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.
The new model’s proportions are as dramatic as the outgoing model’s are dull, and few curves are found on its sheetmetal….a beefy, high-tech appearance.
Car and Driver
It's downright fashionable in a vehicle class that usually isn't.
The interior is about on par with the rest of the segment. Plasticy but fine…the Kia's plastics are at least the non-greasy kind.
The interior is attractive, and the layout is uncluttered. Controls are easy to see and reach.
Expanses of black plastic may look better than they feel, but the overall layout is efficient and pleasant enough, with a large navigation screen front and center, and dual-zone climate-control switches just below.
The 2015 Kia Sportage is an especially good-looking crossover, with neat, trim proportions and a far more rakish profile than most of the other models you're likely to judge it against.
There's some tipped-back attitude on loan from the Soul five-door, evident in the roofline, and Kia's family grille is of course present, with headlights tucked in seamlessly along its sides. The front end is particularly crisp, with a sort of elegant simplicity in the way the headlights and spoiler play with the reverse-bowtie blacked-out grille. The light sculpturing down its flanks makes the Sportage’s straight lines look even better in relief, too. The overall proportions are reminiscent of European hot hatches, but the high stance and slightly snubbed nose are pure ute, as is the rectangular, function-driven interior.
The Sportage's cockpit also has a sporty feel to it. Big gauges are framed by a rectangular dash. The Sportage is closely related to the Hyundai Tucson, and if you squint just right between the two interiors, you'll see a few common points--although we prefer the Sportage's somewhat sportier, yet somewhat more conservative look and believe it'll age better. It feels substantial and handsome, whereas the Hyundai has already begun to look a bit heavy and boring.
The Sportage builds a better bridge between crossovers and sporty hatchbacks with its sleekly detailed shape.
How's the Sportage drive? Solidly, like a sportier version of the Hyundai Tucson, a vehicle that impressed us with its firmly tuned suspension and near-athletic moves.
For all the attitude served up by its bossy looks, driving the Sportage is a decidedly benign experience.
Car and Driver
…the Sportage's Theta 2.4-liter is tuned to make all its sweetness accessible to commuters accelerating from stoplight to stoplight. Later, as we give the Sportage full throttle to merge onto Interstate 90, said pep runs out more quickly than we'd like — again, just as in the Tucson.
The Sportage shares its platform with the new Hyundai Tucson, but the Kia has its own driving feel on the road. It receives, among other things, a thicker front anti-roll bar, different tire size, and quicker steering.
Pull the shifter into gear and drop the right pedal, and power from the four-cylinder feels adequate if measured, at least until its revs get closer to the 6000-rpm horsepower peak.
The 2015 Kia Sportage's optional turbocharged four-cylinder helps it stand out in terms of power, while the base non-turbo four is pleasant enough and returns good fuel economy.
That 2.4-liter base engine, included on EX and LX trims, produces 182 hp. It uses direct injection both to maximize output an manage fuel use. It feels plenty perky with the standard six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, although the all-wheel-drive version can feel a bit taxed.
Choosing the Sportage SX specifies a turbocharged 2.0-liter four, and lifts output to a healthy 260 hp. That's more than enough to overpower the front wheels a few rotations before the traction control cuts in on the dance. With the turbo also comes a set of shift paddles, for more natural driving response. Throughout the lineup, though, we've felt that the accelerator pedal is just a little too touchy at tip-in, though. One somewhat counterintuitive way to manage this is to keep the Eco button selected, which dulls throttle response to an acceptable level.
The all-wheel-drive system that's available through most of the lineup 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 SX's turbo four. The AWD system adds about 200 pounds, so unless you’re in snowy northern tier, pass on the AWD system with the base engine to save on weight and gas.
Another of our ongoing complaints with the Sportage concerns the electric power steering, which was always a bit too heavy-feeling and pretty lifeless, especially given something that acts sporty otherwise. The steering was addressed in part for 2014 with the introduction of a new multi-mode Flex Steer system. It offers a choice of three different steering weight settings, but unfortunately adds no more feel.
Ride quality has been another disappointment up to last year. It's a touch rumbly, especially on the big 18-inch wheels that are offered in top trims. Taking the sporty idea too far, the suspension is tuned to be a bit too stiff and jarring, with too much road noise making its way into the cabin on coarse surfaces. Kia added new high-performance dampers for 2014, along with more noise insulation, so that should at least lessen those concerns. We'll update these impressions as soon as we drive a revised model.
Handling is just average, but the Sportage has a punchy turbocharged powertrain in its portfolio.
The cabin offers a relatively spacious feel (aided, at least in part, by the panoramic roof.)
While there is still plenty of room in the cabin, most dimensions, with the exception of rear-seat legroom, are down slightly.
…has a nicely resolved driving position with good driver-seat adjustability and a standard telescoping steering wheel (optional on the LX). There's ample room and the seat is well shaped and plenty supportive.
What the interior does gain is more cargo volume behind the rear seats, which went up from 23.6 to 26.1 cubic feet.
...cabin and trunk space [measure] 26.1 cubic feet, and 54.6 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down—a 10 percent improvement.
The 2015 Kia Sportage has a nice interior, but there's no getting around the fact it's smaller than many others in this class.
The Sportage has a better-feeling interior than some of its competitors, with more soft-touch materials, attractive surfaces, and great detailing. Compared to some of the drab interiors offered by some vehicles in this class, it elevates this model above its basic mission.
The Sportage does have 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. They're supportive enough and offer adequate adjustment to stay comfortable on even longer rides.
In back, however, it's a different story, and it emphasizes the Sportage's somewhat smaller exterior and more rakish roofline. Those in back may be a little tight on headroom and find themselves slumped forward, but Kia at least keeps the kids comfortable with recently added rear air vents across all trim levels.
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.
The back seat can feel cramped, but the Sportage has a nicely finished interior and fair cargo room for its size.
Four stars overall, front-drive models; five stars overall, all-wheel-drive models
Five stars, frontal impact; five stars, side impact; four stars, rollover
'Good,' frontal, side, and rear impact; 'good,' roof strength
'Poor,' small overlap frontal impact
We don't really expect to have a great view out the back in crossover SUVs anymore. Lacking rear-quarter windows, the 2011 Kia Sportage is no exception in this regard.
The large A- and C-pillars reduce visibility somewhat, but it's pretty easy to get used to.
The 2015 Kia Sportage has a very strong list of safety features, although its crash-test ratings aren't all top-notch.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives front-drive Sportages an overall score of four stars, while all-wheel-drive models earn a five-star score. Both versions earn five stars in frontal and side crash tests, and four stars in the rollover category.
The Sportage earns mostly top 'good' ratings across the board from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with the exception of a 'poor' result in the small overlap frontal test.
Dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; and stability control are standard in all Sportage models. In addition, they have standard hill-start assist and downhill brake assist, which aid and abet all-traction capability.
Because of the significant blind spots inherent to the Sportage's design. we recommend the rear parking sensors and rearview camera here, which are packaged with the available UVO eServices system.
The Sportage has some interesting safety features, but crash-test scores are underwhelming.
As is often the case with Kias, there is a lot of value in this vehicle.
Other thoughtful touches abound, including rear-parking assist, back-up camera, dual-zone climate control, ionized filtration A/C, a cooled glove box, a giant panoramic sunroof and a bottom-hinged throttle pedal, just like a Porsche.
Unlike with Sync, though, there's no navigation feature, and due to a planning oversight, you won't be able to get UVO with the factory nav system until the 2012 model year.
UVO searches all of your media sources, finds the song you want then plays it. Pretty slick.
The spot where you plug in the key fob for pushbutton start is in the center console storage area and the iPod jack is just below the center stack.
Although the Sportage is Kia's entry-level crossover, you'll find most of the same features that grace the larger Sorento here as well. Three trim levels are offered for 2015: LX, EX, and SX.
Even the base Sportage, for around $20k, gets air conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; a tilt/telescope steering wheel; keyless entry; 17-inch wheels; Bluetooth; and USB/iPod connectivity.
EX models add 18-inch wheels, keyless start, the UVO eServices package with optional navigation, satellite radio, and steering-wheel audio and phone controls.
Top SX versions add a power driver seat; a cooled glove box; different 18-inch wheels; standard navigation, and a leather steering wheel and shifter trim. The SX is also the only trim available with the 2.0-liter turbo engine, which is standard. They also carry a base pricetag that sits around $30,000. Major options include leather upholstery; seat heaters; and cooled front seats.
The Sportage can be a good value, with UVO infotainment, Infinity audio, and navigation available or standard.
Kia Sportage FWD: 21/28 mpg (2.4-liter auto); 20/26 mpg (2.0-liter turbo auto)
Kia Sportage AWD: 19/26 mpg (2.4-liter auto); 19/24 mpg (2.0-liter turbo auto)
The 2015 Kia Sportage offers fuel economy that's competitive with with other popular crossovers in its size class. However, it's nowhere near the top of its class, with several others topping 30 mpg on the highway.
With front-wheel drive, the Sportage returns 21 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway when equipped with the 2.4-liter engine; moving to the SX and its turbocharged four bring those numbers down slightly, to 20/26 mpg.
The all-wheel-drive Sportage is rated by the EPA at 19/26 mpg with the 2.4-liter and 19/24 mpg with the 2.0-liter turbo.
Front-wheel-drive Sportage crossovers are the economical choices; all-wheel drive cuts mileage more than we'd like.
Athletic on-road behavior and available turbo power are two of the main points that separate the Kia Sportage from most of its competitors. The Hyundai Tucson is a mechanical cousin of the Kia, but with softer "fluidic sculpture" styling and without the turbo-four option it doesn't match the Kia for attitude. The Honda CR-V makes the most of its interior space and reputation for durability, while styling's just improved enough to ignore, and fuel economy's now quite good with the new direct-injection engine and CVT. The Nissan Rogue is newly redone, with an improved feature set, although its continuously variable transmission doesn't make it feel all that lively. The Chevy Equinox is noticeably bigger than the Sportage, but the four-cylinder model gets the same top EPA highway rating, and its second-row seat slides for flexible interior space. There's also the Ford Escape, which has very sporty handling and styling, and features that will awe some and confuse others. Mazda's CX-5 is easily the most engaging in this segment, but even its optional larger engine can't keep up with the Kia's turbo; still, it's nicely balanced and relatively attractive.
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