2011 Kia Sportage EX AWDPosted on July 19th, 2011
Five passenger crossover with available all-wheel drive
By Nina Russin
Kia’s most enduring nameplate has evolved from a body-on-frame sport-utility vehicle to a unibody crossover. The newest generation Sportage which rolled out last year is considerably larger than the original, and of course, more refined. But just like the off-road vehicle introduced in the mid-1990s, the new Sportage offers buyers with active lifestyles great value and versatility.
The Sportage comes in four grades, with either front or all-wheel drive. The upscale EX has an appealing roster of standard convenience features, including keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio with iPod compatibility, Bluetooth interface and power front seats. Base price for the all-wheel drive version is $24,795, not including the $695 delivery charge.
A navigation package on the test car upgrades the standard audio to a surround-sound system, with an external amplifier and subwoofer ($1500). A premium option package adds leather trim, heated front seats, keyless start, heated side mirrors, a panoramic sunroof and cargo cover ($3000), bringing the price as tested to $29,950.
Three available fuel-efficient engines
Sportage buyers can choose from three available four-cylinder engines: a standard 2.4-liter block rated at 176 horsepower, slightly detuned PZEV version rated at 170 horsepower, and a turbocharged engine available on the SX grade only, which produces 260 horsepower. Fans of manual transmissions can find one on the base model: all other grades come with a six-speed automatic.
Engineers of late have favored large four-cylinder engines, which work on some vehicles better than others. The 2.4-liter block on the Sportage functions quite well, offering enough power for the open road, with excellent fuel economy around town. While the naturally-aspirated 2.4-liter engine lacks the low-end torque of the available two-liter turbocharged unit, it has competent acceleration in the critical twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range necessary for merging into freeway traffic.
The six-speed automatic transmission offers a smooth and refined ride. I noticed no tendency to hunt during the extended test drive.
Road trip to Colorado
I spent four days in the Sportage EX on a road trip between Phoenix, Arizona and Durango, Colorado. The route took us through the northern Arizona town of Flagstaff, across a section of the Navajo nation which passes through Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly before heading north through Four Corners into Colorado. The route included some stretches of quick altitude gain, which would test the car’s power and fuel economy, and a section of unpaved road which has yet to be upgraded.
The first stretch of the 17 freeway between Phoenix and Flagstaff climbs from 1500 feet to 7200 in about 150 miles. While our average fuel economy was significantly lower than the EPA’s 28 mpg estimate, the car’s power and performance was admirable. I had no problems keeping up with the faster vehicles on the 75 mile-per-hour road, and was able to pass slower cars with ease.
Areas around the town of Durango reach even higher elevations: up to 8500 feet. It’s common for naturally-aspirated engines to lose fuel economy at high altitudes because they don’t run as efficiently. While this was true for the 2.4-liter block in the Sportage, I was impressed by the engine’s ability to climb hard without harsh downshifts.
The rack-and-pinion steering system produces good feedback at all speeds, with enough assist for maneuvering around crowded parking lots and positive on-center response on the highway. A 34.7-foot turning radius makes the Sportage an easy car to park on the street, or perform the occasional U-turn.
A four-wheel independent suspension offers up a car-like ride without being mushy. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat in the corners, while standard 18-inch wheels on the EX provide an ample footprint to enhance traction.
Visibility around the car’s perimeter is good, with the exception of some blind spots in the rear corners due to its thick D pillars. A rearview camera on the test car projects a wide-angle view to the back when the driver shifts into reverse, making it much easier to pull out of vertical parking slots.
I was impressed with the lack of wind and road noise inside the vehicle, especially on the ten-mile section of unpaved road. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.
The all-wheel drive system automatically transfers engine power from the front axle to the rear to enhance traction. This not only enhances performance on rain and snow-covered roads, it also makes the Sportage corner better.
All-wheel drive adds some weight to the chassis, reducing fuel economy by about two miles-per-gallon as compared with the front-wheel drive car. But it also makes the Sportage less nose-heavy, resulting in less dive during hard braking.
Nowhere is Kia’s evolution as an automaker more apparent than in its interiors. Fit and finish is excellent throughout. Designers did a good job locating cup and bottle holders within easy reach of the passengers. The cup holders in the center console easily hold large water bottles.
Power points are also abundant. There are two 12-volt power points at the base of the center stack as well as a USB port for iPod interface. Redundant steering wheel controls make it easy for the driver to select audio channels, use the Bluetooth interface and cruise control with a minimum of distraction.
The power adjustable driver’s seat provides plenty of lower lumbar support for extended drives. Because the Sportage has no floor tunnel, three adults can sit in the second-row seats.
The optional panoramic moonroof is a nice feature in the mountains, enhancing passengers’ view of the scenery and bringing an abundance of ambient light inside the vehicle.
A digital display in the gauge cluster provides information about fuel economy and range, the trip meter, odometer and ambient temperature. This display can be difficult to read in bright sunlight, as is the center stack screen.
Dual-zone climate controls function intuitively, and provide excellent temperature separation for the driver and front passenger. Unfortunately, the Sportage has no vents in the back of the vehicle. On a warm afternoon in Durango, it took about 15 minutes to cool down the back of the vehicle so passengers in the second row could be comfortable.
Cargo space in the rear is abundant. With the rear seats in place, we were able to load in luggage for a five-day road trip, computers and coolers. With the rear seats folded flat, the Sportage easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards. Standard roof rails make it easy to add a cargo carrier up top.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, LED daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Standard downhill descent control and hill start assist help the driver to maintain directional stability on steep grades, and accelerate from a stop without sliding backwards.
Kia’s ten year/100,000 mile factory warranty includes three years of complimentary roadside assistance.
Likes: An affordable crossover vehicle with all-weather capability and seating for up to five passengers. The Sportage has a high level of standard safety and convenience features. Its versatile interior easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
Dislike: Lack of air vents in the back of the vehicle can make it uncomfortable in warm temperatures.
Model: Sportage EX AWD
Base price: $24,795
As tested: $29,990
Horsepower: 176 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 168 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 21/28 mpg city/highway
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