The 2017 Kia Sportage is the best compact crossover for you if you’re ready with a response when someone asks what’s a Kia and why didn’t you buy a Honda?
This is the all-new version of the South Korean automaker’s smallest crossover. It’s bigger and better than before and it doesn’t really require many excuses.
You can tell doubters it rates high for dependability. You can mention that the SX version is among the most powerful vehicles in the class. Styling is subjective, of course, but it does have some attitude. And you get a lot of features for the money.
Are those the answers you were looking for? …Join me for a CarPreview review of the 2017 Kia Sportage.
Kia-branded cars went on sale in the U.S. in 1994. The original Sportage debuted for ’95 and is one of America’s longest-running crossover nameplates.
Kia is Hyundai’s corporate cousin. They sell many of the same vehicles under different names and with different styling. The Tucson is Hyundai’s version of the Sportage — though there are some important differences besides appearance
Like virtually everything in this red-hot market segment, Sportage seats five, offers a choice of front- or all-wheel drive, and uses four-cylinder engines.
The 2017 lineup returns base LX and midline EX versions, plus the flagship turbocharged SX.
Its first full redesign since model-year 2011 brings a much stiffer structure, plus new styling that’s most evident in the far more expressive front end.
It combines puffy jowls with a reshape of the brand’s tiger-nose grille.
This Sportage was designed in Germany and headlamps that swell from the fenders sure seem inspired by those of the Porsche Cayenne and Macan.
On SX models, they’re bi-xenon, steering-linked, and accompanied by the ice-cube tray of LED foglights.
A high beltline and tapered roof maintain the segment’s most muscular profile.
The recontoured tail features standard LED lamps. And newly standard on the SX and optional on the EX is a power liftgate. If you’re carrying the keyfob and show some patience, it’ll open automatically without demanding a foot-wiggle beneath the bumper.
Cargo volume is up 17%. But with just 30 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 60 with it folded, it’s still below par for the class.
There’s a bit more headroom, legroom, and shoulder room, and while you won’t feel crowded front or rear, the CR-V, RAV4, Rogue, even the Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester still beat it for overall passenger space.
The new dashboard is attractive and functional. All models have a backup camera and Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio.
Kia is liberal with standard features, so both the SX and EX come with leather upholstery, heated front seats, pushbutton start, and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are optional on the LX and standard otherwise. They support smartphone navigation apps, but where there’s no cell service, you’ll need imbedded navigation.
It’s standard on the SX and part of the $2,700 EX Technology Package. The 8-inch screen is among the largest in class, has sharp graphics, and a friendly interface.
Gloss black trim and a trendy flat-bottom steering wheel embellish the SX. And while every model gets nicely pebbled plastic panels, you needn’t look too far for unpadded surfaces.
Thankfully, you don’t have to spend too long behind the wheel to appreciate how Kia’s improved the way the Sportage drives.
Both engines are retuned versions from the outgoing generation, and lose some horsepower and torque in Kia’s quest to improve fuel economy.
The slight loss in the LX and EX isn’t noticeable. They accelerate well enough, ranking about midpack in a segment not known for speed.
The SX drops a significant 19 horsepower and nine pound-feet of torque. It feels less lively than its predecessor but it’s still pretty gutsy for a compact crossover.
Each engine, by the way, is more powerful than the smaller four-cylinders in the Tucson. And they use a well-sorted six-speed automatic transmission – with paddle shifters in the SX.
The turbocharged version of the Tucson has a fussier dual-clutch automatic, though it trounces Sportage SX for fuel economy.
Unfortunately, great mileage is not a selling point for any Sportage. Ratings remain below those of rivals with similar power.
Every Sportage does let you calibrate steering weight and transmission and throttle behavior. All-wheel drive is a $1,500 extra and is among the few in the class that can be locked into a fifty-fifty front-rear torque split for better low-speed traction.
The system is also configured to improve dry-road handling, and the advantage over a Sportage with front-wheel drive is readily apparent on a twisty road.
Overall, this Kia still doesn’t handle with the nimbleness of a CR-V or CX-5 and doesn’t ride as well as a Forester or Rogue.
But improvements in steering feel and suspension composure mean its road manners are no longer a deal breaker for serious drivers.
So competitive performance can finally join value as a virtue of these small crossovers from South Korea.
What you get for the money, though, is still key to Kia’s appeal.
Base prices track several hundred dollars below those of comparable rivals, and for a sticker price just over $25,000 you can get an all-wheel-drive Sportage LX with 17-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, dressy chrome trim, heated front seats and mirrors, a power driver’s seat with power lumbar, upgraded cloth upholstery, and the Android and Apple connectivity. That’s a compelling deal.
The EX has fancier trim and 18-inch alloys. A $1,900 package brings a panoramic roof and blind-spot alerts. The Technology Package mentioned earlier also upgrades the audio, cools the front seats, heats the steering wheel, and adds the safety of lane-departure warning and emergency braking that’ll automatically stop the vehicle.
The SX comes fully equipped with all this, plus uprated suspension and brakes, 19-inch alloys, and unique detailing.
In the U.S., Kia outsells Acura, Buick, Dodge, Mazda, Subaru, and Volkswagen, among others.
(So) It obviously answers a lot of people’s transportation needs. And you may even enjoy explaining why you didn’t buy a Honda.