2011 Kia SportagePosted on July 23rd, 2010
Compact crossover vehicle comes full circle
By Nina Russin
The Sportage is the most enduring nameplate in the Kia line-up. The 1996 model followed on the heels of the Sephia: Kia’s first car for the North American market.
While Sephia came first, the Sportage was in many ways more significant. It was one of the earliest compact utility vehicles, preceding both the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV. As with the Sephia, the Sportage was also a value story. Buyers formerly limited to used cars could buy a brand new Kia for about the same money.
Though the original Sportage fell short on build quality when compared to more expensive competitors, the company prevailed. A generation of drivers came to love the Korean automaker for its value pricing strategy, as well as its commitment to continuous improvement.
The second-generation Sportage that rolled out in 2004 was a solid, attractive car with excellent build quality and much-enhanced performance. While the new car was unibody as compared to the body-on-frame original model, it maintained a similar mission: offering moderate off-road capability in a compact and versatile package.
An all-new Kia Sportage rolls out this summer for the 2011 model year. Kia has changed the model designation from sport-utility vehicle to crossover, reflecting a stronger focus on passenger car performance, with less concern for off-road capability.
The new model is slightly longer, wider and lower than the former car, giving it better aerodynamics and improved handling at speed. The cargo area is slightly larger according to EPA estimates.
An available all-wheel drive system gives the new Sportage all-season capability. The all-wheel drive system can deliver up to fifty percent of engine power to the rear wheels, as road conditions demand.
Three available grades
The Sportage comes in three trim levels: pricing for the base model starts at $18,295, not including a $695 destination charge. The mid-grade LX starts at $20,295, while the upscale EX with standard 18-inch wheels begins at $23,295. A fully-optioned EX with all-wheel drive costs just under $30,000.
Technology savvy, inside and out
While the original Sportage was almost anti-tech, the new car strives to lead its segment in engineering and information technology. A 2.4-liter engine with variable valve timing powers all grades, mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. It meets California PZEV standards, similar to some hybrids, and averages 31 miles-per-gallon on the highway.
Inside, the Sportage is the first Kia available with UVO: a connectivity system developed in conjunction with Microsoft. The voice-activated system gives the driver hands-free phone and infotainment access. UVO is part of an option package that also adds a color display screen and rear backup camera.
Other available comfort and convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone temperature controls, a heated and ventilated driver’s seat, navigation, Bluetooth interface, USB and MP3 compatibility.
The Sportage exterior is based on the Kue: a concept car which debuted at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The production model comes from Kia’s Southern California design center.
Visually, the new Sportage has more affinity with the new Sorento than the outgoing model, using Kia’s signature bow-shaped grille, framed by large, wrap-around headlamps. Functional air scoops and fog lamps beneath the grille mimic sport sedans.
From the side, a bullet-shaped profile floats over large wheel wells, with a narrow greenhouse. Upswept taillamps and a narrow rear glass are similar in appearance to the Sorento.
Sinuous ride and handling
At a recent media program in San Francisco, I drove the upscale EX model through the canyon roads south of town. Roads between the South Bay and the coast are notorious for off-camber turns and pitchy, blind hills.
Engineers did an excellent job tuning the electric power steering system to provide feedback similar to a hydraulic unit. The electric power steering takes up less room under the hood than a conventional system, with fewer mechanical parts to wear out over time.
The inline four-cylinder engine delivers plenty of low-end torque for merging into high-speed traffic and climbing up hills. A standard hill-start assist feature holds the brakes for a moment after the driver releases the pedal, to prevent the car from rolling backwards.
Balance shafts keep the engine vibration free. The six-speed automatic transmission moves smoothly through the gears, with a minimum amount of shift shock during hard acceleration. Drivers who want sportier performance can move the shift lever into manual mode.
A MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension provides a car-like ride: firm enough to hold the road without beating up the passengers. The new rear suspension design is more compact than the one on the former model to maximize cargo space. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat in the corners.
Lowering the chassis significantly reduced the car’s coefficient of drag, enhancing fuel economy and high-speed performance.
Visibility to the front and sides is quite good, as is over-the-shoulder visibility. The narrow rear glass produces a large blind area underneath. Thick rear pillars add to this with large blind spots in the back corners. I would highly recommend the available rear backup camera for those who can afford it.
The Sportage’s stylish cockpit is a far cry from the original model. Both the driver and front passenger seats have excellent lower lumbar support; I was comfortable in both positions for periods of two hours.
The gauges are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. A digital display in the gauge cluster adds average fuel economy, trip meter, ambient temperature and driving range.
The steering wheel is small enough to be comfortable for women. Redundant audio and Bluetooth controls minimize driver distraction.
Temperature and audio controls on the center stack are intuitive to figure out, and easy to reach from either front seating position. The graphics for the optional navigation system are easy to read. The system quickly configures and reconfigures routes. Two 12-volt power points at the base of the center stack recharge portable electronic devices.
Because the Sportage has a low rear floor tunnel, three adults can fit in the second row. All passengers have an abundance of cup and bottle holders at their disposal.
The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor: the Sportage meets our bicycle-friendly standards. Roof rails on the test car allow the owner to add an overhead rack. The Sportage tows up to 2000 pounds: below our ALV minimum requirement.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Standard downhill descent control maintains a five mile-per-hour speed on steep grades, without the driver using the brakes.
The all-new Sportage rolls into dealerships next month.
Likes: A solidly built, attractive compact sport-utility vehicle with excellent performance, and some unusual comfort and convenience features for a vehicle in this segment.
Dislike: Large blind spots under the rear glass as well as the rear corners.
Model: Sportage EX
Base price: $23,295
As tested: N/A
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: 22/31 mpg city/highway
4 responses to “2011 Kia Sportage”
I am going to ck it out.
I have purchased the Kia Sportage and I love it. It is red and rides like a champ.
Enjoy, everyone that gets one. I am.
They seem to be down playing its offroad and towing abilities. I am more apt to believe it depends on who is driving (ha ha!). I can see it pulling a small trailer carrying two rugged yamaha zuma 125cc scooters on some nice backroads.
2011 Kia Sportage October 14th, 2010 at 22:34
The fact that Kia have come along so far in such a short amount of time is nothing but amazing. They must be working really hard over there, looking at the competition, taking apart their cars and studying every single part! Reminds me of what other car makers did in the 80’s when it came to the Honda Accord.
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