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2011 Kia Sportage EX FWD - Review

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2011 Kia Sportage


SEE ALSO: Kia Buyers Guide

The Sportage has been an important part of the Kia lineup since 1995, but the Sportage of today -- and the Kia of today, for that matter -- is quite different.

The third-generation 2011 Sportage is very much a contemporary crossover, a stylish and spacious compact machine that offers a fine combination of utility, comfort, and economical performance. If it looks different from last year's version, in production from 2005 to 2010, that's because it is.

Crossovers no longer try to mimic trucks; Kia has discovered its own design language, and the new Sportage takes the muscular stance and proportions of European compact crossovers and adds distinctive, internationally-oriented styling. It's longer, lower, and wider, although not by much. More importantly, everything under the new skin is new, too.

That means not only the unibody structure and fully-independent suspension, but the engine and transmission as well. And yes, that's engine, singular. Where the previous Sportage had a choice of four-cylinder or V6 engines, the new one is four-cylinder only. But it's a new four, with 2.4 liters displacement and 176 horsepower, three better than the previous V6. And with better fuel economy. Transmissions are six-speed, manual in the base model and automatic in the upscale LX and EX.

Standard equipment levels are high, prices are low, and build quality and fit and finish are first rate. I first drove the 2011 Kia Sportage last summer when it was introduced to the automotive press in San Francisco, CA. A pleasant day spent driving the backroads down the Peninsula to the south and then back through the city's neighborhoods highlighted its comfort, performance, and easy urban maneuverability. More recently a week at home with a front-wheel drive allowed me a closer inspection of the newest Sportage's stylish comfort, usefulness and versatility. It offers far more than is expected, and its high equipment level builds on a solid, honest base.

APPEARANCE: Kia has recently developed its own design language, and the 2011 Sportage is a fine example of that as applied to a compact crossover. Boldly styled but not baroquely over-styled, it's instantly recognizable once it's known. Flowing lines and gently-sculpted surfaces meld cohesively, and the Kia signature "tabbed" grille's shape is reprised in the top line of the highly-sloped windshield and the lower air intake and area surrounding the EX's foglamps. Moderate fender flares and a high shoulder line help add presence. Yes, that's textured plastic around the lower perimeter, but it's there as much for rock chip protection as style, and the black plastic cover beneath the front of the car is for aerodynamics, not a skid plate. The EX trim level has LED running lights integrated into the headlamp clusters, an upscale touch. The roofline slopes gently to a curved backlight in the liftgate, and yes, the tab is evident at its lower edge. Large taillights further define the rear view.

COMFORT: That high shoulder line does not mean compromised visibility. Anything but… Although the Sportage's interior is as highly-styled as its exterior, with a free-form design featuring a variety of materials, that style does not come at the expense of function. The high-eyepoint seating position and very good seat comfort make time in the car pleasant and comfortable; at the EX level the front seats power-adjustable and can be both heated and air-cooled with the "Premium Package With Leather" with which my test car was outfitted. Instruments are brightly backlit for easy visibility, and cruise, auxiliary audio, and phone controls on the leather-rimmed tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel add convenience and more luxury touches. Push-button start/stop and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof are other Premium Package options of note - add in the available navigation system with upgraded audio and the standard air-conditioned glovebox and even with all the trimmings you could pay twice as much for a Euro-luxury brand crossover and not really get much more. The sunroof panel makes the spacious rear seat seem even more so. It folds 60/40 for the usual crossover usefulness, and a cargo cover hides luggage in normal operation. A space-saver spare is located under the cargo floor, no worries about only having a "fix-a-flat" kit. Bottle holders in all door and strategically-located storage spaces add convenience. The optional audio system is first-rate, and iPod-compatible.

SAFETY: The 2011 Kia Sportage has a "Top Safety Pick" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A full complement of air bags, active front headrests, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic stability control (ESC), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and brake assist (BAS) are standard for all trim levels, as are Hill Start Assist Control, Downhill Brake Control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: There's more sport in the Sportage than in most small crossovers. It's more "sporty" as in enjoyable to drive and surprisingly competent on the back road to the campsite or cabin than "sports" as in performance in the corners over all else. But that's perfect for its intended market position, and the improved unibody structure with redesigned MacPherson struts in front and a new multilink system in the rear balance comfort and handling well. Steering assist is just right, for easy parking and low-speed maneuvering and highway stability.

PERFORMANCE: No V6? No problem! The new Sportage's 2.4-liter twincam, 16-valve four-cylinder engine makes 176 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 168 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) -- or 170hp and 173 lb-ft in SULEV tune for some markets-- which compares well with the old V6's 173hp and 168 lb-ft. And that's in a car that is 150 pounds or so lighter. While a six-speed manual is standard in the base model, all 2011 Sportages that I've driven have had the six-speed automatic. It's the same unit as found in the larger Sorento. In both cases, a wider spread of ratios thanks to more speeds allows both good acceleration and good highway economy. EPA ratings for the front-wheel drive Sportage are 22 mpg city. 31 highway and I got 23 in a mix skewed to city and backroad driving. I had the opportunity to drive an all-wheel drive Sportage during the press intro. Sophisticated and computerized, with inputs from engine, chassis, and stability control sensors, it's transparent in operation. And if 173 horsepower is not enough, wait. The SX trim level, with power from a 2.0-liter, 270+ horsepower turbo four, is coming.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2011 Kia Sportage packs style and substance into a distinctive package.


Base Price $ 23,295 
Price As Tested $ 28,490 
Engine Type DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder 
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 with Sportmatic™ manual mode 
Wheelbase / Length 103.9 in. / 174.8 in. 
Curb Weight 3186 lbs. 
Pounds Per Horsepower 18.1 (18.7) 
Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. 
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded premium gasoline 
Tires P235/55R18 100H Hankook Optimo 
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BAS, ESC standard 
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink 
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 31 / 23 0 to 60 mph est 8.5 sec Towing capacity 2000 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES Navigation with Premium Audio - includes: Navigation system with SIRIUS Traffic and camera display, premium audio with external amp and subwoofer $ 1,500 Premium Package with Leather - includes: leather seat trim, heated front seats, air-cooled front seats, push-button start with Smart Key, Panoramic Sunroof, rear sonar, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink, heated outside mirrors, cargo cover $ 3,000 Destination charge $ 695