- Fashionable look
- Great fit and finish
- SX model is truly sporty
- Tight rear-seat legroom
- Ride quality
- Prices rise to $30,000 quickly
The 2015 Kia Sportage is nice to look at and good fun to drive when equipped with the turbo engine; it's proof that crossovers don't have to be uninteresting.
The 2015 Kia Sportage makes its mark in a crowded peer set, as one of the most visually interesting compact crossover models. While the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have evolved to favor space efficiency and practicality over design, Kia manages to hold onto a little more flair in the Sportage—especially if you go by its profile and stance.
Last year brought a mild exterior freshening as well as some additions to standard equipment. The grille and wheel designs were new for 2014, along with new HID headlamps and LED taillamps. It continues into 2015 unchanged, which is just as well since this is one of the more interesting designs in the segment.
Kia's entry has no history of SUV roots to uphold, leaving it free to offer a more interesting driving experience in a carlike package. Off-roading isn't on the activities list for this small crossover, nor is it likely expected of its buyers.
A choice of two four-cylinder engines is available. All-wheel drive is an option across the board, and comes with a differential lock that splits power 50:50 at speeds up to 25 mph.
At the base level, the 2.4-liter direct-injection in-line four makes 182 hp. The six-speed automatic isn't the quickest-shifting, but it's measured and smooth. Go for the turbocharged SX, and its 260 hp and hefty mid-range torque are enough to break the front wheels loose from a standing start or out of a tight corner. The automatic gets shift paddles for less distracted driving and better response.
Cabin noise and ride quality have been weaknesses for the Sportage, compared to most other models in its class; but with Kia's introduction of more noise insulation as well as new high-performance dampers, we're hoping this will change (and we'll update our impressions here). EX and SX versions got more sophisticated shocks for 2013, which made a modest improvement. Keep in mind, the big, optional 18-inch wheels don't help. One of our other ongoing complaints with the Sportage--electric power steering that's a bit too far on the heavy and lifeless side--was addressed for 2014 with the introduction of a new multi-mode Flex Steer system. It allows the driver to switch between three levels of steering weight, but doesn't do much if anything to improve feel.
The Sportage lands at the small end of its class, and there's no magic that makes the interior feel any roomier. But there's good leg and shoulder room in front (subtract some headroom for the sunroof); and the seats themselves are well-shaped and can be air-cooled on high-line Sportages. Back-seat passengers may be a little tight on headroom and find themselves slumped forward, but Kia adds comfort for kids back there rear vents. Cargo space measures 26.1 cubic feet, more than some luxury utes, but it's a tall space without a particularly large cargo floor, so choose your luggage wisely.
Standard curtain airbags and stability control are joined by optional rear parking sensors and rearview camera, which help with the Sportage's sizable blind spots. The federal government gives the Sportage four or five stars overall, depending on whether it's equipped with front- or all-wheel drive, and the IIHS calls the Sportage a Top Safety Pick, but a 'poor' small overlap frontal result sure tempers that.
Standard equipment on all three trim levels includes air conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; a tilt/telescope steering wheel; keyless entry; 17-inch wheels; Bluetooth; and USB/iPod connectivity. Moving up to more expensive models adds features like keyless start; satellite radio; and steering-wheel audio and phone controls. Top models get a cooled glove box; a power driver's seat; 18-inch wheels; leather steering wheel and shifter trim; roof rails; and a rear spoiler. Major options include leather upholstery, seat heaters; and cooled front seats. A navigation system with UVO eServices is available on the base LX trim and standard on EX and SX models, and includes a rearview camera.