New & Used Kia Sportage: In Depth
Angular Front Exterior View - 2015 Kia Sportage 2WD 4-door EXEnlarge Photo
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The Kia Sportage is the smallest crossover currently offered by the South Korean automaker in the U.S. Competitors include the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, and the related Hyundai Tucson.
The Sportage is part of a family of compact vehicles including the popular Soul hatchback as well as the Forte lineup of sedans, hatchbacks, and coupes. It is a compact five-passenger crossover that slots into the South Korean automaker's lineup below the mid-size Sorento. The Sportage was last fully revised for 2011, with a round of updates in 2014, and an all-new version expected in 2016.
The very first generation of the Kia Sportage was a different car for a different time. It appeared in showrooms way back in 1993 as a primarily rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and while it faced an uphill battle from the beginning against competitors like the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester, it had a strong start before sales waned. That truck-like Sportage was discontinued in 2002.
When the second-generation model arrived in 2004, it had transitioned into crossover territory. By this time, the compact crossover SUV segment had exploded with newcomers like the Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, and Honda CR-V, so competition was considerable. The second-generation Kia Sportage was criticized for losing the off-road prowess of its predecessor, while at the same time not quite being up to the standards of powertrain refinement of its rivals--though a new V-6 engine was added to the lineup and overall fit and finish were improved considerably.
A face-lifted version was introduced in 2008. The changes consisted of new-look bumpers, revised headlights, and an updated dashboard and instrument panel. The base Kia Sportage featured a 141-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive as standard, while the range-topper came with a 175-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 engine and all-wheel drive. Transmission options included a five-speed manual or an outdated four-speed automatic. Overall, these models remained a strong value, even with performance that lagged behind that of many rivals.
The new Kia Sportage
Today's Sportage, the third-generation version, arrived in 2011. It brought with it crisp new styling, a longer wheelbase, more interior and cargo space, and an improved ride, as well as sportier engine options.
The current Sportage offers room for five passengers--four can travel comfortably--advanced interior amenities, good fuel efficiency, and more than a dash of panache at a price that's competitive among compact crossovers. It finds buyers among couples and small families, perhaps including a few who've moved up from the quirky Soul hatchback.
Mechanically, the latest Sportage has much in common with the Hyundai Tucson, which was redesigned a year earlier, though the styling is a key differentiating factor. A direct-injection, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 176 hp provides more gusto than previous V-6 engine options, and there's also a 260-hp turbocharged SX model. All-wheel drive remains an option across the line and includes a switchable differential lock that helps when the going gets rough. Overall, we've found these models to be quite roomy, with reasonably good performance in standard trims. The ride is comfortable, although its quality suffers if you step up to the 18-inch wheels.
Kia has always focused on features to bring in customers, and that's certainly evident with the latest Sportage. The list of standard and optional items includes keyless start, Bluetooth, a USB port, and satellite radio. Higher trim levels offer leather upholstery, heated seats, a cooled driver's seat, and the more sophisticated UVO infotainment system.
The 2012–2013 Kia Sportage was among vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 21/26 mpg (23 combined) with the 2.0-liter engine and 4WD up to 22/32 mpg (25 combined) with the 2.4-liter and front-wheel drive. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Soul's actual tested fuel economy to be lower, with those figures (along with all the rest in the lineup) corrected to 20/25 mpg (22 combined) and 21/30 (25 combined), respectively. See the model-year details for all the other numbers. Owners were able to register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels through a website, KiaMPGInfo.com.
The Sportage received a very mild face lift for the 2014 model year, as well as an updated version of the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which now makes more power and gets better fuel economy—maxing out at 28 mpg highway for the front-drive version. Changes for 2015 were minor, consisting mostly of shuffled package options andadditional standard equipment for the top SX trim level.