2017 Kia Sportage: AutoGuide.com Utility of the Year Contender

AutoGuide.com gathered five of the most significant utility vehicles for the 2017 model year for our annual Utility Vehicle of the Year evaluations. This year, our contenders are the Kia Sportage, Jaguar F-Pace, GMC Acadia, Audi Q7 and Honda CR-V. There was no hard price cap on this year’s entrants, but we tried to make sure none of them were extravagantly priced. We will release a new video on each contender every day leading up to April 13, when we announce our winner. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our Car of the Year and Truck of the Year series.

There might not be an automaker this side of Hyundai more frequently — and maybe even unfairly — subjected to retrospective reviews than its sister brand, Kia.

You know the ones. They start by reflecting on how awful, say, the original Kia Sephia was before moving on to marvel at the likes of the current Forte and just how far the brand has come. Of course, that amazement at the automaker’s rapid ascent from unknown commodity to undisputed contender is justified. After all, Kia has come a long way in its two decades or so on the market here. And there’s no better example of that growth than the 2017 Kia Sportage.

Originally launched as the brand’s second model on the North American market, the Sportage — yes, the one that starred in those awful commercials set down on the bayou — has stood the test of time like no other model in Kia’s lineup. In fact, as far as compact crossovers go the Sportage is among the longest-tenured nameplates on the market.

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Much of the credit for the Sportage’s staying power goes to its steady evolution, with wholesale improvements made with each passing generation culminating in this latest version. While the design may not appeal to everyone — I, for one, think it’s a bit too snub-nosed — it’s been so vastly improved that the Sportage can now easily be considered among the segment’s best.

The Sportage still comes with the choice of two four-cylinder engines: A naturally aspirated 2.4-liter in all but SX models, and a turbocharged 2.0-liter under the hood of that top-of-the-line trim. Both offer a decent amount of power — 181 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque from the former, and 237 horsepower and 260 lb-ft from the latter — though that’s more so the case with the turbo engine, which is responsive and provides a good amount of giddyup when merging onto the highway or passing slower traffic.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Kia Niro Review

When it comes to ride quality, the Sportage is greatly improved, though not exactly great. It’s not that the ride is necessarily rigid, and the Sportage certainly doesn’t struggle to absorb most of what’s thrown its way, but it does seem like the suspension could offer a little more cushiness. Of course, that could also be a product of our tester’s 19-inch wheels, which are accompanied by lower profile tires that tend to communicate bumps in the road with more clarity.

Inside, the Sportage features a nice cabin design that’s easy to live with regardless of trim level. It’s also available with all kinds of comfort and convenience features, including heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, and a touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Not available on the Sportage, however, are active safety features like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist.

Despite not leading the segment in either cargo volume (28.2 cu-ft, 798 liters) or second row legroom (38.2 inches, 970 millimeters), the Sportage offers plenty of space for a family of four and most of its stuff. When fitted with the available panoramic sunroof, headroom in the front seats is less than stellar, though most drivers of average height aren’t likely to notice. Instead, it’s those on the plus side of, say, 6-foot-2 that will be left feeling like they’re sitting on a stack of phonebooks. Thankfully, the Sportage’s seats are supportive and comfortable — and they become even more enjoyable when shroud in the available leather upholstery, which has an almost premium quality.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Ford Focus RS Wins AutoGuide.com Car of the Year Award

The Sportage is now sophisticated and refined — terms that definitely wouldn’t be used in those early days. And best of all, the fundamentals that make this 2017 Kia Sportage great — namely the overall ride quality — are unchanged no matter the trim level. The tester provided to us by Kia was a fully loaded example, but a base LX model suffices in providing a smooth and quiet ride that’s up there with the segment-leading Honda CR-V.

The Sportage is also up there with its rival from Honda when it comes to price. A base front-wheel drive version starts at $23,200 ($24,895 in Canada) while the loaded SX Turbo will fetch $34,200 ($39,595 in Canada), with plenty of rungs on the ladder in between. Add it all up, and the 2017 Kia Sportage is a competitive offering that can go toe-to-toe with the segment’s very best.