This 2017 Kia Sportage SX Was Broken and Slow, Now It's Fixed and Fast

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Recognize this Kia?

TTAC’s Matthew Guy drove and reviewed this particular 2017 Sportage SX Turbo in early July. Readers need not an ability to read between the lines to locate Guy’s disappointment in the turbocharged 2.0 liter’s responsiveness, or the nearly complete and total lack thereof.

“Kia’s intent is to offer V6 power with four-banger economy. Unfortunately, I found little of either in this Coke-bottle-sized engine,” he wrote at the time.

The Sportage SX, rated at 237 horsepower and 260 lbs-ft of torque, shuffles its power through all four wheels in a 3,997-pound package. In a 2016 Kia Sorento weighing 4,303 pounds, I said the same powerplant’s mid-range “is as punchy as the Sorento’s available 3.3-liter V6,” and “passing power is plentiful as you ride a 260-lb-ft wave across a plateau of torque.”

Yet in the smaller and lighter Sportage, Matthew says, “Outside Sport Mode, it didn’t even feel like 137 hp, let alone 100 more.” In TTAC’s hyperactive Slack chat at the end of July, he continued, “It drove like cold molasses going backward uphill.”

But Guy was the first auto writer to get seat time in this specific 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo. Unbeknownst to him, and to the Kia Sportage’s instrument cluster, the Kia was wounded before getting to the battlefield.

By the time the Sportage reached GCBC Towers in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, a month later, a local dealer had fixed it. This Sportage is an entirely different soldier from the one Mr. Guy experienced — and you read about — earlier this summer.

Our fleet manager deemed a visit to the dealer was necessary after two more drivers reported the Sportage as terrifically slow. The official report: “Diagnosed with loose fastener (Clamp) on the turbo intake. Secured fastener – operation normal after repair.”

OXYGEN


In non-technical terms that I understand, something wasn’t hooked up quite right so the turbo wasn’t getting air.

In more advanced terms: “If there was a significant leak at the intake on a turbocharged engine, the MAP sensor (assuming that’s what this vehicle has) wouldn’t ‘see’ the boost, and could potentially pull timing to keep from detonating, thus a loss of power,” TTAC’s Chris Tonn told me this morning. TTAC’s Bozi Tatarevic says that an air leak could have caused a fueling condition or boost leak, which could cause the 2.0-liter turbo to “act like it was naturally aspirated.” Not good.

Given that turbos make their living by maximizing the benefits of air, the 2.0-liter turbo four couldn’t, and didn’t, feel like a 2.0-liter turbo four.

Blame Kia, blame workers at the Sportage’s Gwangju plant, blame the O’Regan’s Kia dealer that performed the pre-delivery inspection, blame the raccoon in Guy’s driveway for disconnecting the fastener while Matthew dreamed of a Hemi-powered Cadenza. Blame Obama if you must. But it’s fixed now.

SPEED


There’s very little in this segment that can compete with the Sportage SX on the acceleration front. Car and Driver’s tests suggest the only competitor capable of matching, and indeed outperforming, the Sportage SX is the Subaru Forester XT.

Sub-seven-second 0-60 times aren’t common in a class full of sub-190-horsepower crossovers. But the turbocharged Sportage’s 3.4-second launch from 30-50 mph and its 4.7-second 50-70 result are the figures that truly cause the Kia to stand out from the pack.

America’s top-selling utility vehicle four years running, the Honda CR-V, doesn’t have an optional hi-po engine and needs 4.3 and 5.4 seconds, respectively, in those same tests.

2016’s current top-selling SUV/crossover, the Toyota RAV4, needs 4.1 and 5.3 seconds in more powerful hybrid guise.

The 2.0-liter turbo in the Ford Escape, America’s fourth-ranked utility vehicle, with more horsepower and torque, makes the race somewhat closer, with 3.7 and 5.1-second results.

But the Sportage isn’t merely the on-paper test-track winner in comparison with these more popular rivals; these are not meaningless tenths-of-second differences. There’s a liveliness and urgency to the Kia’s proceedings that, to be honest, the overwhelming majority of small crossover consumers are willing to go without.

MONEY


You’ll pay for the privilege of such proceedings, however. This engine is available only in the luxuriously equipped SX trim level. Kia USA markets the 2017 Sportage SX Turbo AWD with a $34,895 price tag. That’s $4,725 more costly than the least expensive Subaru Forester 2.0XT. Ford’s 2.0-liter turbo is a $1,295 upgrade on the 2017 Escape SE, which — with all-wheel drive — becomes a $29,040 vehicle, $5,855 less than the Sportage SX Turbo AWD.

There are other associated costs. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Escape EcoBoost AWD at 23 mpg combined; the Forester XT at 25 mpg (on premium fuel). The 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo AWD has a combined 21-mpg rating. We observed 21.8 mpg over the course of our mostly urban test during a hot week in early August.

Given the turbocharged 2.0 liter’s accompanying SX trim and Kia’s relatively newfound knack for producing genuinely luxurious, high-quality interiors, there are other associated benefits to go along with the hoity toity price tag. The panoramic sunroof, cooled seats, Harmon Kardon audio, and extensive safety gear are neither the stuff of your Kia Spectra dreams nor the content received in exchange for $30,170 in a Subaru showroom.

Meanwhile, the Kia excels in areas aside from its smooth, quiet, and powerful powertrain and its high levels of equipment. The Sportage is now competitively spacious. Perceived quality is high, with a stout structure and pleasant materials, excessive piano black trim aside. After the jarring third gen’s atrocious ride quality, the new Sportage is much more comfortable, though it’s no class leader on 19-inch wheels.

SORENTO


Yet I still find myself confused by Kia’s product positioning. The very same powertrain resides in the more spacious (but far from gargantuan) Sorento at $34,590, at $36,190 with the EX premium package, or at $38,690 with the premium and advanced touring packages.

Kia hasn’t turned the Sportage SX Turbo into a veritable sporting SUV with keen turn-in and flat cornering and quick reflexes and snappy shifts. It’s merely a smaller Sorento rival available for a slightly smaller amount of money.

The savings need to be substantial. The 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo, especially when it’s truly turbocharged, is a fine piece of kit. The 2017 Kia Sorento EX Turbo nevertheless does everything better and is more than worth the modest monthly payment increase.

[Images: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

Timothy Cain
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  • Mik101 Mik101 on Aug 09, 2016

    The lack of knowledge about how turbocharged engines work expressed in the article is really sad. If the charge piping is disconnected the turbo is nothing but a restriction in the exhaust and actually causes a reduction in performance versus an equivalent sized NA engine. The air being pushed by the turbo just vents to atmosphere. Anyone with a $10 obd2canbus scanner could figure out what was wrong in 60 seconds by looking at MAP pressure readings. Hmm it never goes past atmospheric pressure you say? Duh the charge piping is disconnected. Cars should be reviewed by people who actually know how they work.

    • See 2 previous
    • Bozi Tatarevic Bozi Tatarevic on Aug 10, 2016

      We had a much longer discussion which was condensed for the the article. While the car was in the possession of Matthew it did not exhibit any signs of being broken, it was just slow. There was no reason for him to hook up an OBD2 reader since there were no check engine lights or signs that there was a leak. After the car was handed back and sometime before Tim got it, the issue was repaired. The short description of a clamp being replaced on an intake pipe is all Tim received. We discussed the possibilities of what could have caused the issues based on that description. My first guess was that there might have been a leak in the inlet pipe that goes to the turbo compressor housing but after looking at similar 2.0L turbo models I saw that these cars use speed-density for fueling to no mass air flow sensor was present. My net guess is that the fleet company referred to the charge pipe going from the intercooler to the intake manifold as the intake pipe which was loose. This would cause a boost leak and would make the car run like it was naturally aspirated. The pressure created by the turbocharger would not go into the intake manifold and would not be seen by the MAP sensor thus causing the car to run slower. It would actually run slower than the standard naturally aspirated 2.0L that Hyundai/Kia uses as the turbocharged motor run less compression (9.5:1 vs 10.5:1). There might be a reason that the car did not light up the check engine sign but since the issue was recognized after the car left Matts possession and before it reached Tim we shared what we knew and took our best shot at explaining it.

  • EX35 EX35 on Aug 10, 2016

    I had the exact opposite experience. the Kia felt like an underengineered, tinny, econobox while the Escape felt solid and well planted.

  • Vatchy And how is the government going to recoup the losses from gas taxes and EV incentives? They are going to find another way to tax us. Maybe by attaching a GPS device to every car and charging by the mile.
  • Kwik_Shift And the so-called GND / TGR experts were so sure of themselves.
  • Verbal It seems there is an increasing number of cases where the factories send out software updates to fix their products in the customer fleet. Either their software engineers don't know what they're doing, or the factories are using their customers as beta testers, or both.
  • Kwik_Shift "But wait...there's more!"
  • Buickman Corruption vs Ineptitude.
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