2018 Kia Sportage story? Cool looks, hot turbo, middling mileage and cramped cargo space

2018 Kia Sportage

2018 Kia Sportage

What changes will make the 2018 Kia Sportage different?

Nothing to make it worth waiting for – unless you fancy a potential new paint color or two, and crave almost certain price increases. This compact crossover SUV was fully redesigned for model-year 2017, getting brasher styling, retuned engines, and a slightly roomier interior with upgraded materials. It’s next notable change is due for model-year 2020, when it will likely get updated styling touches as part of a mid-lifecycle update before the next-generation model debuts sometime around 2023.

Debuting for model-year 1994, Sportage was the second nameplate Kia offered for sale in North America and is the South Korean brand’s longest-running nameplate in this market. That original Sportage used traditional truck-type body-on-frame construction. It was crude to drive and one of the most unreliable, unsafe vehicles sold at the time.

Happily, Sportage was re-made as a car-type unibody crossover for model-year 2005. Much of its basic engineering was borrowed from the Tucson compact crossover produced by Kia’s parent company, Hyundai. The 2017 Sportage still shares some DNA with the Tucson, which was redesigned for 2016. However, the two vehicles look nothing alike and have different engines and feature packaging.

Year-over-year sales of both Tucson and Sportage were up significantly in calendar 2016, but these corporate cousins still rank 9th and 10th, respectively, out of 12 entries in the red-hot compact-crossover segment. Good overall performance, lots of features per dollar, and strong warranty coverage haven’t been quite enough to overcome production-volume limitations, or the lure of class bellwethers, such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

You shouldn’t. Since Sportage was all-new for 2017, the ’18 will almost certainly be a repeat, except for the most minor details. The three-model lineup should reprise base LX, volume-selling EX, and sporty SX Turbo trim levels. All will use a four-cylinder engine and come standard with front-wheel drive. Traction-enhancing all-wheel drive (AWD) will be optional across the board. Expect the same high level of standard and optional equipment. Even the LX is available with luxuries such as dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and an infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Go for it, if Sportage’s attributes of solid driving dynamics, high feature content, and excellent warranty coverage outweigh its drawbacks of below-average cabin space and subpar-for-the-class fuel economy. Plus, the closer we come to the arrival of the ’18 model, the more likely Kia and its dealers will be to incentivize the ’17. Styling is subjective, but today’s Sportage certainly is among the bolder-looking compact crossovers. The SX Turbo is also among the most powerful, although it’s also among the most expensive, though it balances that with a long list of standar features. Indeed, the SX offers no extra-cost factory options.

Will the styling be different?

No. The 2017 redesign marked a radical departure from the rather staid look of the 2011-2016 Sportage. Kia’s German studio penned it, and the European influence is most evident in the headlights, where their protrusion from the fenders is reminiscent of the premium-class Porsche Cayenne and Macan crossovers. Sportage’s front end gets a re-imagining of the brand’s trademark “tiger nose” grille. The SX’s fog lights are a unique “ice-cube-tray” design with four individual LED bulbs per housing. Muscular proportions continue along the body sides, evidenced by the low roof and high belt line — the latter making rear seating feel a bit claustrophobic.

Sportage’s cabin is smartly designed, with large, easy-to-use controls and instrumentation. The UVO infotainment system standard on EX and SX and optional on the LX is easy to use and integrates well with CarPlay and Android Auto. In-dash GPS navigation is available on the EX and standard on the SX. Passenger room is slightly below average, but no one will be uncomfortable. Cargo volume, however, is near the bottom of the competitive set.

Any mechanical changes?

Not for model-year ‘18. Like many of its rivals, Sportage offers a choice of naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. It’s LX and EX models have a 2.4-liter with 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. The SX Turbo is one of the most powerful compact crossovers. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter produces 240 horsepower (237 with AWD) and 260 pound-feet of torque. Both engines pair with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Acceleration in the LX and EX is competitive with other compact crossovers of similar power. The SX Turbo is downright sprightly. The sole transmission is a six-speed automatic and it works well with both engines. It also shifts with far less fuss than the dual-clutch automatic found on turbocharged versions of the Hyundai Tucson. An eight-speed automatic would likely provide better throttle response, but we wouldn’t expect such a transmission to become available until Sportage’s 2020 refresh, at the earliest. Handling is predictable and secure, if not as sharp as that of the class-topping Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5. Ride is firm but never jarring, even on the more stiffly sprung SX Turbo. Still, the Kia doesn’t absorb bumps as well as the Nissan Rogue or Subaru Forester.

Will fuel economy improve?

Very unlikely, sans mechanical changes. And since none is expected, the ’18 Sportage will again be less fuel-efficient than most direct rivals. For the LX and EX, EPA ratings should repeat at 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 21/25/23 with AWD. For the SX Turbo, they should remain 21/26/23 with front-drive and 20/23/21 with AWD. All models would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane fuel. By comparison, the 184-horsepower CR-V is rated 26/32/28 with front-drive and 25/31/27 with AWD, while the 250-horse AWD turbocharged Forester is rated 23/27/25.

Will it have new features?

Probably not, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Sportage follows Kia’s mantra of lots of features for the money. Expect all ’18 models to again include LED daytime running lights, a rearview camera, and Bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio. The EX should again add leather upholstery with heated front seats, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

Primary options for the ’18 LX and EX would return in packages. Expect the LX Popular Equipment Package to again add roof rails, heated front seats, and a power driver’s seat. Ordering this is again apt to open access to the LX Cool & Connected Package, which adds dual-zone automatic climate control and upgrades the infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen (up from 5.5 inches) and CarPlay/Android Auto support.

As for 2017, the ’18 EX is expected to include all LX standard and optional equipment. It should also continue to offer a Premium Package that adds a panoramic sunroof, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, and a heated steering wheel. On top of this, the EX Technology Package should again get you built-in navigation, a hands-free power rear liftgate, and lane-departure warning (though not automatic steering correction. It should also again include autonomous emergency braking that can bring the Kia to a stop automatically to avoid a frontal collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian. Kia is expected to again include all the above features as standard on the 2018 SX Turbo.

On the safety front, a vehicle with autonomous emergency braking usually qualified for coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, the IIHS has recently added tests for headlamp efficiency to the mix, and the ’17 Sportage fell short, resulting in the IIHS’s second-highest accolade, Top Safety Pick. A retest could conceivably win “+” status for 2018 Sportage SX Turbos and EXs with the Technology Package.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll probably track a bit higher than on the 2017 Sportage. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $895 on the 2017 Sportage.) Expect 2018 base prices of around $24,500 on the LX, $27,000 on the EX, and $34,000 on the SX Turbo. Look for all-wheel drive to again be a $1,500 option on any Sportage.

At what should be about $26,500 with AWD and the Popular and Cool & Connected packages, the 2018 Sportage LX would be a compelling deal. Expect the EX’s Premium Package to retail for around $2,100 and the Technology Package for around $2,900.

While both add some worthwhile features, we’d urge Kia to offer their driver-assistance items – blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alter and autonomous emergency braking — in a single, more affordable option group. We’d also like to see these important safety items make their way to the LX.

When will it come out?

Expected release date for the 2018 Kia Sportage is in the third-quarter of 2017.

Best competitors

Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4

What change would make it better?

Making blind-spot alert, autonomous emergency braking, and lane-departure warning available across the entire model line at a more affordable price would top our list and be something Kia could easily do during this generation. Our issues with fuel economy and cargo room likely will not be addressed until the next-generation model debuts.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]