The 2011 Kia Sportage doesn’t have any dynamic magic up its sleeve—at least, none of the kind to match its arresting shape. We do sense some slight but worthwhile performance improvements over the near-identical Hyundai Tucson, though, little upgrades that could lay the groundwork for an impressive high-performance turbo version.
The Sportage powertrain puts together the same Tucson pieces to about the same spec-sheet effect. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder churns out 176 horsepower, more than the old V-6 that had been an option in the last edition. It pokes around corners with a dollop of enthusiasm and good torque when it’s paired with the six-speed automatic, with fairly refined noises to go with the power. A 0-60 mph time of about 8.5 seconds seems within easy reach.
A manual six-speed gearbox is the standard spec; we didn’t drive this version, but did sample the light, swell-shifting manual in the Tucson and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. Most Sportages will come with the six-speed automatic, which has the same basic design as the automatic in the new Sorento. It’s unstressed here, too, and shifts in that sensation-free way most drivers want in economy cars. Pulled left from the Drive slot, the transmission lets you select some shifts all by yourself, and it’s happy to click them off in very short order. A pair of
paddles would be better for driver control, though.
Kia offers a Dynamax all-wheel-drive system that adds a couple of hundred pounds to the car’s curb weight. It has a true locking differential that splits power 50:50 front to back at up to 25 mph. It’s great for peace of mind, less so for handling and fuel economy—but probably a necessity to handle the horsepower emanating from the coming 270-hp turbo four. Our advice: unless you’re in snowy northern tier, pass on the AWD system to save weight and gas in the base Sportage.
In either front- or all-wheel-drive guise, the Sportage falls a little shy of the ride and handling delights of, say, a Subaru Forester. The ride’s a touch rumbly, especially on the big 18-inch wheels offered on top trims. Kia’s tuning of the electric power steering it shares with Hyundai is a bit better, with more dialed-in heft that muted some of the wandering you’d feel in a Tucson on the highway. Like the brakes, it gives up a touch of the controlled feel Subaru’s delivered in the nimble Forester.