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2011 Kia Sportage SX: First Drive

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When we first drove the 2011 Kia Sportage EX we said that it's one of the most svelte crossovers on the market. After being on sale for over a year there is no question that the statement is as true today as it was then. Though you can only get so far on your good looks.

Upon taking a closer look we found quite a few things to quibble about when it came to the whole package. For 2011 Kia is adding a turbocharged SX model to the Sportage line, which among other things gives you some added grunt.

Last week we spent a day driving the new 2011 Sportage SX through the canyons outside Phoenix to see if the new power and tuning has fixed our previous quibbles.

The devil's in the details

There's nothing that ostentatious about the turbocharged SX; most people who aren't acquainted with the finer details might think it to be any other Sportage. The biggest giveaway is the dual-exhaust hanging out back, but there are other minor details. The wheels are unique 18-inch machine-faced alloys with black-painted accents; there are new special side moldings; and the grille features a black gloss finish instead of the normal chrome. The final giveaway is of course the SX and T-GDI badges out back on the tailgate.

Inside the main addition is what Kia calls a supervision meter cluster, which displays trip computer information with a brighter, better-designed layout than what the other Sportage models get. This is the same LCD display in the center of the speedometer that you will find in a non-SX Optima or Sorento.

Exclusive to the SX model is orange and blue interior color choices. The orange package includes orange stitching on the steering wheel, center console, and seats. This is all complimented by orange plastic accents on the door panels and air vents. The blue package included unique blue patterned cloth seats and blue interior accents. We will comment that the orange interior is very loud, while the blue interior was not on hand at the event. Though we are told that the blue package is much more subdued than the orange package.

Better steering, controlled ride

Two of our major gripes in driving the Sportage EX were the dull steering and the harsh ride. We are happy to report that progress has been made on both fronts.  The steering is definitely more linear and communicates better than an earlier model we'd driven. While that's progress, the steering is still quite heavy on center and ridiculously over boosted in parkings lots. We asked an engineer about the lightness at parking lot speeds. The response we received was basically that Kia felt its customers want to exert no effort when steering at parking lot speeds.

Ride quality in the SX all-wheel-drive model we were in was definitely improved when compared to the EX model we drove in the past. The overall ride was more controlled at speed on the highway, and the front end doesn't give out as quickly when pushed hard into a corner. But the suspension still has no ability to soak up pot holes or bumps. We pulled into a nice photo spot off the highway and nearly thought a wheel was ripped off when we hit a pot hole. Thankfully no damage was done, but this was less than confidence inspiring.

The transmission programming is overall quite good. Downshifts and upshift are quick and clean, and you never feel like the transmission is confused. When you put it into manual mode the transmission will over-ride you if you don't upshift when you approach redline.

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