Driven by Jim Powell- Automotive Journalist
This Kia Sportage is the forth-generation, a small SUV when introduced to the USA back in 1994. Kia Motors brought their Sophia sedan and Sportage SUV to America to fit the niche in the affordable transportation market with a product that was sub-standard- even compared to the likes of Suzuki and GM’s GEO brand.
All that has changed.
Today brings a completely new 2017 Kia Sportage crossover that can be loaded up with luxury and technology to rival the most expensive crossovers on the world market. Our test 2017 Kia Sportage top-of-the-line SX, All-Wheel Drive (AWD), Turbo model came with it all and is almost perfect in every category. Sportage is built at Kia’s production facility in Gwangju, Korea, and is available in three trims including a reasonably-priced LX and a best-valued EX.
The newest Sportage looks like a spaceship when approaching, especially at night with the cube-shaped LED HID headlamps and fog lights. The whole frontend is futuristic and functional with a lower front end with redesigned air intakes for better cooling and lower drag. Sportage looks wider but remains 73-inches in overall width. Sportage also looks much longer and larger, but the wheelbase has only gained 1.2 inches, so the overall length 176.4 inches still fits nicely in a garage or parking space.
The interior is upgraded with more comfortable leather, arm pads, and dash covers. Some clever engineering has made this crossover feel roomy and airy in the front seats. Kia has spent some real money upgrading materials on the door arm-rests, switches, buttons, and everywhere a passenger would touch. The overall fit-n-finish has been improved.
The aggressive rising beltline to the back and over the hatch limits visibility from the back seat and out the backend. Rear seat legroom (38+ inches) is very good for this class in a crossover, and all five seats are comfortable and supportive for longer trips. Headroom for 2017 is up a couple of inches as well- mostly because of the rear bench being lowered several inches. There is also some more visibility with thinner pillars and a larger rear window.
I appreciate the logic used in the controls and interface screen- with a good placement of the very clear digital readout. The center console has been slightly angled towards the driver while still very usable for a partner to use the controls from the right seat. The new layout is simple and straight forward with larger buttons that are easy to read and use while moving at high speeds. Almost perfect!
This is Kia’s newest UVO3 infotainment system and includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a host of other telematics services. This means making calls, receiving texts, and getting distracted while on the road is too easy to do, and yet, easier than other infotainment systems. Music is provided by an excellent sound system, and our SX model came with an 8 GB of music storage capacity.
Like so many of the Korean platforms manufactured in Korea or the U.S., Sportage gets a much stiffer unibody structure which is felt during the first mile of driving. Sportage is now made with 51 percent high-strength steel versus the outgoing model’s 18 percent, so torsional rigidity has improved 39 percent.
The increase in strength allowed Kia to develop a brand new suspension with more compliant shocks, struts, and bushings. The only time one is reminded that this is a CUV is over broken pavement. Otherwise, the ride is almost perfect with controlled cornering and very substantial brakes. Even the new 19 inch wheels and performance tires did not make the ride too harsh enough to cause passengers to complain. In fact, I liked the balance between the sharp handling and the comfortable highway ride. Best of all, the new platform and isolation bushings give the Sportage cabin a very quiet ride.
The optional panoramic roof opens up the Sportage front and back seats to the sky, giving sun-lovers a convertible-type drive. The wind noise is evident at highway speeds but below 50 mph, the Sportage can cruise around with this sliding glass roof wide open, and people can hear each other talk.
Our SX Turbo included a sporty heated leather steering wheel with the flattened bottom making more room for larger laps and paddle shifters. The aluminum alloy pedals and real stitching on the dashboard are nice touches, but the real luxury is the improved ride.
Kia has lowered the interior floor (ground clearance is 6.8 inches on AWD) and taken advantage of the new suspension and the AWD drivetrain. The Sportage is not a tried and true off-road machine, but it will traverse anything a typical CUV owner will drive it through. Mud and snow are no problem because of all the traction-control software onboard. The only critique here is the way the turbo spools up power with a slight lag under acceleration. I could get the front tires to chirp on dry pavement if I laid into the gas hard enough and this would transfer power too quickly on snow or mud. Once moving, the Sportage powertrain is smooth and very predictable.
Power is generated from Kia’s proven 2.0-liter inline-four turbocharged engine. It pumps out 240 horsepower (FWD) and 237 horsepower on the AWD models. The 260 lb.-ft. Torque is a little delayed off the line, but this CUV is no slouch. Most of the power comes in the mid-range where most people need the speed. Access to freeway on-ramps and passing trucks on two-lane highways feels much safer than some of the lower horsepower SUVs on the market. Along with all this power, I was able to get 24.3 mpg on the freeways with the full-time all-wheel drive system. Almost perfect! The more affordable 2.4 liter is a fine engine as well (LX and EX) and both power plants use direct fuel injection.
Kia has offered more in the new Sportage. There is more comfort with optional heated and ventilated front seats, 10-way power control with lumbar support for the driver’s seat, and eight-way power control for the passenger seat. The greatest gain in comfort is a quieter cabin with better road noise isolation. There is more cargo room with an increase of 4+ cubic feet of space 30.7 cu.-ft. There is more convenience with a Smart Power Liftgate™ which automatically opens when the key fob is within three feet of the vehicle. There is no need to wave your foot underneath the rear bumper.
The 2017 Sportage can include most of the modern electronic driver-assist systems like a forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking system with Kia’s Pedestrian Detection. This can detect a pedestrian and stop the CUV. Other computerized systems include Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Lane Change Assist (LCA), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), and sensors in the bumpers for warning the driver of objects too close to the vehicle.
All Sportage models come standard with a 160-watt six-speaker audio system. A powerful 320-watt Harman Kardon® premium audio system is also available and features eight speakers including subwoofer, an external amplifier, and Clari-FiTM9 music restoration technology for unrivaled audio quality.
Overall, the SX Turbo Sportage was fun to drive and comfortable to travel in for long distances. The ride is stable and poised for on-road travel. The steering returns to center more easily and is more responsive with new electronic software and the new linkage configuration. Even with the all-wheel drivetrain, this is not an SUV for serious off-roaders, and the majority of the public drive on the road- slippery or not. This is right size CUV for a small family with good economy and solid reliability. Almost perfect.