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2017 Kia Sportage: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Jason Fogelson March 2016

When Kia first introduced the Sportage in 1994, it fit the definition of cute ute perfectly. Now entering its fourth generation, the 2017 Kia Sportage is all grown up. Along the way, the Sportage has become Kia's longest-running nameplate and one of its best-selling models, with over 700,000 examples produced. The South-Korea-produced compact-crossover vehicle is all new for this model year, returning with the Kia formula of eye-catching design, decent performance and surprising content.

It Has the Look

Kia's success in the United States can be directly tied to the vision of Peter Schreyer, its chief design officer since 2006. Schreyer, whose previous credits include the Audi TT, overhauled and unified the Kia lineup with sleek lines and a signature tiger-nose grille.

The new Sportage further refines the Kia look. Designers often talk about pushing the wheels out to the corners of a vehicle, and that's what they've done with the crossover. The overhangs are shorter in the front and rear, the wheelbase has grown by 1.2 inches, and the overall length of the vehicle has increased by 1.6 inches. These little tweaks make the Sportage look longer, lower and wider -- sportier, if you will. The growth in dimension has also increased cargo capacity behind the second row to 30.7 cu ft. (up from 26.1 cu ft. in the previous generation), a welcome addition of utility.

Interior Refinement

Inside, the Sportage has become more drivercentric. The center console has been canted a few degrees toward the driver, sacrificing symmetry for a cockpit feel. Design-wise, the dash is very reminiscent of Kia's bigger crossover, the Sorento -- and that's a good thing. There's a simulated cut-and-sewn dash cover, nice quality materials and surfaces, and an abundance of available technology packed into the vehicle, with a predictable step up along the three trim levels.

The base LX (starting at $22,990 with front-wheel drive) comes with a 2.4-liter gasoline-direct-injection (GDI) 4-cylinder engine that produces 181 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. It is hardly a stripped-down econobox, either. Standard equipment includes LED daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 5-in touchscreen with a rear camera, Bluetooth and more. The midrange EX (starting at $25,500) comes with the same 2.4-liter GDI engine and adds heated leather seats, a 7-in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, push-button starting and smart key functionality, and 18-in wheels. The top-of-the-line SX Turbo (starting at $32,500) gets a revvy 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI engine rated at 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and bundled with a long list of standard features, including 19-in wheels, dual exhausts, an 8-in touchscreen with Kia's UVO system, heated and ventilated front seats, bi-xenon HID headlights, LED fog lights and many other extras. You can add all-wheel drive to any trim level for $1,500, and you'll get a new Magna Dynamax electronic locking center differential that can send up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels and provide torque vectoring when conditions mandate. A 6-speed automatic transmission is the only choice, and paddle shifters come with the SX Turbo.

To Turbo or Not to Turbo

We drove both the EX and SX Turbo versions of the Sportage and came away suitably impressed with each. The naturally aspirated (nonturbo) 2.4-liter engine in the EX has plenty of power for everyday driving, with enough oomph left in reserve for freeway speeds and steep inclines. The 6-speed automatic is particularly welcome in this age of continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVT), providing a satisfying kickdown in passing situations and avoiding the drone that can plague CVTs when cruising at highway speed. The turbo is more fun, and the firmer shock absorbers sharpen the handling without adding harshness. Too bad it's only available in the loaded top-of-the-line SX, making the turbo an all-in choice that may scare away some value-oriented buyers. All Sportage models come with Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

If safety is a big concern, midrange EX buyers can opt for the $1,700 EX Premium package that includes blind spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert or the $2,700 Technology package that adds front and rear parking assist, lane-departure warning, high-beam assists, front-collision warning and autonomous emergency-braking systems -- all of which is standard on the SX Turbo.

A Tough Competitive Set

The competition is stiff in the compact-crossover realm -- much stiffer than it was when the original Sportage cute ute made its debut. Kia has identified the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Rogue as its competitors, and you'd have to include the Hyundai Tucson, as well. We'd add the smaller Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke and Mazda CX-3 to the pack of crossovers to consider, as well. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all class of vehicle.

The Sportage may have lost its mantle as the least expensive crossover, but it is definitely in the conversation for design and ride quality. For buyers who are looking for the most content for their transportation dollar, the 2017 Kia Sportage is definitely a vehicle to consider.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Kia Sportage: First Drive Review - Autotrader