The Truth About Cars » Sportage The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 10:00:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Sportage Review: 2012 Kia Sportage SX Wed, 14 Dec 2011 12:00:34 +0000

Kia’s mission in America over the past decade was to compete squarely with the likes of Honda and Toyota. Lately however, the plucky South Korean brand seems to have larger aspirations. With the new Optima and Sportage turbos it would appear that Kia may just have budget near-luxury brands in mind as competition. Competition is fierce in the CUV market and the cute-ute segment is especially cut-throat with (by my count) no fewer than 11 vehicles that more-or-less compete directly with the Sportage. Among the main competition lurk the likes of the Rav 4, CR-V, Rogue, Juke, Compass, Patriot, Escape, Tiguan, Equinox, RDX and possibly the Q5.

However the 260HP turbo Sportage SX is possibly a different beast, and if you were to whittle this list down to just the 200HP+, turbocharged competition the list gets considerably shorter: Tiguan, Q5 and RDX. As Kia continues their claw upmarket, it should come as no surprise that Acura’s baby crossover should be found in Kia’s crosshairs. The question is: does the Sportage have what it takes to convince entry-level luxury CUV shoppers to stop at the Kia dealer? Or is this just faster competition for the RAV 4 and CR-V? Michael Karesh was able to get a Sportage SX turbo for a day from a local dealer, but what’s it like for a week? Lets find out.

From the outside, the new Sportage strikes a much more aggressive pose than the outgoing model. The clean lines and angular styling echo many of Acura’s latest design cues without being as “me-too” as previous Kia products. The large corporate grill looks at home on the Sportage and possibly better suited to the compact CUV than some of the other products that wear this nose.  While styling opinions vary, one thing seems to be universal: the Sportage’s proboscis is far more attractive than Acura’s ungainly beak.  In addition to the new engine, the SX model also gets large 18-inch wheels, a unique grill, dual exhaust, tweaked sills, aluminum door scuff plates, a different instrument cluster and some optional unique interior trim. Oh, and that T-GDI badge on the rear hatch.

The new Sportage’s interior was something of a let-down after spending a week inside the new Optima. That’s not to say the Sportage’s interior isn’t competitive, it’s just not class leading the way the new Optima SX is. Compared to other new Kia products, there are fewer soft touch plastics and no stitched-dash-trim bits to be found. Still, the interior is notably better than the majority of the competition in truth only a notch behind the likes of the more expensive Acura RDX. Even the new CR-V we crawled around inside during our coverage of the LA Auto Show only matches the Kia in interior refinement. Lesser Sportage trims are available in a two-tone grey motif that looks decidedly up-market,  the SX model however is available only in black, however the black-on-black-on-black interior of our test car made the interior feel a bit too cold and dark for my tastes.  The daring black and orange we saw on the 2011 model seems to have found few homes and is sadly no longer available. In comparison the interior of the RDX is a higher rent for sure, but the difference is mostly in design rather than component quality as the plastics inside the RDX are no more inspiring than the Kia. The RDX serves up similar proportions to the Kia but offers a modest 1.7 cubic feet more cargo room than the Sportage.

As is often the case with specialty trim-lines, it’s what’s under the hood that makes the SX worth the second look (and possible competition for the near luxury crowd). While the base Sportage gets by with a naturally aspirated 2.4L four-cylinder Hyundai/Kia Theta engine good for a middling 176HP and 168lb-ft of torque, the Sportage SX gets the new 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder direct-injection engine from the new turbo Optima and Sonata. The new forced induction mill is tuned for 260HP at 6,000RPM and a beefy 269 lb-ft of torque from 1,850-3,000RPM. Like many turbo engines, the SX’s torque curve is flat, but unlike many turbo engines on the market it tapers off somewhat quickly at the top end. Compared to the heavy hitters in the near luxury segment, the SX tops the forced induction group with VW’s 2.0L turbo delivering 200HP and 206lb-ft of torque, Audi’s 2.0L cranking out 211HP/258lb-ft, and the RDX ‘s 2.3L turbo delivering 240HP/260lb-ft. The Theta turbo also delivers arguably more punch than the Q5′s 3.2L V6 or BMW’s naturally aspirated 3.0L inline-6. The cost for this extra punch? $2,500 more than a comparably equipped Sportage EX.

The RDX and other compact near-luxury CUVs sell on acceleration, sporty handling with a modicum of cargo capacity while the mass-market CUVs seem to focus mostly on upright seating, and this is where the Sportage seems to straddle the fence. Out on the road the light weight (3,466lb vs 3931 for the RDX), stiff chassis and wide 235-series 18-inch rubber conspire to make the Sportage a near equal to the RDX (or dare I even say EX35) when the going gets twisty despite not having Acura’s slick torque-vectoring SH-AWD system. Kia fitted their latest electric power-steering system to the Sportage SX which provides more road feel and feedback than I had expected. When throwing the baby-SUV into corners, the Sportage compares favorably with the premium compact CUVs on the market. What little the Sportage SX gives up to the RDX in handling, it makes up for it in straight line performance running to 60MPH 0.3 seconds faster than the RDX turbo and finishing the  quarter-mile 0.4 seconds faster as well. The SX also ran to sixty 0.4 seconds faster than a 2011 AWD RAV 4 I got my hands on, and 0.7 seconds faster than the Audi Q5 2.0T we tested in April.

Directing the power to the tarmac is the Hyundai/Kia 6-speed automatic transmission and an optional AWD system. Much like the RDX however, AWD is essential if you care about on-road performance as the turbo brings the torque to a boil quickly. (A FWD model we tested suffered from wheel hop and severe front-wheel-peel at the merest press of the go pedal). Kia’s AWD system uses a center clutch pack (rather than a true center differential) that can connect or disconnect the rear wheels at will but (unlink SH-AWD) will never send more than 50% of the power to the back. Sadly Kia chose not to snag the Optima SX’s paddle shifters for use on the Sportage SX, nor did the slightly sportier transmission programming make a cameo. When driven hard, the transmission is eager to down-shift to do your right-foot’s bidding, but its just as eager to up-shift as you brake to enter the next curve. While Kia does provide a manumatic mode, it is a bit slow to react and without paddle shifters, its less convenient to use as well. The RDX’s 5-speed transmission is more willing to dance and the shift paddles make commanding (and staying in) a particular gear easier.

Now to the nitty-gritty: While the base, naturally-aspirated, FWD Sportage starts at a reasonable $18,500, stepping up to the SX turbo with AWD will cost you an extra $9,900, bringing your total to $28,400. The FWD SX may be $2,000 cheaper and deliver 2 more highway MPGs, but trust me, powering all four wheels is worth both costs. Besides, if you cared about economy you’d be buying the base FWD Sportage anyway. Our tester also wore the $2,000 premium package which gets you the panoramic sunroof, power mirrors with turn-signals, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated front seats and a cooled driver’s seat. The $1,000 navigation system option bumped our as-tested price to a somewhat steep $32,200. While I (like many of you) gasped at the total, a quick trip to my local Honda and Toyota dealers revealed the Sportage SX is actually a hair cheaper than a comparable RAV-4 (5 seater). Adjusting for options and the engine upgrade, the Sportage SX costs about the same as Honda’s CR-V, but is a significant $6,680 cheaper than a comparably equipped RDX which starts at $32,895 and comparably equipped (to our fully-loaded tester) rings in at $37,995.

There was a time where Kias were the cheap option, once that age ended, Kias became the value option, and today Kia has become a mainstream player. The Sportage is a perfect example of this transition, when Kia’s Sportage rolled into the light in 1993, it was cheap, and, well, cheap. The second generation Sportage was a value option to the main-stream shopper and as such, its faults could be forgiven because of its price. The base Sportage seems to slot firmly in the mainstream CUV line-up with competitive pricing, competitive features and average performance. Meanwhile, the Sportage SX seems to aspire to the near-luxury segment, trying to sell on handling and acceleration. While I’m not 100% sure the Sportage is ready to lock swords with Acura on the CUV battlefield, it is a very solid alternative for CUV shoppers. Of course, I value the “deal” so while the RDX is still the better small crossover, the Sportage SX is a close second and my personal choice, it’s just not quite near-luxury material yet. Wait till the fourth generation for that.


Kia provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Statistics as tested

0-60: 6.1 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 96 MPH

Fuel Economy: over 629 miles, 23.0MPG

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New or Used: To Play In the Mountains? Wed, 10 Aug 2011 16:33:48 +0000


Pete writes:

Hi guys,

I’ve got a tough set of requirements for you. I’ve been driving a 1996 Honda Civic Si for many years and it’s time to retire the old girl.

I live in Denver and I love to play in the mountains. I ski, backpack and rock climb, so I need a vehicle that can handle icy I-70 and rough forest service roads (need some ground clearance). I don’t need a large vehicle and I’d like to get at least 25 mpg highway. But I also really enjoy going quickly through the twisty bits, so handling is important too!

I’ve been considering the Kia Sportage SX, although the fuel economy in the AWD model isn’t great and I’ve read the Sportage steering leaves a lot to be desired. Still, the new 2 liter engine sounds fun. I’m mostly looking in the $25-30k range. For something really nice I could probably go up to $35k.

I feel like there must be some other options out there, but I haven’t had much luck finding anything!

Steve Answers:

On the new side the Subaru Forester is a definite consideration. The current RAV4, CR-V and Tucson have always struck me as a bit too ‘family’ focused and I’m still not a fan of the Kia Sportage.

I’m glad that you’re willing to invest $25k to $30k on your next ride. But you may want to take a look at some unique packages that were available in older models. Specifically those that offered a 5-speed with a well-matched 4-cylinder engine.

Back in 2005 I managed to get a four year old Ford Escape for my brother in law that had that rare 5-speed and 4 cylinder combination. He found a pristine leather interior on Craigslist for a couple hundred bucks and has since driven it over 100k with nary a hiccup. The older Foresters and RAV-4′s also have far better sporting pretensions than their current bloated ilk.

Most folks will get the new, the automatic, and the bloat. My advice is to go off the beaten path and find a ride that will truly endure. One that you never will want to sell.

Sajeev Answers:

From the information given–especially the ground clearance and active lifestyle part–I see you liking a simple, easy to use and cheap to maintain CUV with a V6 and their (basic) AWD systems. Or maybe a Subie Forester, does that actually qualify as a CUV? It should in this case.

There are a few CUVs that I enjoy driving in the twisties, but I haven’t driven ‘em all.  I’d take a run in the Subie, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Hyundai Tucson and (yes, really) the perennial big box Ford Escape.  The Nissan Juke is an interesting candidate, but I have reservations to its utility.  Everything from the B-pillar back is just a swoopy, sleek joke.

Oh, definitely sell the Si on Craigslist. You’ll easily find a sport compact enthusiast who would love to keep the flame and pay top dollar for it, if you have the service records to go with it.


Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Review: 2011 Kia Sportage EX Fri, 31 Dec 2010 18:53:28 +0000

The relationship between automotive writers and manufacturers is based on trust in the basic fairness (or pliability) of the writer, and usually it’s incumbent upon the writer to establish their  reliability before being trusted with a week-long tester. What many PR types and press fleet managers don’t seem to understand is that allowing even the snarkiest writer to actually spend time with a product actually helps create a more even-handed review than might result from a brief encounter.

Such was certainly the case with the 2011 Kia Sportage EX. My initial reaction was “boy is this thing cheap,” and had I spent only a day in the car, that would have been my major conclusion. The fact that two days earlier I had to turn in a $70,000 Jaguar XF Supercharged certainly reinforced that initial impression. And after a week with the Sportage I still think it pegs the cheepnis meter, so it’s a cheap car… but it’s an honest cheap car that delivers some real value.

The Sportage makes no pretensions of luxury, like the rental Aveo with fake wood on the dash that my mom rented while her Saturn got a new used engine. Everything on the Sportage interior is some kind of plastic in some shade of gray or silver. Some kind of hard plastic. True, at ~$28,000 it comes very well equipped (press cars, even from more modest marques, tend to come loaded with optional equipment and packages), with most of the conveniences that would satisfy just about every driver who isn’t used to luxury marques. Nav system, smart key, backup camera, leather seating surfaces, dual zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, heated and cooled front seats with forced ventilation on the driver’s side, 6 way power driver’s seat, satellite radio, USB port (I copied some music files to a thumb drive and discovered that you can look at photos with the nav screen – why you’d want to I don’t know but you can select Images from the menu).

Yet even with all those toys, Kia doesn’t try to hide the fact that they’re working the customers in the cheap seats. Well, perhaps, except for the exterior design. Everyone that saw the car commented on its good looks. Peter Schreyer’s team has done well creating an attractive styling identity for the brand and did a fine job on the Sportage. Okay, so maybe they indulged in a few pretensions. The Sportage sports (couldn’t resist it) some Audi-ish LED eyeliners that I suppose are fog lights but don’t do much to light up the road and were of no use in the scary heavy fog I experienced driving north through the Poconos. The regular headlamp units do a perfectly adequate job lighting up the road under normal circumstances.

Other than the styling, Kia’s penny pinching shows. Everything is there, just lacking in some capacity. The cheap seats those aforementioned customers will be sitting in, for example, are, well, cheap. They do have leather surfaces, at least that’s what the sticker says. I do machine embroidery in real life and work with motorcycle and car enthusiasts so I handle and sew lot of leather. If Kia says it’s leather, I’ll believe them. It’s just not very fine leather, though it is more supple than the vinyl used on the non-seating surfaces of the seats. Comfortable enough for long rides, the seats are hard rather than firm, and there isn’t much contouring in the bolsters. The inflatable lumbar support did make a long drive (1,300 miles in less than 30 hours) bearable, but only on the highest setting.

That kind of lack of refinement abounds in the Sportage. Even the sound effect for the turn signals sounds tinny and cheap. Yes the Sportage has four wheel disc brakes and big aluminum rims with black paint. The wheels, though, look cheap, dwarf the tiny brake rotors and rather than effect a Brembo-like look, the rough castings of the brake calipers reinforce the fact that everything on the Sportage has been designed to a price point. The glass moonroof works nicely but they left out the little tab that opens the sun visor below as the glass slides back. You could be driving around with a hole in your roof and not realize it for a while.

I will say that the nav/audio system controls were very good, integrating the touch screen with real buttons for instant access to features. I had to RTFM only once, to figure out how to activate Bluetooth, everything else was intuitive, and unlike some systems you don’t have to scroll through all the modes and bands just to turn on the AM radio. So the infotainment system was first rate, until you listen to it and you realize that just because a subwoofer looks good on the spec sheet doesn’t mean the system isn’t going to sound muddy. It’s nice having dual zone ACC, with great control features, it’s not so nice having it blow cool air on you when it’s 15 degrees F outside. The ACC units on the Mazdas, Honda and Jaguar that I’ve tested recently were all much less obtrusive. The Sportage made me think that Kia had a checklist of features that they wanted included, but they didn’t bother to make sure the implementation of those feature was done well. As long as the feature sheet is long seems to be the design brief. Even in Korea a C is a passing grade.

The Sportage comes with the now de rigueur nannies but between the way the DSC [stability control]  is programmed along with the aggressive traction control [TCS] and obtrusive ABS system, it makes the CUV harder to drive, at least for me. Though the Sportage was fine in most normal driving, some fairly common maneuvers seemed to confuse whatever electronic brain controls the Sportage’s dynamics. Sharp turns out of steep driveways would kick in the DSC as the rear wheels lost traction. Clipping a curb on a corner would do the same. Sometimes the Sportage would just react in a confused manner to steering and throttle inputs.

Detroit didn’t get a ton of snow in the blizzard that took down the Metrodome’s dome in Minnesota, but there was freezing rain first and a wet snowfall here followed by bitter cold so the roads as I write this are about as slippery as they can get. I found the DSC, TCS and ABS to make it harder to drive in bad conditions than easier. They may keep average appliance operators out of harms way but they can be infuriating to folks who can drive.

I’ve been driving in Michigan winters for over four decades. Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, AWD and 4WD (this was the FWD version of the Sportage, which also is available in AWD spec), I’ve driven them all and haven’t gotten stuck even a half dozen times. I’ve kinda liked FWD in the snow since first driving my brother’s original Mini but with the exception of F-body GM products and empty pickup trucks, I’d feel safe in just about any layout in winter. I also prefer to use smooth, light, control inputs, including a gentle braking foot. In today’s severe snow and ice, the ABS was kicking in almost instantaneously, creating skids where manual (pedual?) control on braking wouldn’t have caused skids. Also in bad traction the DSC and TCS were making it harder to drive, not easier. In addition to taking control of the brakes, the stability  system overrides the ECU. I’m trying to power my way through the crud out there and the damn DSC and TCS are conspiring against me,  killing the engine just because of some wheel slip.

The suspension is harsh, rather than just stiff, though it mellows out on Interstate asphalt. Concrete surfaces are a different thing, with the Sportage being darty on the freeway, needing constant corrections from steering that is possibly the least-road-feel-imparting steering in automobiledom. I’d call it speed-insensitive steering. Kia calls it “motor” assisted so I assume it’s EPS. When I say that the steering is numb, I mean that, like it’s been shot with Novocaine, at all speeds, in all conditions. As good as the Mazda 3 steering feels, the Sportage is the polar opposite.

There is not a single soft surface that a human being can touch in the Sportage. Hard plastics don’t just abound, they proliferate. Even the fabric headliner has a coarse feel to it. I thought that acrid off-gassing smells in Kias were an internet legend, until I noticed some funny smells myself. There’s a very clever niche for a drink bottle molded into the storage bin on the door panel. There’s also a pictogram molded into the hard, gray plastic of the panel warning people to not put their Slurpees and other non-bottled drinks in there. Real classy.

Still, for all of the Sportage’s cheapness, the people who choose to buy one will not have buyer’s remorse. I say that not to demean anyone, I’m not exactly rich myself, but it’s no secret that Kia’s business model is appealing to the budget conscious. If “Imported From Detroit” is self-aware and self-destructive, doesn’t “The Power To Surprise” translate to “Not as cheap as you think”?

The Sportage may be cheap but it seemed to be screwed together well. Fit and finish was fine, metal surface quality, like on all Korean cars, is world class. Nobody will be embarrassed by the Sportage’s looks.  Everything worked, all week long, even if somethings didn’t work outstandingly.  By the time I turned the Sportage back in there were over 5,000 miles on the odometer. With the caveat that this is a pampered press fleet vehicle, there were no rattles or buzzes and nothing to indicate that you wouldn’t get 100,000 or more miles out of the car.

Though I was left with grudging respect for the new Sportage, it’s not a driver’s car by any means, nor was it intended to be. It was intended to be an inexpensive family sized crossover. Frankly the similarly priced Mazda 3 Grand Touring that I tested not long ago was a much more pleasurable drive and had a level of refinement that the Kia just can’t touch. The Sportage, though, is a much larger vehicle. While a family might be able to use the Mazda 3 as a daily driver, camping trips in it would be a bit of a squeeze.  The Sportage dwarfed a Kia Soul that I passed on the highway (driven by a young black lady, not a hamster). The front seats are wide enough for my big tuchas, the back seat will fit adults so the kiddies won’t complain and there’s a nice CUV sized storage area with a large back hatch.

If space, features, good looks, and above all, price are what you’re looking for in a small CUV, the 2011 Sportage is probably on your short list already. It’s a new car with all the modern bells and whistles, and it comes with a long warranty. According to TrueDelta A fully equipped Sportage is about $1,000 less than a fully equipped Honda CR-V. It also comes with about $2,ooo worth of equipment that you can’t get on the CR-V. You can spec a Chevy Equinox with comparable options to the Sportage and, again, the difference is about $3,000.  For many consumers, that savings of 10% or so is very important. For others, it may be worth it to pay a little more and get a more refined car.

Kia Motors provided the vehicle for this review, along with insurance and one tank of gas.

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2011 Sportage Priced Starting At $18,990 Thu, 22 Jul 2010 16:02:51 +0000

With Ford and Honda running away with the compact crossover segment, a tight pack of competitors is gathering around the 100k annual unit mark (graph after the jump). Hyundai has already thrown its redesigned Sorento into this fearsome battle with promising results so far (20k units YTD), but Kia’s Sportage has been battling in this segment since before it was cool. Literally. As far as we can tell, it’s the oldest continuously-sold compact CUV nameplate in the US market… which makes you wonder what a continuously-evolved Chevy Tracker might have become. Anyway, after years of Tracker-like neglect, Sportage is coming back with a fresh set of Peter Schreyer-tailored duds. Not to mention a direct-injection, turbocharged engine option (“270-plus horsepower” according to the press release), Bluetooth, and the UVO hands-free system (think SYNC). As you can imagine, the price has gone up some…

Available in three trims – Base, LX and EX – pricing for the dynamic compact CUV will begin at $18,295 for the base trim, offering standard convenience features, including air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, SIRIUS® Satellite Radio capabilities with three months complimentary service, MP3 connectivity and Bluetooth® wireless technology. LX will start at $20,295 and will include standard outside mirrors with LED turn signal indicators and privacy glass. Moving up to the EX trim level offers a beginning price of $23,295 with standard features such as 18-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

The crazy part? Adjusted for inflation, the $14,500 base MSRP of a 1995 Sportage actually comes out to $20,758 in 2010 dollars, meaning the base Sportage actually offers a of of inflation-adjusted value compared to its predecessors. But will it be enough to take on this brutal segment? Only time will tell…

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