion to them. Some small aluminum-look accenting goes a long way to help, while the gloss-black dual-zone climate controls (standard on EX models and not available on the rest of the lineup) do wonders for the look of the dash.

There was altogether too much black on our test model and upon closer inspection, there’s plenty of hard dark plastic, from the dash top to the doors and even staring you in the face on the steering wheel, which on our test car was coated in leather – although the cow Kia killed must have been from a Lego farm.

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We can’t be too hard on the Sportage though, as this is an entry-level vehicle that starts at just $18,295. That base number is always misleading, however, as you’ll want to spend $2,000 more to get into an LX model with an automatic transmission. An extra $1,500 will get you AWD, with $23,295 for the EX trim level and another $1,500 to option that out with AWD like our test car. And even then the Premium Package, which includes leather seats, heated front seats, a cooled driver’s seat, panoramic sunroof, reverse sensors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power heated mirrors and a push button ignition will run you an additional $3,000. (Nav is an extra $1,500). So all of a sudden the $18,000 Sportage is transformed into our $28,000 test car.

DRIVING EXPERIENCE LEAVES THE MOST TO BE DESIRED

Driving the car delivers some of the biggest disappointments. Engineered with more of a sporting tone, the suspension feels too stiffly sprung and hitting anything more than a suspension joint at highway speeds will have the rear end of the ‘ute come crashing down to earth. At more sedate speeds, uneven pavement will send a shudder all the way down the Sportage’s spine. These issues may be related to the fact that our test model rode on the larger 18-inch wheels and lower profile 55-series tires, although its unlikely the difference between the 55s and 215/60/17s will make much of a change.  Of note, Base and mid-range LX trim levels come standard with much higher 215/70/16 tires.

The gas pedal also proved an annoyance, thanks to it being too upright. As a result you almost need to have your toes touch your shin to use it, meaning a very sore leg for any period of time spent in stop-and-go traffic.

Out on the highway things are no better. The electric power steering system used across the Hyundai/Kia range needs some work to improve on-center feel and the setup in the Sportage is easily the worst of the bunch. Once the sensors have determined you’re turning and begin to add resistance to the steering it’s fine, but until that point it’s terribly vague. As a result small changes mid-corner happen quite quickly, while adjustments in a straight line are mostly ignored. This makes for lots of small guesswork when driving the crossover and you never feel very comfortable that it’s going to respond how you’d like.

On top of all this, real world fuel economy (something that’s actually been quite good on past Hyundai/Kia models we tested) was lacking. We averaged just 21-mpg with a significantly higher proportion of highway miles, even though 21-mpg is rated as the city number.

LOTS MORE PASSENGER SPACE, LESS CARGO ROOM

Passenger room is quite good in the second row with more than enough headroom and legroom for the 6-foot set and you’ll have no issues packing the kids back there.ssues packing the kids back there. Like with the Tucson, there’s considerably more space on this new Sportage than in the past.

As for packing other things, there’s a total of 26.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats, which expands to 54.6 cu.-ft. total. By comparison, that’s about 10 cu.-ft. short of a Chevy Equinox (not to mention the previous generation Sportage) and almost 20 cu.-ft. short of the class-leading Honda CR-V. It’s some of the smallest total space in the compact crossover class, meaning don’t expect to pack your luggage for a weekend trip to grandma’s and your baby’s exersaucer. For most purposes, however, it’s more than enough.

THE VERDICT

While there are big improvements to the new Sportage, there’s also an unusually high number of strikes against this compact crossover. Ideally you’d be able to get many of the Sportage’s traits without the poor visibility and the rough ride. Lucky for you, but not so lucky for Kia, you can, by opting for the Hyundai Tucson.

LOVE IT
  • More passenger room
  • Vastly improved interior
  • Excellent entry-price
LEAVE IT
  • Suspension too stiff
  • Steering too vague
  • Gas pedal too steeply angled
  • Poor outward visibility
  • Fuel economy doesn’t live up to the hype

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2010 Hyundai Tucson: First Drive
2011 Kia Sorento EX V6 Review
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2010 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT AWD Review
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