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2011 Kia Sportage Review and Road Test

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20l1 Kia Sportage

COMPARE: 7 2011 Kia Sportage Models - Kia Buyers Guide

2011 KIA SPORTAGE The New Darling Among Compact SUVs
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

The opportunity to drive competing or same-segment vehicles in back-to-back drive evaluations is near-ideal. I drove Kia’s two SUV models, the Sportage and the Sorento, one week apart from each other. The Sportage is a small SUV that seats 5 and is priced starting at $18,295. The Sorento is among the larger of the compact SUVs. It seats 7 and is priced starting at $20,995. My overview of the Sportage follows and the Sorento will be available on in a week or two.

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The Sportage is all-new for 2011 taking many of its design elements from the “Kue” concept vehicle shown at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The design is very bold and stylish carrying the new face of Kia, the signature front grille with swept back headlamps. Yet, the Sportage is very practical, functional and efficient and fits very well into an urban landscape.

Recognized as a "2010 Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2011 Sportage received top ratings for front, side, rollover and rear impact protection. For 2011 Sportage offers more power (176 hp) and improved fuel economy along with the options of a panoramic sunroof, navigation, push-button start, rear camera display, LED daytime running lights and an air-cooled driver's seat (a compact SUV segment first).

Overall, I liked the Sportage. It does a very good job at what it is supposed to do. In my urban Chicagoland environs, its compact exterior makes for easy getting around and parking. The engine is responsive and the transmission upshifts and downshifts smoothly. Chicago pot-holes were well absorbed and the interior is well isolated for noise.

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I’m a sunroof guy and really liked the panoramic front and rear glass roof panels. The manually operated shade over the rear seat was only reachable when in that seat, therefore somewhat inconvenient when driving alone. A power shade would be nice. Also, some government folks think every vehicle should have a rear camera display. I don’t think “every” vehicle but I do think all SUVs should…especially helpful when backing in to parallel park.

Three Sportage trim levels are offered, Base, LX and EX. The base trim features include air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, SIRIUS® Satellite Radio capabilities with three months complimentary service, MP3 connectivity and Bluetooth® wireless technology.

Standard exterior features include 16-inch alloy wheels matched with 215/70R16 low-rolling resistance silica tires, body-color door handles, body-color and electrically adjustable side mirrors and a six-speed manual transmission. The LX ($20,295) adds side mirror LED turn signal indicators, keyless entry, and tinted glass. And, the EX ($23,295) offers more prominent 18-inch alloy wheels mated with 235/55R18 silica tires, roof rails, a rear spoiler and chrome body trim and door handles.

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All LX models come standard with a host of convenience features, including air conditioning, power windows, 12-volt power outlets in the front and cargo areas, power side mirrors with integrated LED indicators, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, keyless entry with panic alarm and multi-way adjustable front seats. The cloth seats proved comfortable and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat offers the flexibility needed for varying passenger and cargo needs. Cargo volume is around 26 cu ft behind the rear seat or just under 55 cu ft when folded.

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EX models are more refined and feature a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, telescopic steering wheel, illuminated vanity mirrors, automatic folding rear seats, a dual-zone temperature control air-conditioner with ionized filtration, illuminated and cooled glove box, and a power driver's seat with lumbar support for additional comfort and support. Both trim levels come equipped with an active EcoMinder™ indicator for optimal fuel-efficient driving.

An AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sat audio system with SIRIUS® Satellite Radio capabilities with three months complimentary service is standard. Also standard are auxiliary and USB audio input jacks and Bluetooth wireless technology connectivity with steering wheel-mounted voice activation controls.

Available upgrades for the LX trim include 17-inch alloy wheels paired with 225/60R17 silica tires, navigation with SIRIUS Traffic™ data, rear sonar detector and rear-view back-up camera, heated side mirrors, an air-conditioned and illuminated glove box, telescopic steering wheel, roof rails and a rear spoiler.

Sportage EX models can be further enhanced with available features, including leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, an air-cooled driver's seat, push button start with Smartkey, rear sonar detector and rear-view back-up camera, heated side mirrors and a panoramic sunroof.

Power comes from the standard 176 HP 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine. EPA fuel economy estimates for FWD are 21 city and 29 highway with the manual transmission and 22 city and 31 highway with the automatic. The AWD gets 21 city and 28 highway. A more powerful 2.0-liter turbo GDI engine, available only in a SX model ($25,795), is a four-cylinder engine that produces 260 horsepower. Offered with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or a Dynamax™ all-wheel drive (AWD) configuration paired to the six-speed automatic.

Most SUV are never driven off-road and FWD is perfectly suited for on-road driving through the city or on the highway. The AWD powertrain is for drivers who typically face more difficult road and weather conditions.

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The 2011 Sportage platform is all-new, a unibody frame with an overall vehicle length of just under 175 inches making it very suitable for both urban in-city use and suburban shopping mall excursions. MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link rear suspension system offer the right balance of handling, responsiveness and ride comfort including good road surface isolation.

The usual array of standard safety equipment that we find on nearly all vehicles today includes driver and passenger front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, side curtain airbags and front active headrests, four-wheel Antilock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and a Brake Assist System (BAS). Hill Start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Brake Control (DBC) also come standard on all models, the former assisting in preventing the vehicle from rolling backward when trying to pull away from an uphill gradient, while the latter locks the vehicle at slower speeds down steep grades so the driver can focus their attention on steering.

The 2011 Sportage is sold by more than 725 U.S. dealers and covered by a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty and a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. A five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan also is part of the vehicle coverage.

The Kia Sportage is a cousin to the Hyundai Tucson and should be given serious consideration if you’re looking at other small SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue or even the VW Tiguan.

© Larry Nutson