2011 Kia Sportage Preview


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2011 Kia Sportage

SEE ALSO: KIA BUYERS GUIDE

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2011 Kia Sportage Preview

Only the name remains the same. The Sportage has been a mainstay in the Kia product lineup since its debut in 1995. That was the beginning of the Great SUV Boom, and the small, inexpensive but capable Sportage offered an alternative to larger, thirstier, pricier SUVs. It was typical for its time, a body-on-frame four-wheel drive utility vehicle, a small truck.

Sportage Generation One's best year was 2000, yet it disappeared after 2002. As did Kia, almost, only to be saved by a merger into fellow Korean manufacturer Hyundai. When it came time to rebuild Kia, a compact SUV was definitely in the works. Market research discovered that the Sportage name was actually better known than Kia, so there was no doubt as to the name.

Sportage Generation Two was, in keeping with the times, a four-door unibody crossover larger, roomier, and more upscale than the original. All it had in common with Gen 1 was the name. As was customary then, it was offered with a four-cylinder or V6 engine, with front- or automatic part-time single-range all-wheel drive. Also as was demanded by the times, it was a rounded two-box vehicle with the truckish look of a first-generation crossover.

The times have changed yet again, and the third-generation of Kia Sportage debuts early for model year 2011. While underneath it's not as radically different from its immediate predecessor as was the outgoing version, it demands a look. Crossovers no longer try to mimic trucks, and the new Sportage takes the muscular stance and proportions of the European compacts and adds distinctive, internationally-oriented styling, designed in Southern California.

Which is not to say that what's under the 2011 Kia Sportage's stylish skin is unchanged. Far from it. A new unibody structure features extensive use of high-tensile steel for strength, safety, and light weight. It's 3.5 inches longer on a 0.4-inch increase in wheelbase, 2.1 inches wider, and 2.3 inches lower. That means a bit more useable interior room, and of course a completely revamped interior with all of the expected amenities and then some. Power windows, mirrors, and accessories, air conditioning, a good AM/FM/CD/Sirius satellite radio/auxiliary jack and USB port audio system, Bluetooth® phone connectivity, auxiliary controls on the steering wheel, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, and the full complement of safety equipment, including four-wheel antilock disc brakes, switchable Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with cornering brake control and traction control, Brake Assist, Downhill Brake Control, Hill-start Assist Control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system are found in all trim levels of the 2011 Sportage, those being base, LX, and EX.

So is a four-cylinder engine. No V6? Why, as the new 2.4-liter twin-cam powerplant makes 176 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 168 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm (170hp and 173 lb-ft in SULEV tune for some markets) -- comparable to the old 2.7-liter V6's 173 hp and 178 lb-ft. No more four-speed, transmissions are now six-speeds, manual in the base model and automatic (the same as in the larger Sorento) in the LX and EX. It features standard manual-shift mode. Front-wheel drive is standard, with the ultra-sophisticated Dynamax™ all-wheel drive system developed in conjunction with German company Magna optional for the LX and EX. Want dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start/stop, heated and cooled front seats, a backup sensor, navigation system and backup camera? All are standard or available in the EX, and many are offered for the LX, too. 1995 was a long time ago, and both Kia and the Sportage have come up in the world since then.

That sounds expensive, but isn't, really. Value is important to Kia, and with base prices of $18,295 for the base model, $20,295 for the LX, and $23,295 for the EX (plus a $695 destination charge) customers will get plenty of sporty crossover for their money when the new Sportage goes on sale. Which will be soon, possibly by the time you read this.

Ok, it sounds good from the description, but how does the 2011 Sportage work? Quite well, as I discovered during the ride and drive portion of the press introduction recently held in and near San Francisco, California. Time spent inside two EXes, one all-wheel drive and the other front-wheel drive, also allowed some familiarity with the interior.

Regarding that, and the ride and performance, the phrase that comes to mind is "more than expected". And I expect much from Kia, having seen its products mature over the years. The company has been busy in the past year or so, introducing the urban-box Soul, the Forte sedan and Forte Koupe, and the newest iteration of its core vehicle, the Sorento crossover. All feature cohesive styling with immediately distinguishable lines and a unique tabbed grille. The Sorento builds on that, with a high beltline and prominent wheelarches that give it a toned, in-shape look. The EX gets LED daytime running lights. Despite the high shoulders, driver and passenger visibility is very good. Seat comfort is near the top of the class, and instruments and controls are readily visible and easy to use -- very good considering that instruction manuals weren't included. Both cars I drove had early examples of the UVO (pronounced you-vo and meaning "your voice") cabin electronics integration system, a joint effort by Kia and Microsoft using Microsoft's Windows Embedded Automotive operating system. Think Ford SYNC®, next generation. UVO will be available later in the model year.

There's plenty of space and storage inside, and the EX even gets a cooled glovebox. It's at the air conditioning temperature, not a small refrigerator, but that's still useful on a warm day.

Which the drive day definitely was not, as San Francisco's infamous "marine layer" thick ocean fog was in. Cold gusty winds and occasional damp spots in the trees and redwood groves on the Peninsula south of the city were the order of the day. As were the local roads, a mix of freeway, secondary mountain roads, narrow semi-goat paths, and indifferently-paved city streets with the odd trolley or cable car tracks.

The best part of the drive, in the morning down the backbone of the Peninsula and through the redwoods to the ocean, was in an AWD EX. The steering was not over-assisted, and had quick response. The fully-independent MacPherson strut / multilink suspension was a bit firmer than that of the old Sportage, for better performance in the corners. Whether the Dynamax AWD was working or not was hard to discern -- but that's the point of the system. In normal use, it operates in front-wheel drive mode and should feel no different than driving an FWD car. Utilizing inputs from all of the various engine and chassis and stability control sensors, the system works with the stability control system to preemptively distribute torque for optimum traction while minimizing over- or understeer. At speeds under 25 mph, it can be locked into 50/50 mode to better deal with slippery conditions. And when desired, it can be turned off.

I drove back into and through the neighborhoods of San Francisco in a front-drive EX. It was little different from the AWD version on the road, and its ride comfort, maneuverability, and good brakes were appreciated in San Francisco's variety of bad pavement and traffic congestion.

Also helping the Sportage to be enjoyable to drive is the drivetrain. The engine and six-speed automatic are well-matched. Continuous cam phasing on both the intake and exhaust cams helps increase power and torque over a wide rev range and reduce emissions. Midrange torque is strong, although the engine does like to rev. "D" works just fine on the highway or around town, or even on backroads. For more control, or to get maximum performance and fun, move the shift lever to manual and, for the 35 to 50 mph roads in the drive course, just leave it in third as the automatic is, like all, programmed to keep revs down for maximum fuel economy. A Sportage can tow up to 2,000 pounds, so small boats, personal watercraft, motorcycles, quads, and small camping trailers should present no problems.

The chassis could easily handle more power than the naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter engine makes, and a firmer suspension could put the Sportage in a spot with little competition in the compact crossover class. Oh, right, I just described the coming SX model, with a turbo version of the engine… no need for a V6 with that!


SPECIFICATIONS
2011 Kia Sportage EX

Base Price			$ 23,990 with destination
Price As Tested			$ n/a
Engine Type			dual overhead cam inline four-cylinder
				 with CVVT on both camshafts
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower			176 @ 6000 rpm (170 SULEV)
Torque (lb-ft)			168 @ 4000 rpm (163 SULEV)
Transmission			6-speed automatic
				 (6M available in base model)
Wheelbase / Length		103.9 in. / 174.8 in.
Curb Weight			3157-3355 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		17.9 - 19.7
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P235/55 R18
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front- or
				  electronically-controlled
				  all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway 			21-22 / 28-21
0 to 60 mph				est 8.5  sec
Towing capacity				2000 lbs.

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