Wearing a parka into the desert is not the wisest thing to do if you intend on surviving the long haul, but if you are the 2017 Kia Sportage, which is one of the South Korean automaker’s best-sellers, that’s exactly what you do to remain at the top of buyers’ shopping lists. Autotrader stumbled upon several heavily camouflaged (fourth-generation) models in Death Valley and at the Hyundai Group’s proving grounds in Mojave, California, ahead of the vehicle’s official debut at the Frankfurt International Motor Show. Despite its heavy outer gear, the Sportage managed to keep its cool. At 117 degrees, we can’t say we kept ours.
Through the Years
Originally introduced in 1993 as a basic 4×4 crossover vehicle, the first-generation Kia Sportage was responsible for more than 500,000 units sold during its life cycle. The second generation continued to rack up sales, but neither edition achieved the overwhelming success of the current third generation, with 1.7 million units sold. Being responsible for 15 percent of total corporate sales means this vehicle can’t be easily dismissed when it comes time for a refresh.
The fourth-generation model, scheduled to go on sale in 2016 as a 2017-model-year offering, maintains a similar profile to the current model but features a revised tiger-nose grille with new high-mount headlamps that work their way onto the top of the hood. Aggressive styling is also present thanks to the low-and-away feel of the fog lights, which give way to a larger grille for improved engine cooling. The new Sportage features more interior legroom, which is a result of more than an inch added to the wheelbase.
While Kia introduced a total of four engines that will make their way into the Sportage engine bay, U.S. domestic offerings will most likely be limited to the 1.6-liter turbocharged gas direct-injection (T-GDI) 4-cylinder that makes 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque and the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 182 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. They should be mated to 7-speed dual-clutch and 6-speed automatic transmissions, respectively.
The 2017 Kia Sportage will ride on a suspension comprised of MacPherson struts with coil springs, gas-filled shocks with a stabilizer bar in front and a multilink independent rear setup. Steering will come from an energy-efficient electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion kit.
In the small-crossover segment, the Kia Sportage will compete against worthy competitors such as Toyota’s RAV4, the Mazda CX5, the Ford Escape, Honda’s CR-V and, in a case of biting the hand that feeds it, the Hyundai Tucson (Kia is part of the Hyundai Motor Group.)
We are sneaking some drive time behind the wheel of a Prototype 2 front-wheel-drive Sportage, referred to as QL, its internal code name. One generation away from an actual production model, it features most, if not all, of the production intentions that will show up when it comes time to buy a car.
Steering seemed overly boosted to our tastes, but it’s close to what many customers expect in the segment. It performed admirably, easily completing the 4×4 off-road course at the Kia proving grounds, surprising us with the ease the Sportage was able to track up a hill. Once at the peak, we found it was also equipped with hillside-descent control, which worked like a champ in helping us creep down the steep incline. A lack of dust throughout the cabin showed us how well the interior was sealed and filtered and allowed the HVAC system to cool down its occupants in a rapid fashion, despite the 117-degree ambient temperatures.
A few moments later, we are in the all-wheel-drive-equipped Sportage and find similar feeling from the electric power-assisted steering system. Even though it, too, is a prototype, it is complete with all the accoutrements 4×4 fans are accustomed to, including 4-wheel lock and hillside descent. It managed to climb the Kia test track’s off-road hill without breaking a sweat.
The interior carries over the appearances we became familiar with in the new Kia Sorento. The new dashboard had plenty of style as penned by Peter Schreyer’s team of designers. Ventilated seats, a digital dashboard with an 8-inch display for the navigation and Infinity audio systems helped give the feeling of a place we would enjoy hanging out in for a while. Interior sound was modulated well, offering a quiet ride despite the irregularities found on the off- and on-road courses at the automaker’s proving grounds.
Nicely turned out, it looks way beyond prototype quality.