The 2011 Kia Sportage claims the best-looking crossover title with a smart combination of sport-ute and hatchback cues. Mix in the tipped-back stance of the related Kia Soul, a handful of well-chosen details highlighted on its thick but not clunky body, and it’s obvious the Sportage is what the Jeep Compass could have been. The light sculpturing down its flanks makes the Sportage’s straight lines look even better in relief; the corporate Kia grille and headlights play perfectly against a chin spoiler inset with a reverse bowtie of black grillework. In back, the high ride height and snazzy wheel styles tie together neatly at the chunky quarters. It even looks good in metallic burnt-orange paint—something we’ve witnessed only with the Honda Element and the Nissan 370Z.
The Sportage’s cabin feels like an upgrade over its cousin, the Hyundai Tucson. With the same hard points hiding behind the dash, the Sportage pares down on the metallic plastic trim and tones down its brightness too, all for the better. Drivers focus on a big speedometer set front and center, while the other controls lie mostly in tiers that recede down the center of the dash until you reach the USB audio port sitting at the back of a shallow storage tray. It’s more workmanlike than the upscale lines in the Tucson, but it reads more authentic and feels more substantial to the touch. It’s handsome, too—something you’d never say of the drab panels inside a Honda CR-V—and much nicer to see and touch than the open-grained plastics inside the Ford Escape.