Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: 2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD

2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD - Subcompact Culture

Let’s face it: Some people need something larger than a subcompact car. Many people looking to upsize from a small car choose a small crossover vehicle—a segment with many choices including Honda’s CR-V, Toyota’s RAV4, Subaru’s Forester, Ford’s Escape, and the new-for-2011 Kia Sportage.

Kia is now one of the fastest growing car companies in the U.S., and it is turning out some world-class vehicles. Case in point, the Korean automaker’s recently redesigned Sportage compact crossover. Now in its third generation, Sportage has grown up, been refined, and gotten a healthy dose of styling and, well, sport. A far cry from the first generation model, which “sported” a 94 horsepower engine, body-on-frame construction, and part-time four-wheel drive, the ’11 Sportage is poised to be strong competitor in the crowded crossover segment. Complete with all-wheel drive, a six-speed transmission, and a downright attractive exterior, the Sportage has come into its own.

Speaking of exteriors, I found the new Sportage’s appearance fantastic. It’s a sleek, modern, attractive take on the CUV. There are LED “eyebrows” in the headlamps, great-looking taillights, and distinctive 18” alloy wheels. Dare I say it’s somewhat sexy?

2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD interior - Subcompact Culture

That attractive package continues onto the interior. My loaded test model, an EX trim level with AWD, had heated leather front seats (including an air-conditioned driver’s seat which was fantastic), a great sounding stereo and intuitive navigation system, easy-to-pair Bluetooth connectivity, an air-conditioned glovebox, dual moonroofs, and a fine set of gauges with trip computer. The overall interior design, like the exterior, is modern, forward, and sophisticated.

2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD - Subcompact Culture

There is plenty of space in this compact CUV. Both front and rear seats offer ample legroom, and storage is plentiful. The rear seats, of course, fold down to accommodate larger loads. In my semi-weekly trip to Coscto, the Sportage easily gobbled up everything I bought, with plenty of room to spare.

Driving the Sportage was a pleasant surprise. I only say it’s a surprise because I spent a short time in the car at the NWAPA’s Mudfest event in late 2010. I remember it being somewhat pokey. For whatever reason, the car didn’t feel sluggish at all this time around. In fact, the 176 horsepower 2.4-liter DOHC engine with variable valve timing, felt like it had ample power. (A 260 horsepower turbocarged engine is also available if you want to really put the “sport” in Sportage ). Mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting abilities, this Kia is quiet, responsive, and rode nicely whether driving around town or cruising the highway.

2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD wheel - Subcompact Culture
My test model had the DynaMax full-time all-wheel drive system with a center lock feature for deep snow, sand, etc. In addition, it also has a hill descent mode, which automatically limits downhill speed by applying the brakes when needed. I tried this out in some of the hillier areas of Portland, and it worked very well. Handling is surprisingly nimble, too thanks in part to the large 18” tires, taught suspension, and all-wheel drive.

Kia has really done an excellent job with the latest Sportage, adding great amounts of nearly everything you’d want in a CUV. In fact, while I had the car for a week, I kept trying to find something I just didn’t like about it. There really wasn’t anything. EPA fuel economy is rated 21 city, 28 highway, which is dead-nuts on par with its competition.

2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD - Subcompact Culture

The Sportage EX AWD review vehicle I had stickers for $29,990 including destination. While years ago, it might have seemed crazy to pay $30K for a Kia, nowadays, you’re getting a lot of vehicle for your money. Plus, you’re getting the company’s 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty and 5 year/60,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty.

If you’re looking to upsize from your smaller vehicle, but not looking to go too big, the Kia Sportage CUV might just fit the bill. If you’re looking for a compact CUV, this model should definitely be on your shopping list.


nlpnt said...

-It has the Soul's high load floor. I wonder if there's a storage compartment underneath it.

-$30k is a lot for a car that starts at $18k (and is available with the same powertrain you tested for $21). I guess the industry is trending back towards the arm's-length option list. Too bad only the ultra-decontented base version's available with a manual, though.

Andy Lilienthal said...

• Yes, there is underfloor storage under the cargo deck.

• Although the car can be had for as little as $18,295 (not including destination), you're getting a 2WD version with a manual transmission. And my guess, is you'd have a hard time actually finding one of these.

Again, this was a fully-loaded EX. I do agree with you on the manual trans/AWD thing, too. However, it looks like we're part of the 8% who actually want a manual transmission in a new car!