While the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have evolved to favor space efficiency and practicality over design, the Kia Sportage manages to hold onto a little more flair in the Sportage, especially if you go by its profile and stance. The 2016 Sportage makes its mark in a crowded peer set as one of the most visually interesting compact crossover offerings.
The tradeoff for those tidy looks is a small interior. By the numbers, the Sportage lands at the small end of its class, and there’s no magic that makes the interior feel any roomier. Nonetheless, the front seat has good leg and shoulder room (subtract some headroom for the sunroof), and the seats themselves are well-shaped and can be air-cooled on high-line Sportages. Back-seat passengers may be a little tight on both leg and headroom and may therefore find themselves slumped forward. At least Kia provides rear air vents to keep the kids in the rear seat comfortable.
Cargo space also suffers. With the rear seats up it measures 26.1 cubic feet. That’s more than some luxury ‘utes, but it’s a tall space without a particularly large cargo floor, so choose your luggage wisely. With the rear seats down, cargo room maxes out at 54.6 cubic feet. Singles will find that space quite useful, but it’s far less roomy than the aforementioned CR-V and RAV4.
The Sportage has no significant history of SUV roots to uphold, leaving it free to offer a more interesting driving experience in a car-like package. Off-roading isn’t on the activities list for this small crossover, nor is it likely expected of its buyer, even though the available all-wheel-drive system comes with a differential lock that splits power 50/50 at speeds up to 25 mph.
Cabin noise and ride quality have been weaknesses for the Sportage, compared to most other models in its class. However, with Kia’s introduction of more noise insulation as well as high-performance dampers, we’re hoping those issues are resolved (and we’ll update our impressions here). EX and SX versions boasted more sophisticated shocks for 2013, which made a modest improvement. Keep in mind, the big, optional 18-inch wheels don’t help. One of our other ongoing complaints with the Sportage—electric power steering that’s a bit too far on the heavy and lifeless side—was addressed for 2014 with the introduction of a new multi-mode Flex Steer system. It allows the driver to switch between three levels of steering weight, but doesn’t do much if anything to improve feel.
A choice of two four-cylinder engines is available. At the base level, the 2.4-liter direct-injection inline-4 makes 182 horsepower in the base LX model and 180 hp in the higher-line EX. The 6-speed automatic isn’t the quickest-shifting, but it’s measured and smooth. The turbocharged SX produces 260 hp; its hefty mid-range torque is enough to break the front wheels loose from a standing start or out of a tight corner. The automatic in the SX gets shift paddles for less distracted driving and better response.
Standard equipment on all three trim levels includes air conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; a tilt/telescope steering wheel; keyless entry; alloy wheels; Bluetooth; and USB/iPod connectivity. Moving up to more expensive models adds features like leather seating surfaces (newly standard for 2016), keyless ignition, satellite radio, and steering-wheel audio and phone controls. The top SX models get a cooled glove box, a power driver’s seat, leather steering wheel and shifter trim, roof rails, a rear spoiler, and 18-inch wheels. Kia’s UVO eServices telematics system with navigation is available on the EX trim and standard on SX; it includes a rearview camera.
Standard curtain airbags and stability control are joined by optional rear parking sensors and the rearview camera, both of which help with the Sportage’s sizable blind spots. Safety is beginning to fall behind the class average. The federal government gives the Sportage four stars overall with front-wheel drive and five stars with all-wheel drive, but the Sportage scores the worst rating of “Poor” in the IIHS’s small overlap frontal crash test, which prevents it from earning the Top Safety Pick award it had prior to the addition of that test.
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