Kia continues its relentless product onslaught with the 2011 Sportage, a redesign of an existing nameplate. It joins the new Soul, Forte, Koup and Sedona in the Kia lineup, and precedes the redesigned Optima.
The Sportage strengthens the South Korean manufacturer’s bid, along with its Hyundai corporate sibling, for an increasing share of the U.S. market. Sales of both nameplates have been boosted by their newfound and justly earned reputation for improved design, quality and resale value.
The Sportage started in 1995. It preceded the popular Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape. But the Sportage was a small, truck-based sport-utility vehicle that lacked a quality reputation while the others, car-based, became popular as sturdy crossover utility vehicles.
In 2004, the Sportage caught up when it was redesigned as a car-based crossover with unit-body construction. The third-generation all-new 2011 model continues in that concept.
In keeping with other recent Kia and Hyundai models, the biggest change is the absence of a V6 engine. The 2010 Sportage could be ordered with a 173-horsepower V6 or a 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine. At introduction, the 2011 model had only one engine: a four-banger that, at 176 horsepower, has slightly more power than the previous V6. On the horizon is a 270-horsepower turbocharged four.
Settling on sophisticated, more powerful and economical four-cylinder engines is part of a corporate strategy, covering other models as well, to meet upcoming stringent government fuel economy requirements. The new Sportage sports an EPA city/highway rating of 21/28 miles to the gallon, compared to the 2010 model’s 18/23 for the V6 and 20/25 for the smaller four.
The 2011 Sportage is a credible and stylish alternative to the leaders in the growing compact crossover utility vehicle category, which is dominated by the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4. But it also competes with its garage-mate, the Hyundai Tucson, and in fact is nearly a clone except for the way it looks.
They share engines and drive trains, as well as similar equipment and price tags. Moreover, they are losing one of their big advantages over their popular competitors: a substantially lower price.
For example, the tested top-of-the-line Sportage EX, with all-wheel drive, navigation system, leather upholstery and other options, had a suggested sticker price of $29,990. That is less than a similarly-equipped CR-V or four-cylinder RAV4 but the difference is measured in hundreds, not thousands, of dollars— $535 less than the CR-V and $655 less than the RAV4.
Ultimately, that may not matter because the new Sportage stands stoutly on its own. Moreover, in addition to its contemporary styling it has a more comprehensive warranty that may be attractive to some buyers.
The base front-wheel drive Sportage, with a six-speed manual gearbox, has a starting price of $18,990. Standard equipment includes full safety equipment: stability control, antilock brakes, electronic brake distribution, brake assist, tire-pressure monitoring, side air bags and side-curtain air bags. It also has downhill braking control and uphill start assist.
Up the scale are the LX model, which starts at $20,990, and the EX at $23,990, both with front-drive. All-wheel drive, which features a tough-going mode that locks the drive system 50-50 between the front and rear wheels, costs $1,500 extra.
Unusual in this class of vehicle is an optional air-cooled driver’s seat, available on the EX with leather upholstery. Other options include pushbutton starting, a sonar rear parking warning with backup camera, heated seats and side mirrors, and a panoramic sunroof.
Another unusual feature is the Sportage’s LED (light-emitting diode) daytime running lights. They mimic similar lights on expensive luxury cars like Audi and BMW. However, when you engage a directional signal, the DRL on that side turns off. Out back, the directional signal lights are mounted in the bumper, separated from the brake and running lights.
Standard on the EX is the Microsoft-designed UVO (stands for Your Voice) communications and entertainment system that enables occupants to place and answer telephone calls, receive and respond to text messages, and access music from a variety of sources, including burning CDs into the system.
On the road, the tested Sportage EX accelerated smartly. Its heavily-weighted electric power steering gave it something of a luxury-car feel, though it inhibited some of the feedback from the road. With a fairly stiff suspension system, the ride was choppy on uneven surfaces, and a good bit of road and tire noise intruded into the cabin.
The automatic transmission shifted smoothly and offers manual shifting if the driver chooses. However, the shifting must be done with the console-mounted lever; there are no steering-wheel paddles.
The front seats offered middling comfort and support but finding an accommodating seating position was easy with the power adjustments and a steering wheel that both tilted and telescoped. (Base and LX models get only a tilt adjustment). In back, there’s plenty of outboard room for two, with a punishing center position. Instruments, with daytime lighting, are easy to read, as is the navigation screen in the middle of the dash.
- Model: 2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD four-door crossover utility vehicle.
- Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 176 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and lockable all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 100/26 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,355 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 21/28 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $25,490.
- Base dealer cost: $23,975.
- Price as tested: $29,990.