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2013 Kia Sportage SX FWD Review By Carey Russ

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2013 Kia Sportage


2013 Kia Sportage SX FWD

If you want a compact crossover with serious power, the Kia Sportage SX is worth a good, long look.

While the 2.4-liter, 176-horsepower engine in most models of Kia's compact Sportage crossover will fit the needs of the vast majority of buyers, there are always those who want more. The Sportage SX is meant for them, with a 2.0-liter, 260-horsepower turbocharged powerplant under the hood, driving either the front or all four wheels.

The SX is the premium model in the Sportage lineup, above the base, LX, and EX trim levels. Which means upgraded specification, with standard leather seating, "SuperVision" electroluminescent gauges, LED daytime running lights, power folding outside mirrors, and other minor interior and exterior trim bits differentiating it from the EX. The regular Sportages compare well with other Asian and domestic compact crossovers; with the SX, Kia sets its sights on direct competitors' premium offerings, and upmarket Europeans as well.

If you find the concept of "Kia versus Audi/BMW/Mercedes-Benz/Volvo" to be a stretch, it is. At this time. But Kia has made no secret of its desire to move upscale, and to that end hired German Peter Schreyer, ex-Audi and Volkswagen, as chief of design. His work for Kia has transformed Kia's cars and crossovers from mostly-unrecognized to instantly-identified. Build quality is as good as any competitor. Kia today is a long ways from the Kia of the 1980s and '90s.

I've had ample time in naturally-aspirated Sportages since the current generation's debut for model year 2011. But until this past week, I hadn't set foot in the turbo SX. The basic Sportage chassis is good enough that it handles the 84 extra horsepower in the SX's engine with aplomb, even in front-wheel drive form. Yes, there's occasional torque steer -- there 269 lb-ft of torque to deal with through the front end. It's not a major problem. The turbo Sportage is a lively small crossover, with all the usefulness of the genre and more power. Surprisingly, the extra power didn't translate to extra thirst -- I got 22mpg overall, compared to 23 in a non-turbo EX last fall.

If you want a compact crossover with serious power, the Kia Sportage SX is worth a good, long look.

APPEARANCE: In the past you wouldn't have recognized a Kia on the road unless you were a serious student of the auto industry. Today, thanks to the "Tiger nose" look given by the tabbed grille and swept-back headlights, Kia's design language is easily recognized. The Sportage is a fine example of that as applied to a smallish crossover. It's subtly muscular, not muscle-bound. Yes, it's a two-box shape, but the box is styled and streamlined -- and not merely for looks. The undertray is less an off-road skid plate (as it's plastic and won't stop any large, sharp rocks) than aerodynamic management for improvement in fuel economy, stability, and quiet. The Kia signature tabbed grille is reprised in the shape of the lower intake, the windshield, and rear window. Textured plastic cladding surrounds the lower perimeter, adding to the contemporary crossover look. Befitting its premium position, the SX gets chromed door handles and LED running lights.

COMFORT: Inside, the SX has a near-luxury level of appointment, especially with the Premium and Navigation packages as on my test car. Open the door, get in, and there's the Kia trademark tabbed shape on the door scuff plates. And in the design of the instrument panel. Seating, steering wheel rim, and shift knob are leather. Soft-touch, textured synthetic materials are used for the top if the instrument panel and door trim. Instruments are Kia's electroluminescent "SuperVision", bright and easily visible in all conditions. There's an air-conditioning vent in the glovebox, sure to be handy when summer arrives. The steering wheel adjusts for both tilt and reach, and has audio, cruise, and phone controls. All current audio choices are found, with USB, auxiliary jack, and Bluetooth® phone and streaming audio standard in all models. Premium Package means heated front seats, with the driver's also air-cooled, a dual-pane sunroof that gives rear passengers, especially, a fine view of the sky or any scenic wonders above, heated outside mirrors -- power-folding in the SX, good for mirror longevity in tight spaces or on the street -- and more upscale features. The Navigation Package means navigation with Sirius/XM real-time traffic and a backup camera, always a good convenience and safety feature, and especially in a crossover with a large blind spot directly behind the vehicle. Front seat comfort is good, and the rear is not the penalty box, as it has plenty of head, leg, and hip room for all but the very tallest people. The rear seatback folds 60/40 in all Sportages; in EX and SX models sections are spring-loaded for automatic folding. There's a bit of organized storage under the rear load floor, and below that is a space-saver spare tire, not a can of fix-a-flat.

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 Sportage trim levels, as are Hill Start Assist Control, Downhill Brake Control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Sportage does not mean sports car, and the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned more for ride comfort than cornering prowess. Being a crossover with a bit more clearance than a car -- 6.77 inches -- and a higher center of gravity than a car, body roll in corners is more noticeable than in a car. Still, the SX is fun to drive and deals well with twisty mountain roads -- especially it the pavement is less than optimum. Ride comfort on the highway is very good. Steering is moderate in effort, and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes work well.

PERFORMANCE: The engine's the star in the SX, and a lovely bit of state-of-the art technology it is. Like an increasing number of manufacturers, Kia has discovered that the combination of direct fuel injection and turbocharging, plus continuously-variable cam phasing means excellent power output with low emissions and good fuel economy. Think V6 power with four-cylinder economy -- my week's average of 22 mpg was nearly identical to the 23 I saw in the last naturally-aspirated Sportage I drove. Maximum horsepower, here 260 at 6000 rpm, may get the most notice, but it's torque you feel, and with 269 lb-ft between 1850 and 3000 rpm -- the part of the rev range that the engine is usually in -- response is usually instant. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly in D, but it is programmed to improve fuel economy, so sometimes will allow revs to drop below optimum for quick acceleration. No problem, as manual over-ride via "Sportmatic" manual mode is just a flick of the shift lever away. As in other Kias, there is an "Eco" button on the dash. Press it, and throttle response is lessened while upshifts come at lower revs, all in the name of fuel economy. I used that around town and on the highway, turning it off for quick onramp acceleration, passing, and fun on the backroads. Power when needed, economy when power is not a requirement.

CONCLUSIONS: The Kia Sportage SX offers a unique combination of style, space, and performance.

2013 Kia Sportage SX FWD

Base Price			$ 26,900
Price As Tested			$ 30,900
Engine Type			DOHC 16-valve turbocharged aluminum
				 alloy inline 4-cylinder with direct
				 fuel injection and continuously-
				 variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			260 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			269 @ 1850-3000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with Sportmatic®
				manual mode
Wheelbase / Length	                 	     103.9 in. / 175.2 in.
Curb Weight			3311 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.7
Fuel Capacity			15.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement	                 	91 octane unleaded premium gasoline for best performance, 
                                                                  87 octane unleaded regular permissible
Tires				235/55R18 100H Hankook Optimo H426
Brakes, front/rear		               vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and ESC standard
Suspension, front/rear		               independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink
Ground clearance		               6.77 in.
Drivetrain			               transverse front engine,
			                       front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph			7.5  sec
Towing Capacity			2000 lbs.

Premium Package -- includes:
  heated front seats, air-cooled driver's seat, panoramic
  sunroof, heated mirrors with turn signal indicators,
  cargo cover, auto-dimming rearview mirror with
  Homelink® and compass				$ 2,000

Navigation Package -- includes:
  navigation system with Sirius/XM Traffic,
  rear camera display (deletes UVO system)	$ 1,200

Destination charge	         			$   800