First impressions count for a lot, and the 2014 Kia Sportage makes one that lasts. The Sportage is a compact crossover that is all about visual impact. From its crisp, angular lines and taut proportions to its available 18-inch wheels, the Sportage will have your friends saying, "That's a Kia? Really?"

The Sportage is more than just a pretty face. This is a truly compact crossover. While that means cargo capacity is subpar, the benefits of downsizing are evident from behind the wheel. Whether you're darting through urban streets or making time on a rural byway, the Sportage feels more like a nimble hatchback than a high-riding utility vehicle. Toss in the all-wheel-drive options and the Sportage becomes a year-round commuter that can handle almost any weather condition.

Other strengths include carlike fuel economy and an available 260-horsepower turbocharged engine that really puts the "Sport" in "Sportage." Throw in surprisingly adequate backseat room and a wealth of standard and optional features and it's clear that the 2014 Sportage's strong first impression is just the beginning. 

What's New for 2014?

For 2014, the Sportage's standard 2.4-liter engine gains gasoline-direct injection technology and minor exterior updates. A tilt/telescopic steering wheel is now standard on all trims, as are new suspension dampers and ventilation for the rear seats. New optional equipment includes HID headlights, LED taillights, ventilated front seats and an Infinity audio system. The base model with the manual transmission has been dropped. 

What We Like

Distinctive looks; good fuel economy; fun to drive; excellent optional turbocharged engine; available UVO voice-recognition system 

What We Don't

Firm ride; limited cargo capacity; narrow side glass creates blind spots 

How Much?

$22,450-$34,000 

Fuel Economy 

The Sportage starts with a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder rated at 182 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is the only transmission choice this year. Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive model is rated at 21 miles per gallon city/28 mpg hwy, while all-wheel-drive models earn a slightly lower 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy.

Exclusive to the SX trim is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder that cranks out 260 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. This is essentially the same engine featured in the Optima midsize sedan. It's a gem, delivering strong, lag-free acceleration that evokes fancier crossovers such as the BMW X3. Fuel economy is impressive given all that thrust: 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with front-wheel drive and 19 mpg city/24 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive. 

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Kia Sportage comes in three possible trims: LX, EX and SX.

The Sportage LX ($22,450) includes an automatic transmission, 17-in alloy wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free cellphone connectivity, steering-wheel audio controls, a tilt/telescoping steering column, reclining rear seats, rear privacy glass, an AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, USB/iPod interface, air conditioning and power functions for the windows, mirrors and door locks. 

The Sportage EX ($25,850) adds 18-in alloy wheels, fog lights, rear spoiler, auto headlights, rear backup sensors, a cooling glove box, heated side mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 1-touch up driver's window, keyless entry, sun-visor illumination, Infinity premium audio, trip computer, keyless entry, a rear backup camera, UVO infotainment system, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and a power driver's seat with manual lumbar support. 

The Sportage SX ($27,750) brings a 260-hp turbocharged engine, HID headlights, LED daytime running lights and rear taillights, chrome door handles and aluminum scuff plates. 

The LX can be equipped with the Popular package that adds a trip computer, rear spoiler, rear backup sensors, roof rails, rear backup camera and the UVO system. The EX Premium package adds leather seating, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, power folding outside mirrors, ventilated front seats and Smart Key keyless entry with push-button start. The SX Premium package is the same as the EX Premium only without the Panoramic sunroof (can be ordered separately). All-wheel drive is optional on all trims. 

Safety 

The Sportage offers standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain) and active front head restraints.

The 2014 Sportage was a standout in government crash testing, scoring a perfect five stars overall in both front and side impacts. Likewise, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Sportage its highest rating of Good in all categories. 

Behind the Wheel 

The 2014 Kia Sportage feels intimate and sporty from behind the wheel, and a spirited drive confirms this impression. Thanks to its firm suspension and responsive steering, the Sportage engages the driver like few other affordable crossovers can. Add the turbocharged engine to the mix and you'll really have some fun. The addition of sport dampers to all models means ride quality may leave something to be desired, so make sure you find rough pavement on your test route to see if the Sportage's ride suits you. Similarly, road noise is more intrusive than we'd prefer at times. 

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Escape -- Based on the superb Focus, the Escape matches the Sportage for entertainment value and surpasses it in cargo space and interior quality. But it's also more expensive, and the styling isn't as special to our eye.

Mazda CX-5 -- If athletic handling is what you're after, the CX-5 is the one to have. But even though its fuel economy is best-in-class, the CX-5 doesn't have anything to rival the Sportage's 260-hp turbocharged engine option.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport -- A dark-horse pick, the Outlander Sport provides Sportage-like dimensions and maneuverability on the cheap. 

AutoTrader's Advice 

The turbocharged SX is pricey by Kia standards, but it's an excellent all-around vehicle that showcases the Sportage's potential. Check the spec sheet on an Audi Q5 2.0T, for example, and you may develop a newfound respect for this Kia.

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