- Quiet cabin
- Standout styling
- Strong turbocharged engine option
- Transmission hunts on hills
- Far from class-leading mpg
The 2017 Kia Sportage beefs up its sport-shoe styling--and its hardware--as it tackles the crossover-SUV niche head-on.
The 2017 Kia Sportage isn’t quite the most spacious, the sharpest-performing, or the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. But it’s shaping up to be the one that’s just right—sporty-driving, but without a sacrifice in ride; versatile and accommodating in all the right ways; and far quieter and more refined than its predecessor.
Kia has made quite a name for itself with its Optima mid-size sedan and Sorento crossover; and now the brand has brought some of the same refinement magic that’s graced recent redesigns of thos models into the Sportage, Kia’s compact crossover model that takes on models such as the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape.
Design-wise, we’d call the Sportage flamboyant, but not so much as to ever impress as garish or over-the-top. There’s maybe a little too much of an overt, kitchy sci-fi look to the front lamps, though we’ll give credit where credit’s due for being truly bold. Overall, the stance is sportier—the affect of pushing the wheels farther out to the corners—while the sides are more deeply sculpted than before, and the upright rear pillar's been re-proportioned for a squatter, more substantial look, more like the one on the current Kia Soul. This generation keeps the flattened upkick to the rear door cuts—a design choice that’s also functional in yielding easier ingress and egress. And inside, it’s all about bringing in more soft-touch surfaces, better trims, and a layout that’s somewhat sporty and cockpit-oriented (canted toward the driver, slightly) yet pushed out at the corners for more passenger space.
Kia offers a choice between two four-cylinder powertrains on the '17 Sportage; so far we’ve only driven the sporty, upmarket SX, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Base Sportage LX models and the mid-range EX have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. We’ve found the turbo version to be strong and smooth, although with some transmission “hunting” up longer grades. All-wheel drive with a locking center differential is an option on every Sportage trim level; it's packaged with a distinct front bumper for better ground clearance.
The Sportage promises better steering and a more refined ride, and it mostly delivers that. It has a revised steering rack and suspension, with more front-suspension bushings and stiffer mounts, and the multi-link rear suspension now has dual lower arms. Turbocharged SX models get their own, firmer rear damper settings. The SX models we’ve driven so far handle responsively, with good body control, and they ride surprisingly quietly.
One not-so-pleasant surprise is fuel economy; numbers for the Sportage SX especially are very low for the class—just 20 mpg city, 23 highway with AWD. The best it gets is 23 mpg city, 30 highway, for base LX models with front-wheel drive.
In physical size, the Sportage has grown slightly bigger. It's 1.6 inches longer than before, with a wheelbase that's gained 1.2 inches (to 105.1 inches). Width remains the same, but the added room has been doled out to the cabin in the form of slightly more headroom and knee room, especially for the back seat. Power controls and seat heaters are quite easy to come by in this model lineup and aren’t just reserved for top-trim models. Seats are nicely bolstered, too, with decent back support as well as the thigh support for long-legged drivers.
The second row is 60/40 split, with sections that can flip forward independently or together to expand cargo space; and the rear seatback is adjustable for recline in 17 different steps. Cargo space is up to 30.7 cubic feet behind the second row, and liftover height to access the cargo area is easier, too. An available power tailgate is opened when the key fob is placed within three feet of it. Kia also says the suspension refinements and thicker soundproofing has made the cabin a quieter place.
The 2017 Sportage is a completely redesigned model, built on a new lighter-and-stronger body structure—albeit one shared with the related Hyundai Tucson, which has already earned some great safety ratings and crash-test results. For now we can only go by the Sportage’s safety-feature content, and it does indeed offer those top forward collision technologies—either standard on the SX, or on the EX as part of the $2,700 Technology Package. That includes front collision warning with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian detection, high beam assist, lane departure warning, and front and rear parking assist (plus some other audio and comfort features that are wrapped in with it).
The Sportage remains just as thrifty and value-oriented as the previous-generation model—although your passengers will be likely even more oblivious to that fact. Standard equipment is impressive in itself, while with a few simple option packages you can step up to a feature set that closely rivals some models with a luxury badge. All models offer a choice between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and all include power windows and mirrors, a rear wiper and defroster, air conditioning with rear vents, remote keyless entry, a rear camera system, and Bluetooth hands-free calling. Top SX models include an upgraded 8-inch touch screen with navigation, 320-watt Harmon Kardon audio, larger 19-inch wheels, a sport suspension, LED fog lamps and taillamps, bi-xenon headlamps with Dynamic Bending Light, a power tailgate, a flat-bottom steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a so-called Supervision gauge cluster with a separate 4.2-inch TFT LCD display.
Kia’s 7- and 8-inch infotainment systems include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and UVO eServices telematics services. Kia claims that it has an edge for frugal types, as the brand’s EVO eServices telematics systems (emergency assistance, vehicle diagnostics, and such) are app-based and rely on your smartphone’s data connection—rather than on a separate subscription.