2017 Kia Sportage "Hamtown" Safari - Exotic Road Trip Review By Maureen McDonald
Review By Maureen McDonald
The Auto Channel
Somehow the whole SUV movement has passed me by. Why pay a whole bunch extra for a box instead of a sleek sedan? Then I met the 2017 Kia Sportage and learned its prowess as an urban cruiser.
The Sportage could conquer Hamtramck streets, some of the roughest concrete in Detroit so I could concentrate on the fun, the adventure in this multi-ethnic enclave. Jump the potholes and glide through town where you'll discover the edgiest theater, glittering clothes and fascinating people.
Take most vehicles to Hamtramck - or other areas the cement mixers forgot - and you might have to fish it out of a giant pothole or limp along to the nearest tire shop for a rim and a tire. You'll be diagnosed with stenosis of the spine on most almost any Michigan road as you jolt along urban streets because infrastructure spending never goes far enough. Hadn't realized there was an affordable, under $32,000 solution. The Kia Sportage offers fantastic four-wheel suspension that provides a perfect vehicle to enjoy Hamtramck, dubbed the League of Nations for its incredibly diverse and dense population in 2.1 square miles inside Detroit.
The separate city status allowed the Dodge Brothers more tax advantages and less government interference when they opened Dodge Main, an eight story concrete factory in 1916. Many of the workers were recruited from Poland and they moved nearby into upright two-flats on narrow streets. It remains a proud and unique community.
A Polish flavor is as omnipresent as the smell of sweet chrusciki or angel wings, and stuffed cabbage, golumkies. People drive miles for Srodek's sausage and Polish presence has remained strong. Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope, visited the town in 1987 and an altar and block-long mural honors him. Retail stores sell Polish pastries, sausage and stuffed cabbage, but the population is far more diverse.
The most recent immigrants hail form Yemen and Bangladesh, along with those from Pakistan, India, Serbia, Bosnia and Mexico. School children speak 26 languages and loudspeakers herald a call to prayer five times a day. The pizzeria sells halal pepperoni. People step out in front of cars as though it is an open air market in Morocco, complicating any drive through town.
Kia comes prepared. The autonomous emergency braking system helps avert an accident, keeping the driver safe and sound. A sensor and camera detect pedestrians and cars on the road, warning you if there's any potential collision risk. In the event that you don't react, the car brakes automatically to avoid or mitigate an accident.
On narrow streets, Kia's smart parking assist system helps the driver find the right size parking space. With push button ease the SUV will take over and steer the car right in the parking place. As you leave, a back up camera guides your way out to the street, even if a kid on a bicycle darts in your way. Along the road to autonomous vehicles, each of these "boosters" make sense and save lives.
I use the 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder power to turn a quick left into the Conant-Caniff party store for some coconut water. In most places it is an exotic request, in a joint with 20-foot floor to ceiling stuff hung from ceilings and cantilevered down giant cases, I can find everything from lace panties to hookahs to penis shaped bottles of Armenian brandy. They have three varieties of nonalcoholic wine along with many varieties of champagne and Chardonnay.
I could buy out half the store and still have room. There's 31 cubic-feet of cargo area with the rear seatback in place and 60.1 cubic-feet with seatbacks folded. Must save room for a world class supermarket, Al Haramain has a large Middle Eastern buffet and an olive bar to make a selection, a produce stand with as much variety as a fruit market and assorted organic products and ordinary staples. Strawberries were only 50 cents a box.
Skip the cost of eating at Hamtramck's famous Royal Kabob restaurant and dine cheaper at the Al Haramain buffet if you don't mind slopping some tabouli on the Kia's leather seats. Fran Sims, my Hamtramck guides says we must do some touristing
On Joseph Campau, the main vein of Hamtramck, I learn the best Polish food is found at Krakus, an unassuming Polish restaurant and bar just north of town. Polish crests and a few paintings dot the walls. The decor is locked in the 1950s with the red vinyl chairs and Masonite paneling.
We dig into an assortment of smoked sausages, pierogies, stuffed cabbage and city chicken. As we roll out with bulging bellies, I suggest we walk off the meal instead of driving. But the weather isn't wonderful. Even if we gain a few pounds the seats are ample in the Kia. The seat belts are very adjustable.
Looking north a ways, I see the used car lot for Woody Pontiac, once one of the largest selling Pontiac dealerships in the Michigan. This sector of street was called Automotive Row. Now there's a historical marker and the sales office is a Mosque serving some of the 20,000 Bangladeshi-Americans in Hamtramck and Detroit. The door is closed, so I decide to visit a Buddhist temple instead.
Living Zen Temple offers meditation classes, an organic, vegan cafe and a store selling salad dressing, kale chips and other healthy goodies. Across the street we find a meditation garden that invites you to sit down and contemplate your inner mind, even as the din of the city and the call to prayer sends up a cacophony of sound.
I'm ready for some non-organic coffee at Cafe 1923, a shop with a host of books you can borrow and comfy, overstuffed chairs with trays to hold your laptop while you plink on the machine or talk to strangers. People come and go, mostly engaging in conversations, catching up with neighbors and reading a different book from the amply stocked shelves. We import some pastries from the divine New Palace Bakery to enjoy with our cappuccinos.
We drive back to Fran's house for a change of clothes. Nighttime is a big bar scene for Hamtramck. Small's has live music as does the New Dodge Lounge. We could take in a play at Planet Ant Theater, a quirky little joint with film festivals and improv comedy.
Tomorrow we'll come back for the Polish Art Center, learning about crafts, culture, history and art. Then sneak into New Palace Bakery for more Polish chrusciki and German chocolate cake.. If we stuff too much we can find some larger sized clothing at Mayor Karen Majewski's vintage clothing shop, Tekla, and chat about the latest in the town dubbed the League of Nations.
For an SUV, the Kia is nimble, quick and responsive. We coax it into another parking spot and go sari shopping. Such gorgeous, ornate dresses with shimmering gold and rhinestone baubles glued to satin and silk. Few of the clerks speak English but they know every price from a bracelet to gowns made entirely of glittering baubles and beads. The only hassle would be getting in and out of the upright vehicle in a slinky dress. Not to worry, I'm in jeans today.
Back in the Kia, I notice the gas gauge hardly moved. EPA rates it at 21 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway, even with its 3,800 pound frame.
Suspension is the key to a good ride. Now to get another coffee. The ride is so smooth I doubt I will spill any. I'll just savor the taste - and the Kia...Life is good.
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