Aside from sheetmetal, Kia is especially proud of its new all-wheel-drive system called Dynamax and co-developed with German supply giant Magna International. The highly responsive, full-time, electro-hydraulically controlled system constantly analyzes road inputs and reacts with haste, varying torque distribution and belaying wheel slippage as much as mechanically possible. An electronic locking center differential is available in times when even torque delivery is needed in particularly slippery, low speed scenarios.
The sole engine option at launch is a 2.4-liter inline-four with 176 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. It's slightly more powerful than the outgoing 2.7-liter V-6 but don't expect to easily earn speeding citations marked for "demonstration of speed." The four-banger needs 6000 rpm to develop peak power and because the six-speed automatic transmission isn't in any rush to change gears, the Sportage reels off a 9.3-second jog to 60 mph and covers the quarter mile in 17.1 seconds at 81.6 mph.
Lop off the driveshaft to the rear and the front-wheel-drive model does the duty with an 8.8-second 0-60-mph time and traverses 1320 feet in 16.8 seconds at 82.9 mph. We chalk up the quicker times to a lower curb weight and more power to the ground but the Dynamax-equipped version eagerly makes up ground when the steering wheel is cranked. We measured 0.80 g on the skidpad and a respectable 28.3 seconds on our figure-eight at an average of 0.58 g. The front-wheel-drive example was noticeably less spry and returns 0.77 g on the skidpad with a figure-eight time of 28.7 seconds at an average of 0.56 g. If you plan on continuing those winter trips to the cabin, definitely opt for the all-wheel drive.
Overall, the Sportage is easy to operate but how are the interior appointments? The optional, $3000 Premium Package with Leather makes long trips a breeze, partially thanks to the breezy air-cooled driver's seat that pushes a chilled flow to the back and posterior end. Kia says the seat is a first for the segment and we found the feature to be useful at all hours of the day, not just when it's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The center stack is well organized and the HVAC controls are conveniently angled towards the occupants, a very nice touch that complements the well-laid steering wheel controls.