I have no desire to piss off the Koreans, Northern or Southern. For those of you involved in that region's automobile industry, who probably view anything other than a puff piece as an affront to your family's honor, let me say this: the Kia Sportage EX 4WD is a nice SUV. It's nice– in the same sense that attractive women used to call me a "nice guy". In other words, the Sportage is about as sexy as mitosis.
One look at the Sportage proves that you can't reverse engineer style. The exterior incorporates all of the standard SUV design cues: blistered wheels arches, bisected radiator grill, integrated roof rack, blacked-out window surrounds, letterbox exhausts, etc. Like every other occidental pastiche, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The Sportage is too big here (back end), too small there (rear three-quarter glass), not enough aggression anywhere.
Of course, the Sportage's aesthetic pacifism and diminutive footprint qualify the mini-SUV as a "cute ute'. Now THERE'S a segment that baffles me. Why would anyone want an SUV that doesn't even LOOK like it can go off-road? To my mind, driving a cute ute is like using an Irish Setter for a guard dog. I suppose the appeal centers on the genre's raised driving position, high[er]mileage and LL Bean lite fashionability. I could say the Sportage, Escape, RAV4 and CRV are all chicks' SUV's, but then I'd run the risk getting flattened by a soccer Mom in a Sequoia.
Anyway, one of the great things about cheap cars is that they aren't expensive cars. You adjust the seats with levers and knobs, the radio looks like a radio, nothing beeps at you and you don't need a programming degree to direct air to both your face and your feet.
The Sportage's airy, comfortable cabin makes perfect sense, with the added attraction that the materials aren't made by GM's suppliers. There's even a bit of cleverness here and there, like the crooked window wiper arm on the passenger side. And Kia's decision to sacrifice luggage space for rear legroom– a boon to Moms who need reach-around access to baby wipes, milk and far flung toys– was the right choice for the right car at the right price.
Yes, there is that. Even at this point, it's worth mentioning that you'd be hard-pressed to spend $23k on a fully-loaded Sportage EX 4WD, which comes with a five-year, 60k-mile "limited basic" warranty. Financially-challenged buyers have every reason to stop reading this review and head straight for their local KIA dealer. At that price, it's not as if you're looking for an SUV with the soul of a sports car.
Well if you are, don't. Despite the brand's stated goal– to position KIA as sporty spice to Hyundai's posh– even the top-of-the-line Sportage EX doesn't have the stones for the job. Its 2.7-liter, 173hp powerplant is a rough-revving, asthmatic unit. What's more, the V6-that-thinks-it's-a-four is charged with propelling a lardy (if reassuringly substantial) 3740 pound SUV. Zero to sixty takes, let's see, wait, almost there… 10.2 seconds. And that's at full chat.
As for handling, a Sportage used in anger is a Hell of a steer: understeer (lots), torque steer (before the 4WD kicks in) and Angus steer (Ponderosa ponderousness). That said, the rack and pinion helm offers something remarkably akin to genuine feedback, and the tires tell you when G-forces are about to inflate your insurance premiums. The four-wheel disc brakes demand some serious pushing, but they'll slow the Korean from 70mph to naught in 172 feet– some 20 feet sooner than a Jeep Liberty Limited Edition 4WD.
The Sportage's chassis is the biggest disappointment. Let me put it this way: if the Sportage has a performance-tuned suspension, someone at Kia is tone deaf. The need to tie down the SUV to avoid lateral flop was obviously Job One. You get all of the pain of a poor roadway with none of the pleasure of extra cornering ability. Vehicles like this tell me that manufacturers are trying to fool an entire generation of drivers into equating BCW (Bang Crash Wallop) with "road feel".
Of course, thrashing a Sportage is about as ludicrous as using a Mazda Miata to move house. The best thing you could say about the Korean SUV's driving dynamics, perhaps the only thing that really needs saying, is that it's safe. Predictable, controllable, stable and safe. Which makes the Sportage safe, affordable, practical and environmentally responsible.
Anyone notice the missing word 'fun'? Still, you can't blame the Kia Sportage for being so damn sensible. When it comes to the sales chart, there's no denying that nice guys finish first.