2017 Kia Sportage First Drive

The Segment’s Wild Child Grows Up

Mar 13, 2016
Nearly every major mainstream auto brand has an entry in the lucrative and high-volume C-segment crossover category. Three brands dominate the market in the U.S.: Toyota, Honda, and Ford. Going down the list, there are plenty of other brands that are making a brisk business of the niche, including Subaru, Chevrolet, and even Jeep. One of the minor players up to now has been the Kia Sportage. The irony is that the Sportage is the Kia’s single longest-running nameplate in the U.S. market, dating all the way back to the brand’s U.S. introduction in 1995. The first-generation Sportage was a traditional body-on-frame SUV with a hodgepodge of mechanical bits from Mazda and elsewhere. From the second-generation model onward, the Sportage morphed into the generally accepted crossover convention of transverse powertrain and unibody chassis. However, in its more than two-decade existence, the Sportage has never topped Kia’s sales charts in the U.S., ceding that territory recently to the boxy Soul compact and Optima midsize sedan. Clearly there is ample upside potential for the Sportage.
All Grown Up
In order to appeal to a broader potential audience, the Sportage needed to tick the boxes that most mainstream compact crossover buyers were looking for, while still retaining its unique style within the cookie-cutter segment. The last-generation SL Sportage had plenty of style and, on paper, offered a lot of goodies for its price point. However, compared to the more mainstream entries in the segment, it lacked polish. Its noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) levels were significantly less refined than the class leaders. Its available turbocharged 2.0L I-4 engine, while entertaining, almost overwhelmed the chassis, delivering its power in an urgent wallop starting around 2,000 rpm.
The all-new fourth-generation QL Sportage specifically addressed the matter of refinement, and the intensive development work in the area of NVH shows. Although engines are largely carryover in terms of displacement, tuning changes optimized output for a better balance of fuel economy and performance. Horsepower on the base 2.4L naturally aspirated I-4 is down 1 hp to 181 hp, while torque increases 2 lb-ft to 177 lb-ft. Power output on the top-spec Sportage SX goes from 260 to 240 hp and torque goes from 269 lb-ft to 260 lb-ft. While we’re never thrilled at seeing power outputs decreasing, in the Sportage’s case, it’s arguably for the better. The torque curve on the updated engine delivers the 260 lb-ft peak on a broad, flat plateau from 1,450 to 3,500 rpm. Its predecessor’s higher peak torque peaked later and tapered off sooner from 1,850 to 3,000 lb-ft. Indeed, the power delivery of the revised 2.0L GDI turbo feels like that of a much larger naturally aspirated engine, equivalent to a 3.0L to 3.5L V-6. Turbo lag is practically non-existent.
Style and Substance
In balancing Kia’s desire for avant-garde style while delivering the quotidian requirements of a compact crossover, both wheelbase and overall length increase slightly. Legroom and headroom are within a few tenths of an inch of last years’ model; however, cargo capacity sees a noteworthy increase from 26.1 cubic feet to 30.7 cubic feet behind the second row and from 54.7 to 60.1 cubic feet with the second row folded. Towing capacity remains unchanged at 2,000 pounds. From a styling standpoint, the changes are far more dramatic. Front-end styling, with high-mounted headlamps and a lower-positioned grille, shows a strong resemblance to the Porsche Macan and Cayenne. Kia representatives admitted they intentionally incorporated aspirational styling cues into the QL’s styling to help it stand out from the crowd. Much of the development and styling of this generation was done at Kia’s European headquarters in Frankfurt. The European theme continues in the interior, with a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a clean, somewhat angular dashboard.
Also showing a notable improvement is the quality and comfort of the front seats. Higher-trim models feature heating and cooling on both the front seats, and Kia claims the new Sportage features a class-exclusive eight-way power adjustable front passenger seat. Curiously, a driver-side memory seat is not available, an option offered on top-trim models of the Ford Escape. Rear seat passengers have a choice of 12V or USB power for their devices.
As is expected of nearly any new vehicle, technology and connectivity options are abundant, with standard Bluetooth handsfree calling, SiriusXM capability, and rearview camera. Available on EX and SX models is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as UVO eServices. A 320-watt Harman Kardon eight-speaker audio system is available. In the all-important area of active safety for crossover buyers, the new Sportage offers available forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Pricing increases modestly on the LX trims, with the higher-level trims seeing larger price increases. The LX model starts at $23,885, including $895 destination. The top-of-the-line SX Turbo starts at $33,395 including destination. All-wheel drive is an option on all trims for $1,500. Ticking every box on the option sheet will get you up to around $39,000.
The new Sportage retains its unique style, breaking the generic crossover mold, while at the same time offering all of the practicality expected in the segment. Kia retains its class-leading 10-year, 100,000 powertrain warranty and 5-year, 60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper coverage, and the company says it has no plans to change that coverage for the foreseeable future. If you need a compact crossover, but can’t bear to be seen in a RAV4, CR-V, or Escape, the Sportage remains a unique and compelling proposition.
2017 Kia Sportage SX
Vehicle type: Compact CUV
Base price: $23,885
Price as tested: $38,095
Engine: 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged 16-valve DOHC I-4
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 240 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 1,450-3,500 rpm
Curb weight: 3,666-3,997 pounds (FWD-AWD)
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
EPA mileage rating (AWD/FWD): 20-21 city/23-26 highway

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