Better to look at, sit in and drive. It's the best Sportage yet.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD Review

Heavier but pretty much better in every other way

By: Amos Kwon

Web2Carz Editor-In-Chief

Published: April 22nd, 2016

Kia wants to make their small CUV a serious competitor. Well, it can't get worse since it ranks dead last in terms of sales for the segment -- and not because its third generation Sportage was a bad car. But if you're not a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4, you had better be damned good at your craft. Sure the last Sportage was pretty to look at thanks to former Audi design chief, Peter Schreyer, but it lacked amenities and driving dynamics that could've made it stand out in the crowd.

What Kia has done this time around equates to huge changes for the model, including a total exterior redesign, upgraded interior quality, ergonomics and room, increased safety measures and seriously improved driving dynamics. Let's take a look at and see if these changes make the Sportage a more serious contender in an ever-growing field.

  • Driving Impressions

    This new Sportage is significantly better than the last version in terms of driving pleasure. Thanks to the new multilink independent rear suspension, the car feels more planted, especially when it comes to corners. The car is also noticeably stiffer, making the Sportage more than capable beyond the straight line.

    We drove it hard through some esses, and the result was surprising. The Kia held on well in spite of its increased heft. We thought it easily outmanaged the RAV4 we recently drove, and we had more fun doing it. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine had good throttle response and grunt without noticeable turbo lag. Sport mode only improved the driving experience with quicker shifts and throttle responses. This is a sporty CUV that will deliver more than most of its buyers will get to exploit.

    • Ride Quality: Very smooth in most conditions, including pavement gaps and undulations, thanks to the new rear setup and increased chassis rigidity.
    • Steering: We liked the steering feel and precision. The car responds well to inputs, though the flat bottom steering wheel seems like wishful thinking in this segment.
    • Acceleration: The turbo engine gives the Sportage scoot, and the motor doesn't feel like it's being overworked. We'd probably avoid the non-turbo engine, though.
    • Braking:Brakes are responsive and progressive. Good bite without any jarring.
    • Handling: You can feel the Sportage's weight, but it does manage curves well for its heft. The engineers did right by the chassis and suspension.

  • Technology and Safety

    Kia didn't mess around this time, giving the Sportage a ton of upgraded tech and features that make it seriously competitive in the segment. We had the top trim Sportage, but even the base car gets Bluetooth, Satellite Radio and streaming audio capability. Upgrade to the EX and you get UVO3 infotainment, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and you can also notch up to a sweet 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system that rocks the house.

    Safety becomes one of the Sportage's strongest selling points thanks to available automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

    • Infotainment Screen Size/Quality: The 8" touchscreen is clear and responsive with great visuals and an intuitive system. Dash display is also helpful, even letting you know what wiper stage you've selected.
    • Bluetooth Phone Pairing: No issues here pairing smartphones. One of the quickest we've experienced.
    • Voice/Sound Quality: Good call quality on both sides. Audio is full and clear with the upgraded Harman Kardon sound system.
    • Controls: Secondary knob controls for climate and audio make driving easy. A good setup, too, that's very easy to operate.
    • Safety: The host of safety features is very competitive in this set, and Kia gave it the full beans in terms of available measures that keep you safe on the road and in crazy parking lots.

  • Exterior Design & Styling

    Taken as a whole, the Sportage looks good. It actually ditches the sleek, swept back look of its predecessor. The old car was quite attractive, if not upscale. The new Sportage takes on a more German approach, looking more like a scrunched up Porsche Macan than a descendent of Asia. The new design is more upright, better-proportioned and more opulent with the right amount of styling detail to make it look unconventional but not overly daring.

    Everything about the exterior looks more refined, and the Sportage's profile and rear three-quarter are its best views. The front end is a bit controversial largely because it looks like it's trying just a tad too hard to look different. More than one styling element stands out, which makes things crowded and somewhat busy but not wholly unattractive.

    • Front: The tiger-nose grille seems a bit too small for the rather in-your-face ice cube fog lights on the lower fascia. They seem to be fighting each other for attention, and the silver fins below the fog lamps seem like an afterthought.
    • Rear: We like the Sportage's tail section. It's clean and almost minimalist in an age of over-styling. We just wish the taillights wouldn't protrude past the liftgate width.
    • Profile: The Sportage's short front and rear overhangs give it an agile look, as does the tapering greenhouse glass. A more pronounced body crease would help reduce visual height.

  • Driver and Passenger Comfort

    Kia is doing a great job with all of their new interiors. See our notes on the latest Optima. The Sportage follows suit with a very handsome cabin that's both comfortable and ergonimcally well-done. Everything is laid out well and easy to see and use, while the materials have also improved. The only hard, unpleasant surface was the trim below the center console.

    The heated and ventilated seats were superb, and even the rear seats were pretty good for tall passengers (except the middle seat, which is still punishingly small for anything but a quick jaunt). perhaps an affectation too far.

    • Front Seats: We loved the front seats, which were good looking, supportive and well-bolstered. Long trips should not be a problem in these.
    • Rear Seats: Not surprising that for this segment, only two passengers can fit comfortably in the second row.
    • Visibility: Good forward visibility due to thinner A-pillars. C-pillars have also been shaved a bit, but you still need the blind-sport monitoring to get around them.

  • Storage and Cargo Room

    You won't haul a ton of gear in a small CUV. Anyone who's had one for more than a week knows that, but Kia has improved the cargo space by giving the second row a lower flattening position to accommodate more of your stuff.

    The cargo section behind the second row has been upsized from 29 to 31 cubic feet. A unique feature allows drivers to lower the cargo section's load floor by three inches. The power rear hatch opens automatically if you stand behind it with the keys. A brilliant feature that makes hands full of items less of a burden.

    • Storage: Kia does a great job with cupholders, door pockets and center armrests. All of these storage areas work well, and the cubbies in front of the gearshift and behind the cupholders are extra convenient.
    • Trunk/Cargo Room: Ample enough for weekend trips but no serious long hauls. The dropping load floor lets you eek out just a bit more to get those last items crammed in.

  • Final Impressions

    We didn't have lofty expectations for the new Sportage, since the last one was pretty decent, if not mind-blowing. What we came away with was the distinct impression that Kia did their homework on this one. It's better than the last small CUV in just about every way. It handles better and is actually enjoyable on spirited drives. Despite its heft, the Sportage takes turns like a champ and receives steering inputs surprisingly well. From a comfort perspective, no one will complain about the interior digs and features. Though $30K+ for a Kia seems high, it has features found on cars costing $15K more, one of Kia's stronger selling points.

    Anyone in the market for a small CUV that has it all should consider the Sportage. It won't be confused with any other CUV from a styling perspective, and it drives better than most. Kia is upscaling most of their cars, and it shows. The Sportage is the recipient of the right amount of attention from their designers and engineers, and the payoff is a solid one.

  • Price & Specifications

    Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

    Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode

    Drivetrain/Layout: All-wheel drive, front-engined

    Power Output: 237 hp, 260 lb-ft of torque

    Fuel Economy (mpg): 20 city / 23highway

    Base Price: $34,000

    As Tested: $34,895 (incl. $895 destination)

    Standard Features: All-wheel drive with center locking differential, 19" alloy wheels, anti-lock braking system, traction control system, electronic stability control, downhill brake/hill-start assist control, tire pressure monitoring system, dual-zone auto climate control with auto-defog, Harman Kardon Premium Audio with Clari-Fi, UVO 8" Navigation w/ Android Auto, SIRIUSXM Satellite Radio w/ free 3-mo. subscription, leather seat trim, heated and ventilated power front seats, push button start with Smart Key, heated D-shaped steering wheel with paddle shifters, 4.2" color TFT LCD meter cluster, rear camera display, blind spot detection, lane change assist, lane departure warning system, rear cross traffic alert, front/rear parking assist system, autonomous emergency braking, auto on/off HID headlights, dynamic bending light and high beam assist, LED fog and taillights, power-folding heated mirrors with LED turn signals, panoramic sunroof, smart "hands free" power liftgate

    Options on our test vehicle: none

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