By on August 9, 2016

2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

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.

2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

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.

2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

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.

2017 Kia Sportage SX Interior, Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

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.

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42 Comments on “This 2017 Kia Sportage SX Was Broken and Slow, Now It’s Fixed and Fast...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    It just_doesn’t_look like $35,000. It may be fast, and have an interior full of Audi cues, but it still falls down. Much rather have the Escape.

    Or an MKC AWD for same price.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      The front end’s cartoonishness certainly cheapens the look, counteracts the wheels (which look amazing in person), and contradicts the premium price point.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        At least in the pics, I get ’80s 280ZX from those wheels.

        http://13252-presscdn-0-94.pagely.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/1983_Nissan_280ZX_Turbo_For_Sale_resize.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      Don’t know about this high end model, but I drove a previous 4wd Sportage, and an Escape – each for about 6k miles, and trust me, you do not want the escape.

      • 0 avatar
        Scott_314

        Why not the Escape? Wife is kinda leaning that way.

        • 0 avatar
          ect

          My wife and I had the same experience, when we were carshopping in 2013-4. We drove both the upmarket version of the Escape and the Sportage SX, and felt the latter had it all over the former – more features, better performance/handling, MUCH better driver ergonomics.

          We ultimately decided against a CUV, but of all those we drove (a bunch), the Sportage was head and shoulders above the rest. Much to our surprise, actually.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Those holes on the ends of the front bumper remind me of cheap sci-fi flicks where the android would get an owie through which you could see its cogs & sprockets.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Pooh on Kia (or its distributor) for not sorting that out before the car was sent to a journalist. In a world where auto-journalists are still given supplied outright ringers, I’m surprised one ended up with a car that was defective.

    As for pricing, it doesn’t sound like Kia is too interested in competing with mainstream compact crossovers; the Tucson does a good job of that. The Sportage is for a particular kind of customer, as I thought it was punchy and well-balanced even in baser forms.

    It kind of even looks like a budget Macan (another brilliant crossover from behind the wheel).

    The Sorento, OTOH, is a market in which Kia is trying to be competitive, and it shows because the Sorento’s driving dynamics are more aimed toward damping and comfort, but it is well-priced. Of course, it’s a tweener, residing between a properly-midsized, two-row crossover (Santa Fe Sport) and a full-sized, seven-seater one (Santa Fe).

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Combined with the dangerous Canada-only airbags in Hyundai models, and my theory gains more ground that Hyundai-Kia don’t care about Canadians!

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      If only the Sportage drove like a budget Macan. Not that I expect that level of dynamic excellence, but that kind of performance-oriented character would be great, it would set the Sportage apart from the Tucson and essentially every rival. If the Tucson, Santa Fe Sport, and Sorento are all attracting the conventional family crossover customer, give me something different. And no, power is not enough to equal performance. In the end, the Sportage feels like an undersized Sorento for near-Sorento money. No thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        It’s definitely more solid than the old one, which just felt flimsy.

        How do you think this compares to, say, a CX-5 or an Escape with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost?

        • 0 avatar
          Timothy Cain

          vs. CX-5: such a massive power difference in the Kia’s favour. CX-5 handling is far more engaging, but Kia is distinctly more refined. (I like the CX-5 but have a problem with the way the track appears too narrow for its body, as well.)

          vs. 2.0EB Escape: the Escape, like so many modern Fords, has that wonderfully European Ford feel. But the cabin is snug and, as the driver, I often felt like the console and door were always too close. If the Kia had the on-road feel of the Escape then the Sportage would be a real treat.

      • 0 avatar
        SC5door

        I don’t see how the Tucson is attracting customers that are “conventional”; 19″ wheels, 1.6T and DCT aren’t typically features that CRV buyers would shop for.

        Any indications of how Dynamax is tuned in the Sportage?

        • 0 avatar
          Timothy Cain

          Yes, the Tucson is catering exclusively to a very avant-garde consumer, far out of the mainstream, who is considering importing an old RHD Land Rover Defender from the UK but is struggling to determine whether he should go for a new Tucson, a CPO Macan, or the old Defender. It’s WAY out there.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Biermann wants to do a GT version of the Sportage with upgraded bits.

        Hopefully, he’ll get the greenlight (altho, USDM tuning falls well short of the tuning Kia does for the Australian market).

        In addition, H/K are working on a DCT which can handle the power of the 2.0T and that, with the 8 spd AT replacing the 6 spd AT, should both make the 2.0T Sportage even quicker.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      “The Sportage is for a particular kind of customer”

      Which is meeee! Could have bought a lower mileage Matrix for what we paid for my wife’s Rabbit, but the higher refinement and torquier engine make for a much nicer road trip car.

      Sportage is definitely up half a tier over the likes of something like a CR-V. Plus Tim says the Sportage gets pricey… a top of the line CR-V costs the same, and admittedly has some more features for the money (memory seats and a CD player), but is also down 60+ horsepower and looks nowhere as good. Similar story in the rest of the class (including the Tuscon I think), and to me nothing else in the class looks anywhere near as good.

      Sorento is a belly dragging boat. I’d rather just fully surrender and get the Sedona. The real threat to the Sportage, at least in SX trim, is the RDX…. but you would lose a lot, like nav, to get a so-so badge. If the Sportage SX can fit a rearward facing child seat behind my leggy wife we might have to take that plunge.

  • avatar
    LIKE TTAC.COM ON FACEBOOK

    The loose fastener problem is likely to reoccur as amateur assemblers use the freebie Allen wrenches to assemble their iKias.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Hey, decent Allens are expensive! Made the mistake of agreeing to set up a coworker’s guitar and found all I had anymore were T-handles that wouldn’t angle through the soundhole for the trussrod.

      Basic set of Eklinds cost 30 bucks and I’ll never use them again if I can get a T-handle on something. Wish I’d had the right size freebie.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Forget the turbo – too pricey, too much gas.

    I’d get the pedestrian FWD 2.4. In this car, AWD and the turbo kill fuel economy and drive the price way, way up.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Does tightening the clamp help with the horrible fuel economy?

    This isn’t the first press car with this generation 2.0T that has been delivered with a problem. The Sonata Sport with the 2.0T was delivering 8-second 0-60 times for 3 separate publications, one of which I believe also reported on a loose turbo clamp and speculated it was the cause of the sluggishness. So, either the same press car was driven by all 3 of those publications or, as this Sportage case indicates, there’s a quality control problem. If you buy one, make sure it actually feels like a 2.0T on the test drive.

    And as long as the Forester XT exists on dealer lots and the v6 Rav4 exists in memory, I won’t recognize the Sportage or Escape as “fast”

  • avatar
    Frylock350

    “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.”

    What segment is the Sportage considered to be in? A 3.6L AWD Terrain/Equinox has no difficulty dispatching a Sportage SX AWD Turbo at the dragstrip. The Kia is 0.4 seconds and 2mph slower in the 1/4 mile. Maybe the GM twins are too large to be considered competitors?

    http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2013-gmc-terrain-v-6-awd-instrumented-test-review
    Zero to 60 mph: 6.5 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 17.5 sec
    Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 7.0 sec
    Top gear, 30-50 mph: 3.4 sec
    Top gear, 50-70 mph: 4.9 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 15.0 sec @ 93 mph

    C&D’s numbers for the Kia are:
    Zero to 60 mph: 6.9 sec
    Zero to 100 mph: 18.9 sec
    Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 7.5 sec
    Top gear, 30-50 mph: 3.4 sec
    Top gear, 50-70 mph: 4.7 sec
    Standing ¼-mile: 15.4 sec @ 91 mph

    I don’t recall the numbers but I believe a Jeep Cherokee V6 will match the performance of the Kia.

    For the $35k price of the Kia, I’ll have a Ram 1500 Tradesman.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “For the price of this hamburger, I’ll have a salad instead.”

      • 0 avatar
        Frylock350

        “For the price of this hamburger, I’ll have a salad instead.”

        I know that was meant as a joke; but its how plenty of people shop. Most folks do not pick a specific class of vehicle and then pick from the list (ie I want a compact CUV). They’re more general with goals like “I want a sporty car” or “I want a utility vehicle” or “I want a vehicle for $xxx a month”. I know someone who cross-shopped a Prius and a Dodge minivan. Another who looked at a Civic Si and ended up in a JGC. Americans also tend to want to think they’ve gotten value. Once a smaller vehicle’s tag starts getting up to the price of a more capable vehicle; the more capable vehicle gets the sale. Also remember often times vehicles in this class are chosen for financial reasons rather than for their own sake. Folks will choose them to save money versus the Pilot or JGC they may really want. Once the price tag gets up into the territory of the other vehicles it loses that proposition.

        So yes plenty of folks will cross shop the salad. Here’s a more apt food analogy that captures the idea:

        “What this hamburger is $15? I’ll just pay $16 and get a steak.”

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Mid $30’s is Terrain Denali terriory …with a V6 and the usual $4,000+ discount. It runs with the Acura RDX and be consistent than Kia turbo numbers.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Not a word in here about how the thing turns. And that’s probably appropriate if it’s typical of Hyundais and Kias in the handling department.

    I don’t see any advantages of this Sportage over a Forester XT except for somewhat nicer interior materials (and likely interior assembly quality).

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      This is a legit bugaboo. The steering in a Kia Soul rental I had infuriated me to the point that I returned it early for another car at another rental outfit across town. All jokes aside, my sim racing wheel delivers significantly better steering feel than any recent H/K product I’ve driven.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        I found that the Soul would turn both left and right to whatever degree my input to the steering wheel requested it. And that held true for reverse as well as forward gears.

        I’m a typical mass auto consumer target and I’m not understanding your complaint.

        (Great seats and, for a modern car, sightlines, too)

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          We have a ’14 Soul. The steering feel is merely adequate, as is the acceleration and braking, but driving dynamics are not exactly that car’s forte (pun intended). It does what it’s designed to do.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      H/K cuvs handling ox carts.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Not CX-5 beaters in the handling dept., but better than anything else in their segment except for maybe the refreshed Escape in that regard.

      The Tucson has actually beaten the CX-5 in Australian reviews due to having a better ride and NVH (note: Australian tuning for Hyundai and Kia is better than what we get here.)

    • 0 avatar
      Frylock350

      @dal20402,

      The rental Sedona I had handled very well for what it. The powertrain felt anemic, but it went around corners much better than you’d expect a minivan to do so.

  • avatar
    FalcoDog

    So are all these little SUVs the future or just a fad?

    None of them appear to be all that great.

  • avatar
    mik101

    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.

    • 0 avatar
      DJM

      Unless the instrument cluster has a boost gauge how is the reviewer to know that the engine is not developing boost? I would not expect any moto-journalist to carry/install an OBDII scanner on a car being reviewed. I would however, expect the vehicle to be vetted by the corporate reps before being handed over.

      As for the claim of pulling timing to prevent detonation, that will only occur under boost conditions, certainly not with a charge piping leak and no boost.

      The diagnosis of turbo intake leak is misleading, as if it’s on the air filter/MAF side, not the intake manifold/charge-air MAP side as it actually appears to be.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      #MakeKiaMakeBoostAgain

    • 0 avatar

      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.

  • avatar
    EX35

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

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