Kia's handsome new fleet of Peter Schreyer-designed vehicles now bears no resemblance to the platform-shared sibling lineup at Hyundai. Smart interior layouts, world-class engines and transmissions, and steadily improving reliability and quality rankings have helped bring a 48-percent boost to the brand's market share in just three years. Residual values are also on the upswing, rising 38 percent across the lineup, so leasing has become a reasonable option. With all that important work done, Kia is finally starting to back up its sporting good looks with actual sporting performance.

Henceforth when you see the letters SX emblazoned on the rump of a Kia, you can expect to find performance enhancements to go along with the slightly more aggressive fascias and trim that visually distinguish SX models from their lesser brethren, including a healthy dose of vitamins H and T under the hood and/or a bit more starch in the suspension. Heretofore the SX designation has simply signified top-of-the-line trim, options, and features. That tradition continues.

Perhaps the best example is the freshly minted Sportage SX cute-ute. Under the hood is a version of the Optima's impressive direct-injected, twin-scroll-turbocharged 2.0-liter Theta II engine bolted to a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic and your choice of front- or all-wheel-drive. Due to differences in exhaust packaging, heat management and tuning to suit the SUV's duty cycle, the Sportage turbo is rated at 260 horsepower and 269 pound-feet. That's 14 hp less than the Optima turbo, but it's 90 horses more than you can get in any other Sportage (the Optima and Sorento SX engines are also available on lesser trim grades). Weighing in at just 3459 our well broken in front-wheel-drive test car's 13.3 lb/hp rating and shorter gearing should have it running away from its turbo rivals, the VW Tiguan (17.8 lb/hp), Mazda CX-7 (16.1), and Acura RDX (16.6). Instead, its 7.3-second 0-60 time just eeks ahead of a Tiguan (7.5) and an AWD CX-7 (7.7), while trailing the AWD 5-speed automatic RDX (6.5). This has us questioning the calibration of Kia's dynamometers. At least it's 1.5 seconds quicker than the lesser Sportages, and uphill passing on a two-lane highway is no longer a problem.