The Kia Sportage may be getting on in years and overshadowed by new additions to Kia’s SUV lineup, including the three-row Telluride and subcompact Seltos. Yet the Sportage remains one of the Korean brand’s bestsellers. Despite its advancing age in the marketplace, it’s still a solid option in the hotly contested compact-crossover segment.
The current generation of the Sportage arrived for 2017, and its styling was updated for 2020. We think it’s aged well with its revised front end and new headlights that don’t look quite as bug-eyed as before. Our loaded SX example’s 19-inch wheels and model-specific grille trim are particularly handsome, but the lesser LX, S, and EX models are still attractive.
Most Sportage models are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-four with 181 horsepower, but the SX comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four good for 237 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard on the SX, and all-wheel drive is a $1500 option. Combined with a standard six-speed automatic transmission, the turbo Sportage is one of the most powerful compact crossovers you can buy. It feels sprightly around town, with excellent throttle response and a transmission that downshifts promptly, although our all-wheel-drive test car’s 7.4-second run to 60 mph is considerably slower than other similarly powerful entries. For example, that’s more than a second slower than our favorite compact crossover, the 10Best-winning Mazda CX-5 Turbo. That our Sportage weighed a hefty 3822 pounds didn’t help its straight-line performance nor its fuel economy. The EPA labels the all-wheel-drive Sportage SX with a low 21-mpg combined estimate; we averaged 18 mpg, and the Kia returned just 23 mpg on our 75-mph highway test, which is 1 mpg below its highway rating. However, our test car’s optional $225 roof cross bars sitting up high in the airstream likely negatively impacted our mileage.
While the Sportage offers its driver a relatively commanding view of the road, we appreciate that its driving dynamics fall more to the carlike end of its segment. Ride quality is firm, the steering is quick, and it handles securely. Body roll in corners is noticeable yet well-managed. Riding on 245/45R-19 Michelin Primacy Tour all-season tires, our test car posted an acceptable 0.82 g of skidpad grip and a 170-foot stop from 70 mph.
The Sportage’s interior remains an above-average place to spend time. Our test car came with an attractive two-tone beige and grey leather upholstery option, and its front and rear seats are spacious and nicely padded. The instrument cluster houses straightforward analog gauges, the touchscreen infotainment system is mounted within easy reach of the driver, and there are redundant buttons and knobs for the audio system and climate controls. It’s all immediately intuitive, and it works well, even if it’s not as flashy as some of Kia’s latest interior treatments.
At $34,770 to start, pricing for the Sportage SX Turbo has increased only slightly for the 2021 model year. That’s considerably more expensive than the 181-hp EX model, which sits one rung down the lineup and starts at $28,410. But that figure also is thousands less than many similarly powerful compact SUVs, most of which benefit from fresher designs. Although we’d still like better performance and fuel efficiency from the SX Turbo, the Sportage’s overall competence makes it difficult to dismiss.
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