The Kia Sportage has been around longer than most consumers probably realize. The first-generation model, which was a true body-on-frame compact SUV, first entered production way back in 1993. It soldiered on for nearly a decade in the U.S. market without much change, and by any objective measure, it was a sales flop.
A couple of years later, the Kia Sportage was back, this time as a compact crossover utility vehicle built on a car platform. It’s been in continuous production ever since, and today, the model is in its fourth generation, riding on the same Hyundai-Kia J6 platform that underpins Hyundai’s Elantra and Tucson models, as well as the Kia Forte. In 2018, the Sportage posted its highest-ever sales for a single year in the U.S. market, despite an overall downturn for the brand since 2016; clearly, Kia’s done something right.
The fourth-generation Kia Sportage, launched for the 2017 model year in North America, is a bit of a standout in the compact crossover segment, with shorter, squatter proportions and uniquely quirky styling that was reportedly inspired by fighter jets. Drawing upon fighter jet design for inspiration makes a lot of sense if, say, you’re penning the next Corvette. But a budget compact family-hauler? That’s a bit more strange.
As strange as it is, though, it works.
And if the unique styling doesn’t get you, the value proposition just might. The Kia Sportage has one of the lowest starting MSRPs in the compact crossover segment, yet even at the base trim level, you get 17-inch alloy wheels, forward collision prevention with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
For the U.S. market, the fourth-generation Kia Sportage is built at a plant in Gwangiu, South Korea, Kia does have a U.S. manufacturing plant, in West Point, Georgia, which produces the Optima sedan and Sorento crossover.
Pros/ Spunky, off-beat styling / Tremendous feature set for the money
Cons/ So-so fuel economy / Turbo engine only available at top trim
Bottom Line/ The Kia Sportage is an alluring option in a sea of more bland, forgettable compact CUVs.
Table of contents
Kia Sportage Fuel Economy
Fuel economy for the 2020 Kia Sportage is within the typical range for the compact crossover segment, achieving up to 26 miles per gallon combined according to the EPA, from 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. That’s for a front-wheel-drive Sportage 2.4L. At the other end of the spectrum is the all-wheel-drive Sportage 2.0L turbo, which is rated at 21 mpg combined – 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.
While comparable to many other compact crossovers, the Sportage is handily exceeded in fuel efficiency by the likes of the Chevrolet Equinox and Subaru Forester.
Kia Sportage Safety Rating
The current-generation Kia Sportage has performed well in safety testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, achieving Good ratings in every crash test category, including the tricky small overlap front crash test categories. The utility vehicle’s optional frontal collision prevention system is rated as Superior.
If there’s one area in which the Sportage is impeachable, it’s with regard to its headlights. The IIHS has been focusing more on headlight effectiveness in recent years, and the Sportage’s lamps range from Poor to Acceptable, depending on trim.
Curiously, the 2019 Kia Sportage is not listed as an IIHS Top Safety Pick, whereas the 2018 model was.
Kia Sportage Features
Like its South Korean partner Hyundai, Kia Motors excels at offering thoughtful features at a low price point. The Kia Sportage is no exception, packing alloy wheels, an acoustic glass windshield, high beam assist, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, frontal collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from the base trim level.
Higher-spec models load up on features like blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, parking distance warning, Harman Kardon audio, heated/ventilated front seats, a power liftgate, distance-pacing cruise control with stop-and-go, and an enormous panoramic moonroof. Naturally, leather seat upholstery is standard only on the top SX Turbo trim.
Every trim level of the Kia Sportage offers all-wheel drive as an option, coming standard with front-wheel drive. A 181-horsepower 2.4L four-cylinder engine is the sole engine available on the LX, S, and EX models; you’ll have to step up to the range-topping SX Turbo to get Kia’s turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder.
Kia Sportage Pricing
Pricing for the 2020 Kia Sportage in the U.S. starts at $23,990 before destination, with a $1,595 “LX Popular Package” adding blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, dual-zone climate control, a ten-way power adjustable driver’s seat, and some other goodies.
The most feature-rich Sportage you can get with a 2.4L engine, the EX, starts several thousand higher at $27,190, before a dramatic price leap to the $33,490 range-topping SX Turbo model. Adding all-wheel drive to that model costs another $1,500, and if you’re determined to have all the tack-on extras, you can get the price tag up to $37,205 before destination.
Kia Sportage Competitors
The Kia Sportage competes in the budget compact crossover class, which is populated with entrants like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4. It represents an alluring alternative to the likes of the Chevy, Ford, and Honda, thanks to its spunky, off-beat styling and thoughtful feature content. It also undercuts most of the competition with regard to price, starting nearly $1,000 lower than the Ford, and nearly $2,000 lower than the Toyota.
However, while the Kia Sportage starts some $505 lower than the Subaru Forester, that model delivers better fuel economy and comes fitted with all-wheel drive as standard. If AWD is a necessity, the Subaru certainly warrants consideration. Moreover, the Sportage is undercut by the Hyundai Tucson in terms of price – a model that offers similar fuel economy and rides on the same vehicle platform. That vehicle doesn’t offer quite the same level of standard equipment, however.
2017 Kia Sportage Review
By Mike Schlee | Mar 07, 2016
The Kia Sportage is a bit of an outsider in the world of compact crossovers.
It’s an oddball that has always walked to the beat of its own drum. This year, it’s no different. The all-new 2017 Sportage may appear fairly conventional at first glance, but take a deeper look and there are a lot of differences from the usual swarm of Honda CR-Vs, Toyota RAV4s and Ford Escapes.
For starters, there’s its shape. Now entering its fourth generation, the Sportage has grown 1.6 inches in total length, but at 176.4 inches long, it’s still shorter than most of its competition. With a width of 73-inches, it’s wider than any other compact crossover though. This gives the Sportage a nice, proportioned stance that doesn’t appear tippy like some of its competitors.
The styling too offers a few unique elements not found on other CUVs. Most prominent are the “ice cube” cluster of four LED fog lamps on either side of the front bumper. And while on the topic of the front bumper, two different styles are offered depending on which drivetrain is selected. Front-wheel drive Sportages get a lower, squared off front fascia while all-wheel drive models receive a higher, angled front bumper that improves approach angles.
New All-Wheel Drive System
Ride height also increases nearly a half inch when all-wheel drive is selected to 6.8-inches total. This isn’t exactly the kind of clearance that will have the Sportage rock crawling through Moab, but it doesn’t mean the Kia is a complete off-road pushover either.
For 2017 the all-wheel drive duties are handled by a new active all-wheel drive system supplied by Magna. It sends power to all four-wheels during initial acceleration, then reverts to primarily front-wheel drive until slip is predicted. At that point upwards of 60% of the engines power can be sent to the rear wheels. If some serious mud, dirt or snow driving is about to be undertaken, the electronic center differential can also be manually locked by the driver, splitting power 50/50 front to rear.
Familiar Engines, Plenty of Power
Like the third generation Sportage, the new model offers a little more power under the hood than most of its competitors. The base engine remains a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that receives updates this year to make 181 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. Those looking for more power will be happy to know there is still the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This year it too receives a refresh, mainly in the name of improved fuel economy. This has shrunk horsepower by 19 ponies and torque is down 9 lb-ft. Still, with 241 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, that’s more than any other vehicle in its class aside from the Subaru Forester XT and Ford Escape 2.0-liter Ecoboost.
Either engine can be had with front or all-wheel drive and are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. I had the chance to sample both the front- and all-wheel drive versions of the turbocharged 2017 Sportage SX.
Engine power is plentiful and rightfully feels more stout than most of the Sportage’s competitors. But compared to the Forester XT and Escape 2.0-liter Ecoboost, it doesn’t feel as swift or responsive. The latter does improve if the Kia is put into sport mode, but that adversely affects fuel economy.
A Thirsty Compact
And fuel economy is already a sore point for the Sportage. With the revised engine and new all-wheel drive system, the turbocharged Sportage SX has improved by 1 mpg when it comes to city driving. The problem is, it has worsened by 2 mpg on the highway leaving less than impressive official fuel ratings of 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. For reference, an all-wheel drive Ford Escape 2.0-liter Ecoboost is rated at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway while the turbocharged Forester XT is slated to achieve 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
Even the Sportage’s base 2.4-liter engine isn’t overly efficient. Rated at 21 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for an all-wheel drive model, it trails the all-wheel drive Honda CR-V by 3 mpg in the city and 7 mpg on the highway.
Some of the crossover’s fuel thirst can be blamed on weight. The 2017 Sportage SX Turbo is some 200 pounds heavier than the equivalent 2016 model, weighing in at 3,765 lbs. That puts it at the heavier end of the scale for the class.
Refined Ride, Responsive Drive
The weight does seem to help with ride quality though – an area Kia worked hard to improve on the new model and it shows. The entire Sportage lineup has received revised bushing and suspension components for a smoother, compliant ride and more natural handling. The 2017 Sportage drives smoothly with well controlled rebound over bumps while not jostling passengers. And the cabin remains fairly quiet, even on grooved concrete.
Kia didn’t go overboard with the SX suspension by making it overly sporty, which is a good thing. It’s uniquely tuned with firmer shock absorbers to deliver sharper handling, but ride quality doesn’t suffer. Wearing wide 245 mm tires wrapped around 19-inch wheels, handling for the SX is on the higher end for the class, but lacks that final bit of chassis response found in the Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape.
Steering is another area that has improved for 2017 as the Sportage finally ditches that old, video game feeling. There are no unnatural responses or unexpected movements with the wheel. It’s not exactly sporty or full of feel, but it’s as good as anything in the segment, Mazda CX-5 notwithstanding.
Still a Pillar of Value
The Sportage has always made its mark on offering a whole lot of features for the money and for 2017 that doesn’t change. Although it is missing options like adaptive cruise control and active lane keep, a fully loaded, Sportage SX AWD comes equipped with dual front ventilated power seats, a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof and recordable live radio for up to six channels at a time. At a price of $34,895 after destination charges, that undercuts a fully loaded Escape Titanium 2.0-liter Ecoboost AWD and Forester XT Touring.
That price also obtains a mostly well-appointed interior, let down a bit by a few lower panel plastics. Attention has been paid to the details though as the squared off steering wheel looks and feels premium as does most of the switchgear.
Overall interior dimensions are up, such as front headroom and rear legroom that now totals 38.2 inches in total. Cargo capacity behind the second row has grown substantially from 26.1 cu.-ft. to 30.7 cu.-ft., but still trails most of the competition. A smart power lift gate can open automatically when the key fob is three feet of the vehicle and the Sportage’s load floor now sits lower.
The Verdict: 2017 Kia Sportage Review
The 2017 Kia Sportage continues to offer style, value and performance in a class usually focused on space, efficiency and comfort. With the Sportage’s new found refinement and more usable dimensions, it continues to be a fashionable alternative to the usual compact crossover crowd.
|Engine /||2.4L 4-cyl / 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl|
|Horsepower /||181 / 241|
|Torque /||175 lb-ft / 260 lb-ft|
|Transmission /||6-speed automatic|
|Drivetrain /||Front-wheel drive / All-wheel drive|
Our Final Verdict
The current-generation Kia Sportage is easy to like. Its unusually sleek, bold styling makes it a standout amidst a field of more pedestrian designs, and there aren’t too many non-luxury small vehicle lines that can touch it in terms of standard equipment. What’s more, both of its available powerplants – the naturally aspirated 2.4L and the 2.0L turbo – offer comparatively high levels of grunt for the segment.
The Sportage wouldn’t be our number one choice for fuel economy; it fits well within the normal compact crossover mpg range, but some of its competitors offer significantly more. But if you’re looking to stand out amidst the expansive sea of Escapes, Equinoxes, and RAV4s, the Kia Sportage is a splendid way to do it.4.1