2021 Kia Sportage

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
May 15, 2020

Buying tip

The Sportage SX Turbo asks for too much money without much return on fun. It’s also too thirsty: skip it.

features & specs

21 city / 25 hwy
23 city / 30 hwy
21 city / 25 hwy

The 2021 Kia Sportage hits with value and looks even if its performance and fuel economy slightly miss.

It’s easy to get lost among compact crossovers because they’re thicker than thieves on dealers’ lots.

The 2021 Kia Sportage is a relative steal thanks to its long warranty and streamlined lineup. We give it a 6.7 TCC Rating, which is competitive among the popular players from Honda and Toyota. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Like last year, the 2021 Kia Sportage comes in LX, S, EX, and SX Turbo varieties and costs more than $25,000, including destination. Top Sportage SX Turbos command more than $35,000, where its value doesn’t have the same appeal against more efficient competitors—including some premium competitors.

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The Sportage’s clean lines and sharp interior speak to us in a crowded field of too much effort.

Everything except the SX Turbo is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 that makes 181 horsepower and drives the front or all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s not fast or refined, but also doesn’t get in its own way.

The SX Turbo is powered by a mighty 240-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 that’s faster, but also much less fuel-efficient. All-wheel drive is optional on that version, too.

Regardless of what’s under the hood, the Sportage is comfortable for up to four adults (five in a pinch) with more than 30 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the second row.

The Sportage is equipped with automatic emergency braking and active lane control on every model. Blind-spot monitors and parking sensors are available and recommended; the Sportage’s good looks compromise outward vision.

The base Sportage LX is a relative value, but we’d jump up to the EX for its creature comforts and available options for about $30,000 with all-wheel drive. It includes 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, an extra USB port, and dual-zone climate control. A 5-year/60,000-mile warranty is included, and ensures good peace of mind.


2021 Kia Sportage


Kia skips trendy lines and awkward angles with the 2021 Sportage. We like that.

Sharp inside and out, the 2021 Sportage classes up competitors by dressing down—it’s not trying too hard and that’s a good thing.

Starting from an average score of 5, the Sportage gets points above average for its interior and exterior. It’s a 7.

We’ll start inside, where Mom said it matters most. The cabin is distinctly continental with a clean design and plenty of soft-touch surfaces. An 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment is planted in the dash—rather than perched on top—and works well. That’s good for looks, but not great for looking out; the high cowl and dash and rising door line don’t help the Sportage’s outward vision.

Outside, the Sportage’s short overhangs and long wheelbase give it a poised, athletic stance. It’s  due for a rethink soon, but we wouldn’t rush to discredit the Sportages available on dealer lots now: they look just fine.

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2021 Kia Sportage


Middle of the road is where you’ll find the 2021 Sportage’s performance—and its best manners.

A middling base powertrain or fun turbo engine bookend the Sportage’s performance on our, well, performance scale.

We don’t have major gripes with either, but we’d prefer an answer down the middle. That’s where we rate the 2021 Sportage for now at 5—right down Broadway. Our score reflects the base 2.4-liter inline-4 that more shoppers will pick.

The 2020 Sportage LX, S, and EX models get a 2.4-liter inline-4 that makes 181 hp and 175 pound-feet of torque that drives the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is a popular upgrade, but we recommend it only if it’s strictly necessary. All-wheel drive doesn’t significantly change the Sportage’s personality as a comfortable on-road crossover and the added hardware has a stiff fuel-economy penalty.

The 2.4-liter inline-4 is strapped for power and not particularly refined but doesn’t intrude too far.

The top SX Turbo gets a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that’s up on horsepower by a third compared to the base engine. It makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft and is paired to the same 6-speed automatic transmission with front- or all-wheel drive. It provides plenty of power—perhaps too much—and its relative thirst makes it an expendable luxury in our eyes.

Any trim of the Sportage handles and steers well, but S and SX get suspension and steering tweaks that land somewhere between “acceptable” and “almost sporty.”

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2021 Kia Sportage

Comfort & Quality

Comfortable for four, the 2021 Sportage punches up for quality.

Compact crossovers like the 2021 Sportage are Swiss army vehicles—they perform multiple tasks, sometimes in the same trip.

The Sportage is calm and quiet, with comfortable seats and good cargo space. It’s a 7.

Base versions of the Sportage are shod with comfortable cloth and reasonably soft-touch surfaces, while EX and SX Turbo trims go further with leather. The front seats are supportive and power adjustable in top trims, but a little thin.

In back, rear passengers get 38.2 inches of leg room, which is adequate for most long-legged riders. The Sportage is relatively small for its class and three across the back bench is a stretch, but two adults will sit comfortably.

Behind the second row, the Sportage holds 30.7 cubic feet of cargo that expands to more than 60 cubes with the second row folded.

Mostly, the Sportage is quiet from inside the car, but the engine can sound strained and raspy when its back is pressed against the wall.

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2021 Kia Sportage


Good crash-test scores and standard active safety features keep the 2021 Sportage relatively safe.

The 2021 Sportage complements good safety scores with good standard safety features and climbs up our safety scale to earn an 8.

Here’s the math involved: Federal testers gave the Sportage a five-star overall score, but gave the Sportage four stars for front- and rollover-crash protection. The IIHS gave the Sportage a Top Safety Pick award thanks to its top “Good” ratings on all its crash tests, and a “Superior” rating for front crash prevention with another vehicle (front pedestrian crash prevention was rated as “Advanced”). Headlight performance in the Sportage varies by trim level, according to the IIHS. Most models receive headlights rated as “Acceptable” or “Poor."

In addition to good crash-test scores, all Sportages get automatic emergency braking and active lane control as standard equipment. Blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control are optional.


2021 Kia Sportage


The 2021 Sportage heaps on great standard features and doesn’t stop.

Even though it’s relatively compact, the 2021 Sportage heaps on features like a daylong movie marathon.

Even base versions get in on the good stuff. Every Sportage gets at least 17-inch wheels, power features, cloth upholstery, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and active safety tech (that we cover above). All of the above, plus a generous warranty, help the Sportage nearly ace our features scale. It’s a 9.

The Sportage LX costs more than $25,000, including destination, and it’s a value—but one that we’d skip. The Sportage S adds blind-spot monitors and better upholstery, but it’s not any sportier.

We’d head instead to the 2021 Sportage EX that gets 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, an extra USB port, keyless ignition, and dual-zone climate control. With all-wheel drive, a Sportage EX rings the register at right around $30,000, including destination.

A spendy option package can add navigation, a power-adjustable passenger seat, leather upholstery, premium audio, heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, parking sensors, and cooled front seats. It’s luxury-lite but adds $4,500 to the bottom line.

The Sportage SX Turbo gets all of the above, and a more powerful engine, but costs at least $35,000, same as other more fuel-efficient or sportier competitors.

Kia’s standout warranty can’t be touched, however. A 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty is included on all Sportages.

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2021 Kia Sportage

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Kia Sportage lags competitors in fuel efficiency.

Lackluster fuel-mileage scores let the 2021 Kia Sportage side down.

The EPA rates the 2021 Sportage at 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined with front-wheel drive or just 22/26/23 mpg with all-wheel drive. That’s a 4 on our scale, barely.

The more powerful 2021 Sportage SX doesn’t fare much better. The EPA rates those at 20/28/23 mpg with front-drive or 19/24/21 mpg with all-wheel drive. Those scores are nearly identical to the three-row Telluride that is much larger and equipped with a V-6.

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Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 9
Fuel Economy 4
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