2011 Kia Sportage
Styling and packaging make grade

WE LIKE: Edgy styling, upscale interior
WE DON'T LIKE: Vague steering feel and suspension tuning

Over the past few years, Kia has made gigantic strides in building not just competitive but potentially segment-leading vehicles. The new 2011 Kia Sportage is no exception with its all-new exterior, interior, and drivetrain upgrades.

The latest Sportage sits on a unibody platform that is 3.5 inches longer than its predecessor's. Kia has done away with the V-6, replacing it with two new I-4s (one is turbocharged, but that won't be available until next year). Most testers felt the new I-4 was only adequate, but did provide decent fuel economy. "I wish Kia had launched the Sportage with the 200-horse direct-injection 2.4-liter. That would have put it at the top of its class in another category besides design," said Kiino, "and the six-speed auto transmission is top notch, with seamless shifts and smooth action."

Design is one area where almost everyone felt Kia did a magnificent job, with multiple judges proclaiming the Sportage the best-looking vehicle in this year's field. "This is a new step forward in design for the Koreans," noted Lago. Exterior styling is much cleaner with a sleek, modern look, and the LED running lights complete the package. "Finally a Sportage that really looks sporty," logged Kiino.

Unfortunately, styling and packaging aren't the only things that make up a quality vehicle. It must also drive and ride nicely, which is where the Sportage falls short. "Wow, is this steering awful, it's the car's fatal flaw, totally vague on center then way too much gain off center," griped Markus.

Amplifying the sloppy steering is a suspension that's soft and harsh at the same time. You roll through the corners, bound down the highway, and if the pavement is broken, the Sportage has a nervous, unsettled feel to it.

The Kia Sportage is an appealing package in size and content, but as Lassa put it, "Kia in North America still must do a lot of work to tighten up mushy suspensions designed for the home market," especially when the 274-horsepower turbo engine comes out next year. - Scott Mortara

2011 Kia Sportage
Base price $18,990-$25,490
Price as tested $28,490 (EX)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.4L/176-hp/168-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3304 lb (58/42%)
Wheelbase 103.9 in
Length x width x height 174.8 x 73.0 x 64.4 in
0-60 mph 9.1 sec
Quarter mile 17.0 sec @ 83.1 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 126 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.75 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.7 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
MT observed fuel econ 19.0 mpg
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 22/31 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.77 lb/mile
INTERIOR/Functionality ****
VALUE ****
Wish the drive experience matched the sporty styling.