2012 Kia Sportage Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 20, 2012

The Kia Sportage cuts a rakish new figure and spins out 260 turbocharged horsepower for a total image reboot--watch the options, though.

Small SUVs sometimes earn the nickname "cute-utes," and it's never been more true. Trucky imitation is so 2005; crossovers like the Kia Sportage are sleek little gym shoes, packing the same convenience in much more stylish duds. It's grown up and out, in size and price and performance, and that means the latest Sportage is now in the thick of things, alongside best sellers like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, its kin Hyundai Tucson, and the grassroots favorite Subaru Forester.

Priced from below $20,000 in base form to more than $30,000 as a turbo SX, the Sportage overlaps a lot of larger vehicles now, but it does it with a confident look. We think it's one of the best-looking compact utes, with its deft mashup of SUV and hatchback lines. The tipped-back stance shares some sass with the Soul, and a few well-chosen details lighten up thick body sides. It's chunky, but not at all clunky--we think, what the Jeep Compass could have been. The cockpit relates to the sheetmetal in a way most cars and utes gloss over. Big gauges are framed by a rectangular dash that's toned down significantly versus the one in the Tucson, though if you look hard, you can see how the two share some common hard points. It's workmanlike in the best way possible--it looks substantial, and feels authentic.

All Sportages offer a four-cylinder engines, and in most models the 2.4-liter four makes 176 horsepower. Direct injection is new this year; it hasn't changed the measured acceleration the engine and a six-speed automatic dole out (a manual's available), but pokey, the Sportage is not. It's fairly refined in motion, too, and the automatic's unstressed and reasonably quick to shift when you move the lever to manual mode.

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Opt for the turbocharged SX and the Sportage's output rises to a breathy 260 hp, enough to spin the front wheels a little before traction control mellows out the party, and 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. Gas mileage ranges from 21/30 mpg with the front-drive four-cylinder, to 20/27 mpg with the SX AWD.

In either trim, the base four-cylinder Sportage isn't quite as savvy at muting road surfaces as, say, a Subaru Forester. Ride quality's improved a bit this year with more sophisticated shocks on base versions, like those standard on EX and SX versions. Big 18-inch wheels don't help, so think twice before blinging out. Kia tunes its electric power steering systems on the heavy side, which gives them a little more realistic feel than its Hyundai cousins, and better control over minor road modulations. The SX makes great strides toward a truly sporty driving experience, something a little bit more tuning could bring home.

With its wider footprint, the Sportage delivers more interior space than its ancestors, but it's still on the smaller side of crossovers. The front seats benefit from the relatively high dash, and have good leg and shoulder room. As usual, add a sunroof, subtract headroom. The seats themselves are well-shaped and can be air-cooled on high-line Sportages. The back seat's like that in the Tucson--bigger adults will slouch a bit to find a good seating position perched on the otherwise nicely angled cushions. Cargo space measures 26.1 cubic feet, more than some luxury utes, and the rear-end styling means more of the cargo space is hidden behind sheetmetal--great for valuables, not so great if you carry pets often.

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 IIHS calls the Sportage a Top Safety Pick, too.

Standard features include air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; and 16-inch wheels. 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; a cooled driver seat; and finally UVO, Kia's version of the Microsoft voice controller sold by Ford as SYNC. Kia's version has a more limited vocabulary and controls fewer functions, but it can search all your media to find the perfect soundtrack to your next drive, whether it lives on your iPod, an SD card, or HD Radio.

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2012 Kia Sportage

Styling

Mashing up hatchback and cute-ute cues, the 2012 Kia Sportage manages a trend-setting look without becoming a fashion victim.

We think the 2012 Kia Sportage is one of the best-looking compact utes, with its deft mashup of SUV and hatchback lines.

The tipped-back stance shares some sass with the Soul, and a few well-chosen details lighten up thick body sides. It's chunky, but not at all clunky--we think, what the Jeep Compass could have been. 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 cockpit of the 2012 Sportage relates to the sheetmetal in a way most cars and utes gloss over. Big gauges are framed by a rectangular dash that's toned down significantly versus the one in the Tucson, though if you look hard, you can see how the two share some common hard points. It's workmanlike in the best way possible--it looks substantial, and feels authentic. But it’s handsome, too—something you’d never say of high-utility crossovers like the outgoing Ford Escape or Honda CR-V.

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2012 Kia Sportage

Performance

Powertrains are strong and satisfying, but a jittery ride and steering that feels too hefty make the Sportage less confidence-inspiring in the corners.

You won't find a V-6 here; four-cylinder engines have been installed across the 2012 Sportage lineup. And in most models the Sportage gets a 2.4-liter four, making 176 horsepower. it delivers adequate and measured acceleration through the six-speed automatic (a manual's available, but we haven't driven it). The automatic feels unstressed and reasonably quick to shift when you move the lever to manual mode.

Opt for the turbocharged SX and the Sportage's output rises to a breathy 260 hp, enough to spin the front wheels a little before traction control mellows out the party, and the automatic gets shift paddles for less distracted driving and better response.

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 coming 270-hp turbo four. But the AWD system adds about 200 pounds, so unless you’re in snowy northern tier, pass on the AWD system to save on weight and gas if you're getting the base engine

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.

 

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2012 Kia Sportage

Comfort & Quality

For its size, the 2012 Kia Sportage offers a roomy interior, although a stiff ride and road noise make it far from luxurious.

With its wider footprint, the 2012 Sportage delivers more interior space than its ancestors, but it's still on the smaller side of compact crossovers.

The front seats benefit from the relatively high dash, and have good leg and shoulder room. As usual, add a sunroof, subtract headroom. The seats themselves are well-shaped and can be air-cooled on high-line Sportages.

The back seat's like that in the Tucson--bigger adults will slouch a bit to find a good seating position perched on the otherwise nicely angled cushions. Cargo space measures 26.1 cubic feet, more than some luxury utes, and the rear-end styling means more of the cargo space is hidden behind sheetmetal--great for valuables, not so great if you carry pets often.

Ride quality tends to be a little stiff and jarring, compared to other crossovers this size; another downside is road noise, which can reach an ever-present rumble on coarse surfaces.

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2012 Kia Sportage

Safety

Rearward visibility is the only blemish on the 2012 Sportage's very solid set of safety credentials.

The 2012 Kia Sportage has plenty going for it with respect to safety. Its feature list is stocked with items that safety-minded folks in northern climates will appreciate--and so far, it's achieved an excellent set of safety ratings.

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. Rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are available in option packages on some but not in all models. We recommend them, as there are some big blind spots and rearward visibility is s weakness.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Sportage high crash-test scores: the front-drive model earns four stars overall, while the all-wheel-drive models get five stars overall. The compact ute gets top 'good' ratings across the board from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—and it's earned the Top Safety Pick designation as a result.

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2012 Kia Sportage

Features

The 2012 Kia Sportage comes with more standard features than rival models in the same price range, but it's not a value standout in all respects.

The 2012 Kia Sportage comes with a generous list of standard features, no matter which model. And most of them include connectivity features like Bluetooth and a USB port.

Kia offers three versions of the Sportage. The base vehicle is priced at around $19,000 and brings with it air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; and 16-inch wheels. 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 LX models get a cooled glove box; a power driver seat; 18-inch wheels; leather steering wheel and shifter trim; roof rails; and a rear spoiler. One disappointment--at least for those who choose EX models--is that you have to also step up to the LX to get telescopic steering adjustment.

Major options include leather upholstery; seat heaters; a cooled driver seat; and finally UVO, Kia's version of the Microsoft voice controller sold by Ford as SYNC. Kia's version has a more limited vocabulary and controls fewer functions, but it can search all your media to find the perfect soundtrack to your next drive, whether it lives on your iPod, an SD card, or HD Radio.

Review continues below
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2012 Kia Sportage

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Kia Sportage is nearly the best in class for gas mileage--if you don't opt for AWD.

The 2012 Kia Sportage offers pretty impressive fuel economy ratings--provided you stick with front-wheel drive. The available all-wheel drive (AWD) system that's available in the Sportage adds a couple hundred pounds and a lot of extra driveline drag, to knock up to 4 mpg off estimates.

Gas mileage ranges from 21/30 mpg with the front-drive four-cylinder, to 20/27 mpg with the SX AWD.

The 2012 Sportage is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 22/32 mpg (25 combined) with the 2.4-liter engine and up to 22/29 (24 combined) with the 2.0-liter. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Sportage's actual tested fuel economy to be lower, with those figures (along with all the rest in the lineup) corrected to 21/20 mpg (25 combined) and 21/28 (24 combined), respectively. See the model-year details for all the other numbers. Also, owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.

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