- Rakish new shape
- Better build quality all around
- UVO’s hands-free audio
- SX’s 270-hp turbo
- Rides a little stiffly
- Steering feels heavy
- Cabin is on the smaller side
- Skimpy rear-seat head room
Kia hits game reset, and gives the 2011 Sportage an appealing new look and feel.
We used to call them “cute-utes.” From the Ford Escape, to the Honda CR-V on to the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, a generation of small sport-utility vehicles were pitched at first-time shoppers in the hopes they’d trade up to bigger, higher-profit SUVs in the future.
Now that the SUV time-space continuum’s been disrupted by gas prices and a sour economy, these compact crossovers are growing up a little, doing the reverse of their original intent. They’re becoming a good alternative for buyers trading down from the larger utes that fell out of fashion over what seems like a matter of months.
With the 2011 Sportage, Kia’s placed its bets in all the right places. The Sportage has grown up into real-world dimensions, with more cargo space than ever. It’s still among the smaller vehicles in its class but it fits adults better in all situations.
And though it’s a mechanical twin of the 2010 Hyundai Tucson underneath, the Sportage’s sheetmetal hits the sport-ute crowd squarely with its smart blend of rugged details and hatchback practicality. The Tucson’s “fluidic sculpture” theme is compelling, but it can’t beat the Kia’s refreshing, crisp take on utility—and the Sportage has an equally direct and good-looking cockpit that contributes a lot to the crossover’s newfound quality feel. It’s even tackling the hands-free-arena with UVO, a Microsoft-engineered system with much in common with Ford’s SYNC; the Tucson has to wait while Kia gets it all to itself.
Pricing has jumped considerably for this Sportage. Its base price of just under $19,000 means the coming 270-hp SX model will nudge the $30,000 bottom line. That pitches the Sportage into a headlong battle with the longtime titans in this group—CR-V, Forester and Escape—and overlaps the base price of larger vehicles like the 2011 Ford Explorer. A higher sticker price could turn off some shoppers, but most who kick the Sportage’s tires will be far more impressed with its magnitude of change.
2011 Kia Sportage
The 2011 Kia Sportage mashes up hatchback and cute-ute cues for a trend-setting but cliché-free look.
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.
2011 Kia Sportage
Soften the ride a bit, and sharpen the steering, and the 2011 Kia Sportage would top its class; we’re eager to drive the hot turbo version to come.
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.
2011 Kia Sportage
Comfort & Quality
Fuel-economy fiddling aside, the 2011 Kia Sportage is nearly the best in class for gas mileage.
The compact Kia Sportage can’t compete on cubic feet with the bigger utes in its market niche, but it’s been upsized to hold more stuff and still offers the kind of adult-friendly seating that helps it mature into more than a first-time-driver special.
In front, the Sportage’s dash is formed to leave as much room as possible for driver and passenger. I didn’t have a problem finding enough knee room and didn’t have to split custody of the shoulder space with my co-driver, though at six feet tall I did rub my head against the sunroof surround on a regular basis. The front seats themselves were formed with more aforethought than in the old Sportage. One row back, there’s even less headroom to spare, so bigger adults will slouch a bit to find the sweet spot in the Sportage’s otherwise nicely angled cushions.
Behind the seats, Kia claims 26.1 cubic feet of storage space, which is more than in some true SUVs, like the Land Rover LR2 or Mercedes-Benz GLK. Flip the seats down and two people can haul home about 55 cubic feet of stuff—everything from camping gear to weekend junk-shop finds. It’s not a place you’d want to place pets, necessarily—as a colleague pointed out, there’s almost no head room for a larger dog with the second-row seat raised.
2011 Kia Sportage
Once you’re past the front seats, space goes for a premium in the 2011 Kia Sportage.
No crash-test scores have been reported for the 2011 Kia Sportage as of yet, but we’re giving it a high score based on the stellar performance of the structurally similar Hyundai Tucson.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not tested the 2011 Sportage, and it hasn’t tested the 2010 Tucson, either. It’s the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that’s had its way with the Tucson—and it awarded the Sportage’s cousin a Top Safety Pick designation, meaning good scores twinned with standard stability control.
The Sportage shares those standard safety systems. It comes with dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes and stability control; and tire pressure monitors. In addition, it has standard hill-start assist and downhill brake assist, which aid and abet its all-traction capability.
The Sportage can be fitted with rear parking sensors and a rearview camera; they’re available in option packages on some but not all models. You'll want them, since the Sportage's rear quarters have sizable blind spots.
2011 Kia Sportage
We’re predicting the 2011 Kia Sportage can roll with the punches, but we’ll adjust our score when the IIHS and NHTSA report back.
With any version of the 2011 Kia Sportage, there’s a meaty list of standard features including the latest plug-ins for consumer audio. And there’s more to come.
Kia offers three versions of the Sportage. The base vehicle is priced from $19,000 and brings with it air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; and 16-inch wheels. It’s a nearly $1700 price increase over the old ute, and a bargain in comparison.
Opt into the $20,995 LX model and Kia adds on tinted windows; tilt steering; multi-adjustable front seats; and pushbutton start with keyless entry. A word on this feature: for some cost concession, Kia’s put the remote fob’s slot inside the center console, where you’d normally find it on the dash or on the face of the console. It’s an awkward, forgettable spot that will turn many owners into overheated fussboxes, we predict. This version also adds Sirius satellite radio; Bluetooth; steering-wheel phone and audio controls; and a USB port for audio players. While the port’s free, you’ll need a special $40 cable for the stereo to take full control of your iPod or iPhone sounds.
Atop the range, the $23,995 Sportage EX ups the game with all LX features plus 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.
All versions carry Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty—a significant piece of the value puzzle.
The features list has the usual choices of leather, wheels, sunroof, nav system and seat heaters; the driver seat can also be ventilated. The most anticipated option (standard on the EX), coming later in the year, is UVO—the Kia flavor of the Microsoft entertainment controller marketed by Ford under the SYNC brand. UVO isn’t as versatile as SYNC, in that it controls phone and audio functions, not including an optional navigation system. UVO does have the latest software, though, so the list of commands used to operate the car’s functions is longer, which cuts down on the number of voice commands you have to make to access features. You can simply say “Beach Boys” and UVO will search the radio, your music player, or an SD card for the relevant tunes. UVO’s bundled with HD radio, and in future iterations, it will read out your Twitter and RSS updates and allow you to send automatic responses.