2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Review - Jumping Off the Blandwagon

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
Fast Facts

2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo AWD

2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged I4 (237 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 260 lbs-ft torque @ 1,450 rpm)
Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
20 city / 23 highway / 21 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
22.8 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price (LX FWD)
$23,885 (U.S.) / $26,620 (Canada)
As Tested (SX Turbo AWD)
$34,895 (U.S.) / $41,220 (Canada)
All prices include $895 destination fee (U.S.) or $1,825 destination fee and A/C tax (Canada).

The SUV’s rise to king of the automotive fiefdom is well documented. Seizing the chance for fat profits and sales glory, manufacturers took their existing product, added a couple of doors and ladled on the chrome. Buyers flocked to them like Brexiters lining up to change their vote. In time, thanks to Prius driving tofu-twinks wearing nuclear-free peace sandals, these brutes became as politically correct as a Monsanto home fracking kit and, with a few exceptions, have been resigned to the dustbin of history.

OEMs recognized the trend, slowly backing away from the behemoth machines. Modifying their smaller unibody offerings, tall two-box crossovers soon dotted the landscape, watering down the SUV formula until buyers were left with the automotive equivalent of Metamucil.

A few manufacturers dare to defy convention and style their crossover with a modicum of thought and originality. Nissan uses toenail clippings for headlights on its Juke. Dodge attempted to intimidate its way into driveways with the bloodthirsty Nitro. Now, Kia has restyled its popular Sportage and, well, you’re not going to lose it in the parking lot.

With its headlights positioned above and to either side of the grille, Kia has created a curious front end reminding me of Lord Voldemort or one of those faceless Doctor Who monsters that exist solely to terrify small children. Alert readers will notice the Ram ProMaster suffers a similar fate, except in plus size. The arachnid-like quad fog lamps, exclusive to the top-rung SX Turbo, add to the effect.

Lesser LX and EX models make do with a 2.4-liter inline four churning out 181 horsepower. Our SX Turbo had a 2.0-liter turbocharged four under the hood, rated at 237 hp. Kia’s intent is to offer V6 power with four-banger economy. Unfortunately, I found little of either in this Coke-bottle-sized engine.

See that Drive Mode button? Get familiar with it because you’ll be mashing it often, cycling through its three modes — Normal, Eco, and Sport — frequently out of frustration because the bloody thing resets itself to Normal upon startup when previously shut down in Sport. (Eco mode sticks when selected.) Throttle response is acceptable in Sport, lazy in Normal and moribund in Eco. The Drive Mode button shares real estate with buttons the average crossover buyer is never going to touch.

Fuel economy wasn’t dismal, but neither was it stellar. The Sportage averaged 22.8 miles per gallon (10.3L/100km) over the week, just slightly above its EPA city rating. I’m willing to chalk the middling fuel economy results up to an extremely green engine (the vehicle was delivered with less than 80 miles on the clock) and believe results will go up in time, but I’m not sure the throttle response will ever improve. Outside the Sport Mode, it didn’t even feel like 137 hp, let alone 100 more.

Legroom up front was vast but, when equipped with a sunroof, headroom is at a premium. This 6’6” author had the driver’s seat in its lowest possible setting yet still had to recline the seatback into a quasi-gangsta lean in order for my dome not to brush the headliner. No such complaints were voiced by passengers of non-NBA stature. The EX Turbo featured heated/cooled leather seats pumping out climate controlled air with such vigour that I could actually feel the breeze through my shirt.

The touchscreen infotainment system is similar to that found in other members of the Sportage’s extended family, such as the Elantra Limited. This is a good thing. Quick to respond and decently easy to navigate, the graphics are clear and well thought out. The centre stack is logically sorted and features two radio knobs: one for volume and one for tuning. Thank you. Redundant buttons pepper the tilt/telescope steering wheel, which also hosts a pair of paddle shifters.

Back seat riders appreciated the heated seats and there was plenty of leg and elbow room for elementary aged kiddos. Sibling rivalry may erupt in your household, but the Sportage is spacious enough that Johnny and Janie will be able to go on family trips without poking their arms into the backseat’s Neutral Zone. Power points abound for charging up devices and a large set of climate vents poke their way towards the rear passengers, offering air conditioned relief on long journeys.

With a modest bump in cargo volume to 31 cubic feet for the 2017 model year, the Sportage has five extra cubic feet of space when compared to the old model. Well shaped and devoid of odd-shaped intrusions, the Kia may have less cargo room on paper than its rivals, but has plenty of space in practical terms. Our tester swallowed a budding entrepreneur’s lemonade stand and transported a wedding cake to the nuptials of an anxious couple. Kia has recalibrated the Sportage suspension this year and tuned it for more compliance on rough surfaces, a welcome revision given the pockmarked roads near my home approximate those of the Tirupur-Avinashi highway.

The rear hatch swings high and out of the way and features with an illuminated button with which to close the power liftgate. This may seem incredibly mundane, but I mention it because the button for this function on a $106,190 Cadillac Escalade Platinum I tested this winter was darker than a cow’s gut, leading to needless nighttime fumbling and frustration. If Kia can get it right, so should Cadillac.

Pricing in America for the Sportage ranges from $23,885 for the entry level LX up to $33,395 for the SX Turbo. All-wheel drive (like our tester) is a $1,500 hike on all models. I think the middle-rung EX is actually the best deal in the Sportage line up: $25,550 will net you leather seats, dual-zone climate control, and a raft of safety equipment.

The Sportage SX Turbo severely overlaps its big brother Sorento in terms of sticker price. The mid-level Sorento EX V6, in fact, is only $600 more dear than the most expensive Sportage when both are in front-wheel-drive guise. The larger model’s vast advantage in space and power will make the Sportage SX Turbo a hard sell for Kia sales staff.

Nevertheless, with the Sportage’s 2017 restyle, buyers looking to stand out in a sea of me-too small crossovers suddenly have another vehicle to consider. The naturally aspirated EX may represent the best value, but whichever trim buyers choose, they’re not going to lose it at the mall.

Selling Points: beaucoup amenities, commodious interior, wild looks.

Deal Breakers: lethargic acceleration, price creep on top models, wild looks.

The Bottom Line: not my favourite small crossover, but it will get wild looks.

Disclosure: Kia Canada provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

[Images: Kia, © 2016 Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • ZCD2.7T ZCD2.7T on Jul 11, 2016

    Reviews that don't mention a vehicle's actual ride and handling have no place on an automotive website. Save those for GQ or Esquire...

  • Probert Probert on Nov 02, 2017

    I fly and ride in the west/southwest most years and take cars about 6k mies on varied roads and terrain. I have driven both this (this year) and the prior model through storms, in the sand, dirt, through washes, and on highways. To me, the prior model was a better car in most ways that matter. The prior model was agile with a stiffer suspension. The steering was more direct, and the engine shifted with purpose. It seems to the US driver, this translated to twitchy and too stiff, and this iteration is dumbed down. This model (4wd) felt heavy and shifting was sluggish. I had to revert to manual shift in order to get into, and hold the gear I wanted. Particularly on mountain roads. The steering difference could be partly due to the tire/wheel combo. The earlier model had larger wheels with lower sidewall tires. But that isn't the whole story. This is a softer car, with more understeer. Perhaps this lack of visceral response will be viewed as "more refined". Screw that. One thing to note - the headlights on this car - for all the design drama - are well below par. Also, the dash light shows "headlight" when only the parking lights are on and dim. Another turn brings up 2 lights, and now the headlights are on. My bad maybe - but I was almost taken out by a mis-timed truck passing in my lane on a long straight desert road. The lovely styling, and steep windshield rake cause some issues. The A pillars on both are large, and intrusive on sharp left turns. As a motorcycle rider, I'm trained to look ahead to where I want to go. Bam - there's the pillars. Not a deal breaker but style has its price. The other price is dash reflections. I use a cheap black towel on the dash top - otherwise - in the desert - the reflections are too much. One place both cars shine is off-road. It has locking diffs and hill descent functions. Nothing held me back from whoops , uphill sand and washes. In the mohave, I only turned around when the trail became littered with volcanic rocks which I felt might shred the tires. In Death valley, I took tough roads that were otherwise populated by true desert sleds. I couldn't keep up regarding speed, but I traversed the same tough road. I like these cars - I think they look great, and they get the job done. I'd take the prior model though - it was a real joy.

  • Matt Posky That's a bummer. At this point, I would very much like to see them just sitting around talking about cars together. May's The Reassembler and Oh Cook were both enjoyable and consisted of little more than him chatting with the production crew. Clarkson's Farm is excellent and usually includes him just making jokes and political points as he goes about the day with a limited number of staged events. Hammond's Workshop has also been pretty good vs most other automotive-related programming because of his personality. Nobody expects them to drive trucks through brick walls or pretend to blow each other up anymore. Why they haven't transitioned over the the Jay Leno's Garage way of doing things is beyond me. Leno has arguably done some of is best work since retiring from Late Night. I'm sure the lads could muster up a few hours per month to get together at a museum or garage to chat about cars and flirt with each other.
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  • Kwi65728132 "Safety wonks at the federal level claim the starter solenoid in these rigs could be contaminated with water if operated in abnormally wet conditions like as a flooded road."Don't drive on flooded roads or "Turn around, don't down"It sounds like just plain common sense to not submerge your fancy vehicle in a body of standing water, unless you're doing it for the insurance money because you bought more car than your subprime credit rating can afford to pay for.
  • Mattwc1 The ban was scrapped. My inherent problem with this ban is just postering. The US collectively has to improve the infrastructure for EVs in order for them to be a compelling alternative
  • Eliyahu Actual combustion requires a burner phone on the wireless charging pad.