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The last iteration of the Kia Sportage was on a truck-like body – big on value, but not much else. The new 2011 Sportage now competes in a more popular group of little "utes" including the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4, which are clearly useful if not stylish. And yet the new 2011 Kia Sportage is so good looking and packed with thoughtful design details, stylishness is probably its most compelling feature.

Hats off to designer Massimo Frascella for touches like concept car looking wheels, LED running lights on the EX model and a subtle chrome strip that lines both side windows. Where styling of the old Sportage was functional but dowdy, the new 2011 Sportage looks like it should be displayed right outside the Marc Jacobs tent during New York Fashion Week.

Thankfully, Kia keeps the party going inside too. The Sportage's interior is now filled with plenty of high quality materials that look as good as they feel. The gloss black climate control background, matte grey radio and chrome trim surrounding the shift lever give the cabin an elegant look you'd just never expect in a $21,000 SUV. There are a total of three trim levels – base ($18,990), LX ($20,990) and EX ($23,990), a sportier SX model in on the way too. Notable options include navigation w/ rear parking camera, upgraded stereo with subwoofer, cooling glove box, a new Microsoft driven voice control system and smart key with push button start.

Of course all-wheel drive is still an option, now it's a Dynamax system developed by Magna Powertrain. Kia describes the sophisticated system as "fully active" and says it's designed to improve cornering. Kia obviously thinks a little off-road ability is still important to the Sportage because downhill brake control, hill start assist and traction control are all standard.

The original Sportage made due with 94 hp from a 2.0 liter, four cylinder engine. In a way, the 2011 model is going back to its roots. While the second generation Sportage had a four or six-cylinder engine available, Kia's newest version uses only four cylinders no matter what version you opt for. The base motor is a 2.4 liter inline-four that makes 176 hp, that's a little more power than the 2010 model's V6. A turbocharged, direct injection 2.0 liter engine will also be available and that's good for 270 hp.

We drove the EX model in and around San Francisco and found the non-turbo 2.4 liter engine to have more than enough power on the highway, up steep hills and around town. We expect the turbo to feel like a rocket ship by comparison. Kia's new Sportage will be able to make the most of that power as they've intentionally given this all new crossover a sporty attitude. Thanks to fairly stiff suspension and wide tires mounted on 18 inch wheels (EX), the Sportage keeps you in close communication with the road. Handling is predictable and sharp while road and wind noise are kept at a minimum. Rough roads bounce Sportage occupants and cargo around for sure but to some, the cornering ability and nicely weighted electric steering will make it all worthwhile. A six-speed manual transmission comes with the base model but LX and EX versions use a six-speed automatic. The automatic actually gets slightly better fuel economy than the manual. A front wheel drive 2011 Kia Sportage is estimated to get 22 mpg city / 31 highway.

The 2011 Sportage is on sale now at a Kia dealer near you.

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Brian Moody has been an automotive writer and presenter for more than 10 years. He has contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Fox Business, the Today show, Speed TV, Edmunds.com and KTLA in Los Angeles. He currently covers the automotive industry and reviews new cars for the nationally syndicated Car Concerns radio show.

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