Review: Kia puts sport in the Sportage
A few weeks ago I wrote about an Audi Q5, a jaw-dropping luxury crossover that, when equipped with just about every option imaginable, arrived for my weeklong test-drive with a price tag of $60,000. It is perhaps the ultimate compact luxury SUV, but with a price tag unaffordable to many.
What if I told you there was a way to get many of the Q5's features, not to mention more than a passing resemblance to its looks, for about half the price? Now what if I told you the vehicle in mind is not from a German luxury brand, but a Korean automaker associated more with value and economy?
That's just the case with the latest version of the Kia Sportage, a popular compact crossover vehicle whose 2011 revamp gave it better looks, handling and creature comforts than its relatively crude predecessors.
Most Sportage models use a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 176 horsepower, which I found to be plenty energetic and a great complement to Kia's eager six-speed automatic transmission during my review of that model last year.
But Kia, whose U.S. headquarters is in Irvine, has quietly introduced the SX version to the Sportage line, and in doing so has brought forth a rather exhilarating ride. In this souped-up version of the little utility vehicle, Kia has transplanted a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder into the engine bay.
Though smaller than the normal engine, this one is stroked to make a very potent 260 horsepower, nearly 90 more than the regular motor. For comparison, the Audi Q5's upscale engine produces 270 horsepower – and is a V-6. Meanwhile, the Q5's base, four-cylinder engine, itself turbocharged, is "only" good for 211 ponies.
The results in the Kia are apparent as soon as you nail the throttle. This vehicle is deceptively fast. Not surprisingly, in front-wheel-drive form, the vehicle battles torque steer, a situation that makes it difficult to control the steering wheel when you have this much power going to the front wheels. I imagine this would be tamed if you opeted for the all-wheel-drive version of the vehicle.
Other than the more powerful engine, it's hard to tell the Sportage SX from its lesser brethren. Since this is the top-of-the-line model, though, it sports plenty of goodies such as 18-inch alloy wheels that border on the audacious, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, power driver's seat, LED running lights and leather-wrapped steering wheel. My tester arrived further enhanced with navigation system, rearview camera, heated seats and panoramic sunroof. Total damage: $30,490.
That price is in line with or just below comparable compact utility vehicles, or CUVs, and of course way below premium competitors like the Q5. I keep bringing up the latter because, in addition to the similar power of the two, you might notice a resemblance. I certainly do, and that isn't a great surprise: A few years ago Kia snagged Audi's former design chief. Since then, the look of Kia vehicles has gotten dramatically better.
Admittedly, the comparison is still apples to oranges. The Sportage, even dressed to the hilt, isn't a "luxury" vehicle. The leather isn't as nice, the seats aren't nearly as supportive, and the ride and sound insulation are not on par. And no matter how good the Sportage looks, in my eyes it still can't match the lines of the Q5.
Yet the Sportage SX gives you a whole lot of bang for the buck, and makes for one fun ride. It feels like the deviant child in Kia's lineup, sort of like the Mazdaspeed3 in Mazda's.
Like that car, the Sportage SX is still quite practical, with the ability to adequately seat up to five while offering a decent amount of cargo space in back. It's easy to drive and offers a good view to the front (but beware of the blind spots in the rear). To my surprise, I averaged 23.6 mpg in fuel economy over the week, a little better than what I got in the non-turbo version of the Sportage.
But you'll pay for the potency. While a base version of the Sportage can be had for just over $19,000, strapping on the turbo and getting the SX's accompaniments will cost you roughly eight grand more. That's quite a premium for the added power, but a good value relative to all that that money buys you. Put it another way: It's still half the cost of that loaded Q5.
Your turn: Share your own opinion on the Kia Sportage in the comments area below.
This week’s ride: 2011 Kia Sportage SX Fwd
Type: Five-passenger, front or all-wheel-drive SUV
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder
Total power: 260 horsepower, 269 lbs.-ft. torque
Fuel economy rating: 22 mpg city/27 highway
Base price, with destination (2012 model): $19,300
Price as equipped: $30,490
The good: Power, value, looks, size
The bad: Front seat bolstering, rear blind spots, torque steer
Guess where: Do you know where in Orange County this photo of the Kia Sportage was taken? Guess in the comments area below. The correct answer to last week’s photo of the Hyundai Genesis was at the Anaheim Convention Center.