2012 Kia Sportage SX Review

Proof performance crossovers don’t have to be luxurious, or expensive

2012 Kia Sportage SX Review

If you drive a Kia Sportage with the standard 2.4-liter engine that is rated at a rather ordinary 176 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque, you’ll find it to be a nice, middle-of-the-road, good quality, stylish, Crossover Utility Vehicle. However, if you drop in the Kia’s new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection engine from the new Optima Turbo model, you’ve got a whole different CUV experience.


1. A new SX trim Sportage comes exclusively with a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder making 260 hp at 6000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 1800 rpm.

2. SX models also gain 18-inch wheels, a stiffer suspension, a dual exhaust system, new front grille, custom doorsills and a new gauge cluster.

3. Sportage models start at $18,500 with the SX trim at $28,400.

The turbo boost in power is just what this vehicle needs to make it a fun machine to drive. Now, when you press the accelerator, you get a rush of low end torque right where you want it, and passing maneuvers are now handled with ease. No turbo lag, just some strong giddyup to get you going. Zero to 60 comes in just over 8 seconds, which is decent but not quite what we expected for a 260 hp cute-ute. A 6-speed automatic with a manual shifting feature is the only transmission available. Despite the boost in power, the Kia SX AWD still delivers excellent fuel economy with numbers of 21 city and 26 highway.


Riding on an independent front and rear suspension system with MacPherson struts in front a multi-link set-up in the rear, SX models also ride on larger 18-inch wheels with a stiffer suspension setup.

2012 Kia Sportage SX hills

Kia’s Dynamax all-wheel drive system (equipped on our test car) uses vehicle speed and traction control sensors, along with driver input, to continuously monitor driving conditions, to better anticipate the AWD requirements, as opposed to other systems that only react to situations after they occur. The driver feels improved lateral stability during cornering, with less wheel slippage from each axel. During normal driving, 100 percent of the engine torque goes through the front wheels for fuel economy, and then transfers the right amount of torque rearward when front wheel slip is detected. The driver can also push the “Lock Mode” button for enhanced traction on snow, mud, gravel and other slippery conditions to distribute the torque evenly between the front and rear, at speeds below 25 miles per hour. There is even a hill descent control button on this Sportage, although I doubt too many owners will be taking severe off-road slopes in this crossover.

If you combine all the systems mentioned above with superb electronic power steering that gives excellent feedback to the driver, you find yourself being surprised at how much fun it is to drive this little CUV when pushed hard. The wide stance and road hugging abilities gives the driver the confidence to explore the edge of the handling envelope just as one would with a sporting sedan.

2012 Kia Sportage SX rear


To go along with the aggressive nature of the powertrain, this Kia Sportage is one of the best looking little utes on the market. Designed at Kia’s Irvine, CA studios, the Sportage aims to “convey an even more determined road presence with the compact size by emphasizing its aggressive, hunkered-down position.” There is a high “spearing” shoulder-line running the length of the car that visually connects the headlamps and tail lights, and highlights the lowered look of the body. Viewed from the front, the unique grill and dramatically swept-back headlamps blend into the sculpted hood and provide a bold look that is enhanced by the pronounced flair of the wheel wells. The SX model adds unique 18-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust tips, sculpted side sill moldings and that unique SX grill. There is also a unique gauge package inside.

2012 Kia Sportage SX cabin

The cabin is a comfortable place for four adults, and a young child for the middle of the rear seat. Our test vehicle came with the SX Premium Package which offers comfortable perforated leather heated seats, (also an air-cooled seat for the driver) push button and remote start, heated outside mirrors, auto-dim rearview mirror, a panoramic moon roof, with an tilt and sliding section over the front seats, and a large glass section over the rear section of the car. A cargo cover and special interior lighting are also part of the $2,000 package. A large Navigation screen with back-up camera and park assist was also fitted as a $1,000 package.

The cabin is mostly quiet and calm, with lots of headroom and good legroom front and rear. Cargo space is somewhat smaller than the competition, including a Rav4 or Honda CR-V, with just 26 cu-ft behind the rear seats. When dropped flat there is a total of 54.6 cu-ft, but it’s still well behind rivals. Thankfully there is a 12-volt outlet in back for tailgating duties. Also, the liftgate opens high enough to keep one from knocking their noggin on it.

2012 Kia Sportage SX cargo space

All the controls for the driver are nicely laid out and simple to use. The dual climate controls are easy to use dials with push buttons for the HVAC vent outlet direction. Dash gauges are well lit with a large info screen in the center of the speedometer dial. There are two 12-volt outlets at the base of the center stack and a handy storage cubby for a phone, MP3 player or any other device you want to charge. There are also inputs for MP3, USB and auxiliary input jacks. Cell phone is Bluetooth controlled. There is good storage in the center console, door pockets and the cooling glove box.


There are two complaints we have with the interior of the Sportage SX. The first is that there is too much hard plastic. We don’t mind it on the dash so much, but we’d like softer materials on the tops of the doorsills, armrests, and console.

2012 Kia Sportage SX uvo

The other complaint is that the interior is all black. And we mean all black. Darth Vader would be looking for something to lighten it up. Except for just a small smattering of brushed aluminum on the steering wheel, and gear shift surround, there is nothing to break up the sea of black. The shapes of the dash and door trims are pleasing, but they need to be separated with another color, or contrasting stitching, or some chrome or brushed dash trim. Even the light from the panoramic roof doesn’t brighten the interior enough. Of note, Kia does offer custom Orange and Blue interior packages, but our test car was not so equipped.


The MSRP starts at $28,400. The test car added $2,000 for the SX Premium Package, $1,000 for the Navigation Package, $350 for the Interior Lightening Package, and $150 for a cargo tray and mat. With the destination charge the bottom line is $32,700 – a lot of coin for a compact Korean crossover.

Still, apart from the lackluster interior, you won’t find this combination of style and horsepower at such a compelling price anywhere else.

2012 Kia Sportage SX trolley

Related Reading
2012 Honda CR-V Review
2011 Toyota RAV4 Review
2011 Hyundai Tucson Review
2010 Chevy Equinox Review
2011 Kia Sportage Review – Video
2011 Subaru Forester Review

  • The car pictured in this article is not the SX. Car & Driver reported a 0-60 time of 6.1 sec. The only car that comes close to the Sportage in this segment is the 2013 Ford Escape. I would put the Sportage up against the Q5, the GLK and the X3. Those are higher quality vehicles, but feature for feature, power and looks wise the SX holds its own. Peter Schreyer is the man!

  • Tracyleblanc

    don’t know about the 2012, but I also have the same comment regarding too much plastic and to much black in the 2010 Anniversary version.  I do not believe I am hard on car interiors (or exteriors for that matter) but looking at mine today, it is very distressing to see it so worn from keys and norm nail/ring contact.  Not only is there to much plastic, but the plastic is cheap as well. Very disappointing actually as I was so high with the car when it was new, sun roof, GPS, blue tooth, cruise, all the things I wanted. 

  • Daz Woolley

    i have just bought the 1.7 sportage and quite impressed but definately disappointed with the bluetooth phone system , the receptiojn is terrible internal mike is rubbish , also it has great difficulty picking up the phone , mine beinmg a blackberry bold but YOU NEED to check compatability on their website as NOT all phones match up , although it sayd mine does , it still does not connect automatically and you get the usual annoying lady voice saying pairing unsuccesful !!!!!!!!!!! it drives me crazy !!
    i have just paid to have a parrot system installed ..

  • Sportage

    I purchased a 2012 Sportage with all the bells & whistles and can’t say that I’m disappointed in any of it! This is a crossover that has a German feel to it. For the price at 32k, this puppy has a lot going for it from it’s reverse backup camera to leather styling it’s a sweet ride and as good a class as the X3 or loaded Rav 4. I love my KIA.

  • Sportage

    Could be your phone. I’ve had no issue with my family’s cell phones includes 3 curves, 1 bold and a Motorola Android. The speaker is also fine and all phones connect instantly. You should definitely take it back, you never know maybe you got a bad unit, since don’t forget it is Microsoft driven :s  but then again I have the 2012, can’t say what the Uvoice was like in earlier years if it was there.

  • Buffalo Tom

    Have a 2012 SX, it’s quick, but seats and handling have much room for improvement. I think the stock 18 inch tires have too high a side wall, tires bounce like a basket ball. Car now has 20K miles now, the turbo is cutting in and out, usually upon motor start it sometimes doesn’t work, and when restarted thereafter it works again. Shop (Robin w/Transitowne KIA in Buffalo NY Area) looked it over, says it’s b/c I had it in FWD lock, which makes no sense. Since I’ve kept is out of FWD lock, still acting up. When the restart trick stops working I’ll take it back in.  

  • VA Kicia

    i have a 2012 sportage the lx model… do anyone know how it drives in snow?

  • bongsantos

    Its funny you had to complain about the plastic now since before you bought it, you already knew what you were getting in the first place..its actually your fault.