KIA Sportage EX 4WD Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
kia sportage ex 4wd review

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.

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2 of 3 comments
  • Ncsenior Ncsenior on Mar 26, 2008

    Car reviewers often forget that many car owners are just looking for dependable, affordable and highly utilitarian transportation. We have a two year old Sportage that has fit that bill better than any of the dozen plus vehicles I have owned over the years. It is one vehicle that I would repurchase today if my current one was stolen or totalled.

  • Todd Brugh Todd Brugh on Jun 26, 2010

    There are lots of people interested in a no frills, get the job done vehicle and the Kia Sportage EX we have does just this. I'm not interested in hype or a seriously fun to drive suv that gets 15 mpg and has all of the cutting edge equipment. My Kia's A/C blows ice cold on those 90+ degree high humidity days and it goes through hell and high water and always gets over 20 mpg no matter what. It's dependable as a Timex and I love it. This is a great SUV!

  • Jkross22 This might just be me, but the times that I've driven an EV, I use the brake regen paddles to quell my inner MT/control freak nature.
  • Randy in rocklin I had a 82 733 at one time. It was an awesome car. Good power and great handling. Smooth shifting and ride.
  • Jkross22 Gavin Newsom may not be aware of the fiscal problems of the state he leads, as his focus is on criticizing other states. It's actually better that he has someone shining a laser light on a map so he can stop making things worse here. Just lace his hair gel with some catnip and have him hit himself trying to get to it. Things in LA are getting so bad that even the leftists and progressives are showing up to LA city council meetings with mirrors to protest, well, everything - gas prices, the homeless pandemic, the house pricing pandemic, the crime pandemic. It shocked the City Council that their subjects dare attempt to ask for accountability. The Council president insisted that people with mirrors be escorted out, lest the council be reminded of their incompetence and hubris. That being said, there is no connection being made between the way LA subjects vote and the results it yields. Never underestimate the stupidity of the typical CA voter. The state is a basketcase but voters keep electing the same retreads every time.
  • ScarecrowRepair Too much for too little, unless you treat it strictly as a toy.
  • DedBull Mk2 Jettas are getting harder to find, especially ones that haven't been modified within an inch of their life. I grew up in an 85 GLI, and would love to have one in as close to stock configuration as I could get. This car isn't that starting point, especially sitting 3-4 years in the NY dirt. It's a parts car at best, but there might still be money in it even at that price, if you are willing to take it down to absolutely nothing left.