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.
STIFFER SPRINGS, SURE-FOOTED AWD
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.
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.
LOADED-UP WITH STYLE
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.
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.
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.
TOO MUCH PLASTIC, TOO LITTLE COLOR
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.
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.