How to stand out in a crowded and ultra-competitive segment? This is the challenge that the 2017 Kia Sportage is facing. This compact crossover is going up against the likes of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, and the Chevy Equinox – just to name a few. This segment continues to increase in popularity as more consumers move from sedans and into the crossovers. The Sportage in definitely an important vehicle for Kia.
The 4th generation Sportage attacks competition with bold and polarizing styling. This is a bit of a risk. It’s still unmistakably a Kia and features a higher mounted grille and swept-back headlights. The rear has a stand-out tail light design, a standard roof spoiler, and dual exhausts on the turbocharged SX models.
The 2017 Sportage continues the fight with a slightly longer wheelbase and overall length. This translates to more interior space and utility: more legroom and 18 percent more cargo volume behind the rear seats (30.7 cu-ft to be exact).
The Sportage power comes from a choice of two engines: a base 2.4-liter direct-injected motor or a 2.0-liter turbocharged unit. The naturally aspirated motor is good for 181 hp at 6,000 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, while the turbo comes in two flavors. The engine puts out 237 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm for the AWD car and 240 horsepower at 6,000 rpm in FWD trim. The torque rating 260 lb-ft at 1,350 rpm in both variations. All powertrain combinations are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Kia chose not to use a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The company thinks that many people still appreciate a traditional automatic transmission.
I had a chance to drive both variations of the 2.0-liter turbo. The FWD Sportage SX feels significantly quicker under full throttle than its AWD counterpart. The AWD system adds a mere 99 pounds to the curb weight of the SX. Still, the new car is no lightweight. The curb weight can vary from 3,305 pounds for a bare-bones LX FWD model to 3,997 pounds for a fully loaded SX AWD. I drove the latter, and it is a lot of heft to move around.
The weight of the fully loaded crossover none-withstanding, the new Sportage can be fun in the tight and twisty canyons of Southern California (where I was). Punch the mode button into “Sport”, the steering weight and feedback increase, the transmission and throttle mappings get sharper, and the Sportage is ready to dance. It does lean into corners, not helped by the giant panoramic sunroof that adds weight up high. It has a slight tendency to understeer, but the clever Dynamax AWD system helps to bring the car through the corner. The FWD Sportage feels more nimble in the corners, it’s lighter on its feet.
Kia was able to increase fuel economy across the board. The 2.4-liter Sportage with front wheel drive gains 2 mpg to 23 city / 30 highway / 26 combined. The turbocharged AWD car is rated at 20 city / 23 highway / 21 combined. Some competitors, such as the Mazda CX-5, can claim higher efficiency numbers.
The Sportage still brings a solid value proposition. The well-equipped 2017 Sportage SX 2.0T AWD comes in just under $35,000. This includes an interior that is one of the best in the segment. The materials, design, fit, and finish are all high quality. The third generation UVO3 infotainment system now has a higher resolution touch screen that allows for swipes and pinch-zoom. Apple Car Play and Android Auto will both be available.
The 2017 Kia Sportage goes on sale this month (March 2016).
In the end, Kia built a more refined and more spacious Sportage that maintains high value for the money. This should gain some sales against the tough competition.
Check out this video of the new Sportage and learn how it behaves on the road.