2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Korean refinement with a thirsty side


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: A blast to drive, punchy and nimble for its weight, well-executed interior, enough space to be daily practical.
Negatives: Guzzles gas for something this compact, polarizing front end style, some turbo lag.
Bottom Line: The Kia Sorento in SX trim is one of the most entertaining, well-crafted small crossovers we've driven. It's a shame it doesn't sell better because it's essentially a Korean car that's built like a German one. The interior is wonderful, and the thing is built like a tank. The best part is that it's small enough and potent enough to behave more like a tall sporty car than a crossover.
The Kia Sportage has changed its look so often, it's almost hard to keep track, but the current model ups the ante by offering styling, amenties, and power never seen before by the previous models. Now, in its third production year, the current generation (the fourth) stands out from its predecessors in a big way. Designed by former Audi head of design, Peter Schreyer, it looks far different and has even more to offer. But it's also pitted against the likes of the Mazda CX-5, the upcoming Toyota RAV4, and the new Honda CR-V, all of which sell better. We drove the top trim SX with its turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive to see how it stacks up. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

8.4

 

The Sportage in SX trim and the bigger engine is surprisingly great to drive, something that most crossovers can't boast about. Kia also ups the Sportage's overall ride feel thanks to refinements in the chassis structure and rigidity.

Ride Quality: Very smooth in most conditions, including pavement gaps and undulations, thanks to the new rear setup and increased chassis rigidity.

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: The Sportage has good brakes, but the pedal feel is a bit mushy initially. Stopping distances are about average.

Steering: Steering is pretty good in terms of turn-in and precision, but feedback is near absent. The Mazda CX-5 is far better in this regard.

Handling: Though the car is on the heavy side, it manages body roll well, and the chassis is capable.

Technology

8.6

 

Kia's UVO system is great, and the available tech in the cabin also works remarkably well. We wish other automakers would make their systems operate like this, even if there's nothing particularly fancy about the looks.

Infotainment System: The 8" touchscreen has good responsiveness, and the icons and menus are easy to read and understand.

Controls: Kia does a good job with physical knobs and buttons for climate and infotainment. Clean linear rows of buttons flanked by large, usable knobs make driving safer and operation easier.

Styling

8.2

 

Overall, the Sportage is an attractive small crossover, but some may balk at the rather odd front end. We have mixed feelings about it. At least it stands out from the crowd.

Front: The front fascia is the Sportage's oddest view. The tiger-nose grille seems too small, overtaken by the big bumper and dramatic square fog lights. Perhaps the refresh will result in a cleaner look.

Rear: We like the Sportage's tail section in spite of the numerous horizontal lines to decrease visual height. The rear is actually simply styled, a contrast to the rather busy front end.

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.

Cabin: Aside from the bulky dash, the interior is good execution of style. It's dark, but the cabin is attrative and clean.

Comfort

8.3

 

Small crossovers rarely feel really spacious by virtue of their exterior dimensions, but the Sportage does a good job with front row passengers and solid ergonomics.

Front Seats: The front seats are supportive and well-cushioned. They could use a bit more bolstering for those harder turns.

Rear Seats: Not surprising that for this segment, only two passengers can fit comfortably in the second row.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The cabin is pretty quiet, and the quality is good, so there are no squeaks or rattles. The turbo engine makes itself known when pushed hard, but it's never intrusive.

Visibility: There's good visibility out the front thanks to thinner A-pillars. C-pillars have been reduced in back, but you still need the blind-spot monitoring system to help out.

Climate: The Sportage's climate system works very well, and the cooled/heated seats fire up quickly when needed.

Safety

8.8

 

Buyers can take comfort in the fact that the Sportage is a truly safe automobile with great crash test scores and an excellent set of safety features, not something most crossovers can brag about.

IIHS Rating: It scores "good" in all crash tests and "superior" in accident avoidance tech for a Top Safety Pick rating. Headlights are merely acceptable, which narrowly prevents it from getting the Top Safety Pick+ rating.

NHTSA Rating: The Kia Sportage scores a full five stars with the federal government.

Standard Tech: The Sportage in SX trim gets Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, front/rear Parking Assist System, and Autonomous Emergency Braking, a feature that doesn't even come as optional equipment on some crossovers.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

7.6

 

You can't go on a big road trip with the Sportage unless there's only two of you (and maybe a small kid). That being said, there are useful storage spaces and a nifty cargo section with a trick up its sleeve.

Storage Space: The cabin storage is very good with cubbies and compartments galore. All of these storage areas work well, and the cubbies in front of the gearshift and behind the cupholders are great.

Cargo Room: The cargo section behind the second row increases from the last-gen Sportage, up from 29 to 31 cubic feet. A unique feature allows drivers to lower the cargo section's load floor by three inches, adding some space.

Fuel Economy

6.2

 

The Sportage isn't miserly with its turbo mill. We were a bit surprised that it did so poorly, even in light of our heavy-footedness with the throttle. The Mazda CX-5 and the Toyota RAV4 do better, but they also have less power than the punchy Sportage.

Observed: 17.8 mpg

Distance Driven: 146 miles

Driving Factors: We drove it in Sport mode all the time, and we were fairly aggressive with our acceleration. The numbers do seem consistent with the EPA estimates, which are low to begin with.

Audio

9.3

 

The Sportage's upgraded (but still standard) Harman Kardon system is excellent, and we loved listening to it. It bolts out loud and clear music, and there was no distortion. The great steering wheel audio controls (some of the best) make selecting your tunes that much easier.



Final Thoughts

The Sportage SX was truly a pleasant drive for the week, in that it provides almost everything you'd want in a small crossover. The driving fun comes a surprise in the segment, and the build quality and tech are also superb. Small families or couples will love the safety ratings and tech, while they might balk at the gas mileage. If only the face were less polarizing in design, we might actually love it more than we already do.
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