Consumers tend to be thrilled when they can get features and style of much more expensive models in a wallet-friendly package and the 2013 Kia Sportage SX is a perfect example of the Korean brand's value-packed reputation. For the traditionally staid compact crossover class, the Sportage's styling is daring and edgy. Beefy 18-inch wheels and 235-width tires bulge out of the Sportage's short 103.9-inch wheelbase. Around back, dual exhaust tips signify this is the hot-rod SX turbo model.

Since it was introduced in 2011, Kia has made a few running changes to the Sportage SX. Fuel capacity has grown from 14.5 to a still-modest 15.3 gallons and highway fuel economy has improved by 2 mpg on the FWD model and 1 mpg on the AWD model to 29 and 26 mpg, respectively.

It may be a bit of a stretch to compare the Sportage SX to the much more expensive, exclusive, and refined Range Rover Evoque, but looking over the spec sheets, there are similiarties. Both are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4, overall length is within four inches between the two models, and the difference in wheelbase is less than an inch. But there's a big difference where it matters for a lot of consumers: the bottom line. The Sportage starts at over $16,000 less than the Evoque. Even at the Sportage's lower price point, you get ample equipment that includes dual-zone climate control, a power-adjustable driver's seat, leather seating surfaces, LED driving lights, and pushbutton start. Our fully loaded FWD SX tester included navigation with a backup camera and the Premium Package, which adds heated front seats, an air-cooled driver's seat, Homelink integrated garage door opener, and heated exterior mirrors.

Now we know that the Sportage SX doesn't skimp on the goodies, but what's it like to drive? A similarly-equipped 2011 SX FWD model we tested managed a 0-60 time of 7.3 seconds and a quarter-mile of 15.7 seconds at 88.6 mph. Those numbers are not quite as good as the Toyota RAV4 V-6, the current reigning speed champ of compact SUVs, but in real-world driving conditions, the Sportage's 260-hp engine never leaves you yearning for more power. The engine's broad, flat torque curve peaks at 269 lb-ft and provides ample rotational force from 2000-5000 rpm, making highway merging and passing a breeze. Just don't expect Lexus-like refinement from this feisty mill. Compared to the more common applications of the powerplant in the Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and new Santa Fe Sport, the engine's forced-induction character is not masked and muffled as much as it is in the others. The turbo's whooshing sound under boost is clearly audible, but considering the Sportage SX's market positioning, product planners probably figured a little bit of boy-racer personality coming through wasn't the worst thing.

Kia fitted the Sportage SX with aggressive, low-profile rubber so between that and its short wheelbase, there's no reason to expect a pillowy ride. In fact, it's a bit on the bouncy side -- not annoyingly or objectionably so, but enough to definitely get a clear sense of the road texture and topography. Also, quick transitions with elevation changes can sometimes upset the Sportage's balance. And the one downside to the torquey turbo four is that at wide-open-throttle on our FWD model, it does exhibit some torque steer, and can feel a little squirrely at full whack.

Getting back to the interior, while it's undeniably jam-packed with features, the Sportage's humble roots show in some areas of the design. The driver's power adjustable front seat cushion does not uniformly lift or lower -- the rear of the seat cushion moves up and down, with the seat pivoting at the front. The outside temperature gauge is counter-intuitively embedded within the "trip" menu, which is accessed by a pair of small buttons on the left edge of the gauge binnacle. Somewhat surprisingly, given that this is a compact-sized crossover, it's a bit of a stretch to reach the touch-screen head unit.

Ultimate cargo and passenger volume falls a little short of the class leaders, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but that may be beside the point. Objectively, the Sportage may be in the same class as the Honda and Toyota, but its bold styling is a stark contrast to the Honda and Toyota's conservative lines. And the SX model, with its powerful turbocharged engine, will likely appeal to a totally different buyer than even the RAV4 V-6. The CR-V and RAV4 may be the perfect starter cars for young families, but the Sportage SX is clearly targeted to singles and couples that aren't totally ready to give up style and power as they transition into adult and familial responsibilities.

If you're in the market for a small crossover that packs plenty of style and power into a package that won't stress your monthly budget or credit score, the Kia Sportage SX is an attractive choice in a class generally characterized by anonymous styling and function over flair.


2013 Kia Sportage SX FWD
BASE PRICE/TESTED PRICE $27,700/$31,350
DRIVETRAIN Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/260-hp /269-lb-ft turbo DOHC I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (MFR) 3311 lb
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 175.2 x 73.0 x 64.4 in
0-60 MPH (2011 MODEL) 7.3 sec
QUARTER MILE (2011) 15.7 sec @ 88.6 mph
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 22/29
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 153/116 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.79 lb/mile