The 2014 Kia Sportage has more design flair and sportiness than most other compact crossover like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. But for that, it also has some clear tradeoffs; and against most of those rivals it's not quite up to the same standards of space-efficiency and practicality.
This year, Kia has revamped the Sportage only slightly, addressing some weak points but not messing with this model's stunning looks, for the most part. With a new grille and new wheel designs, along with new HID headlamps and LED rear taillamps, the 2014 Kia Sportage gets some sharpened details; but thankfully the automaker hasn't changed the rakish, athletic look that buoyed this model up in the market for 2011.
And for the most part, the Sportage keeps up with what's suggested in its appearance; it's a grippy, pert little hatchback that puts on some SUV airs when it needs to carry people and make it through foul weather. It skips the whole live-axle, locking-differential fantasy world of loggers, swamp people, and anything truly involved in off-roading.
You'll only find four-cylinder engines under the hood, but they provide plenty of motivation. At the base level, the 2.4-liter direct-injection in-line four gets a power boost from 176 hp to 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. 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.
The Sportage packs convenience and features into a body that's as much a hatchback as it is a trim little utility vehicle, and offers all-wheel drive for the few who really need it--and the significantly higher number of people who'll pay for it when they really don't (gas mileage is lower if you get it).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). Last year, EX and SX versions got more sophisticated shocks last year, 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--has been addressed for 2014 with the introduction of a new multi-mode Flex Steer system.
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 (now the passenger seat, too). Back-seat passengers may be a little tight on headroom and find themselves slumped forward, but Kia adds comfort for kids back there this year with new rear vents. Cargo space measures 26.1 cubic feet, more than some luxury utes, but that's a tall space without a particularly large cargo floor, so choose your cargo 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, and the IIHS calls the Sportage a Top Safety Pick, but a 'poor' small overlap frontal result sure tempers that.
Kia has added a number of new features to the 2014 Sportage, including a new Supervision gauge cluster for top models, along with a new navigation system and UVO eServices, with apps and expanded services. Although the final feature set hasn't yet been released, we're expecting the array of models to carry over for the most part, with air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; and 16-inch wheels all part of the 2014 Kia Sportage standard-feature set. Moving up to more expensive models adds features like keyless start; satellite radio; Bluetooth; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and a USB port. Top models get a telescoping steering wheel; a cooled glove box; a power driver 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.