Kia’s Sportage is much improved, but…

Center stack of the Kia Sportage.

Center stack of the Kia Sportage; it’s user-friendly with well-marked buttons and dials.

The popular compact sport-utility “crossover” vehicles have consistently failed to make a big impression on our drivers. Some of these models don’t have sufficient legroom for tall drivers; some are saddled with cramped back seats; and a few don’t seem to ride and handle as well as the sedans on which they’re based. Kia has corrected almost all of these deficiencies with the introduction of the redesigned, much-improved Sportage … but a few remain.

The base Sportage, equipped with a 2.4-liter inline Four, 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive, starts at $22,990. Our 2017 Sportage SX AWD, sporting Pacific Blue paint, was a different animal. In addition to all-wheel drive, it had a 2-liter, 237-horsepower turbocharged engine and a standard-equipment list that nudged it into the near-luxury category. Its sticker price was $34,895.

In terms of what matters most – ride, noise level and handling – the Sportage is among the best. Past Sportages we’ve driven have been a little noisy and a lot clumsy. The turbo brings a fair amount of fun into the driving experience, and Kia has done wondrous things with this model’s handling qualities. It’s also very quiet, and the ride is quite smooth, considering the high level of communication between the driver’s hands and road.

Kia missed an opportunity to lure tall drivers into the Sportage by ensuring sufficient knee room for rear-seat passengers, regardless of the positioning of the front seats. As it is, 6-foot drivers will wish for a bit more legroom, but the test car was equipped with power seats, so our tallest driver used the tilt function to good effect.

The car’s other major deficiency, compared with its major competitors, is fuel economy. Our high-powered, AWD-equipped test car was rated at a paltry 20 mpg city, 23 highway. With the standard engine and front-wheel drive, mileage increases to 23/30. Even that’s not as high as, say, the larger Mazda CX-5 with all-wheel drive – 24/30. Comparing combined city-highway averages, the Sportage with turbo and all-wheel drive falls about 4 mpg short of the similarly equipped (though less powerful) Toyota RAV4.

The Sportage’s dashboard array is similar to that of the Kia Optima we tested recently, and that’s to the good. Each switch is clearly labeled with a word describing its function, rather than one of the tiny, hard-to-decipher icons used in many modern vehicles.

The cargo compartment is nicely finished, and there’s room for small items around the compact spare tire under the rear deck.

Major competitors include the RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape and Mazda CX-3. In our experience, midsize crossovers cost a little more but are much easier to live with. Kia’s next step up is the well-regarded Sorento. Corporate cousin Hyundai is also solidly in the game, with the compact Tucson and midsize Santa Fe.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has rated the Sportage a Top Safety Pick Plus.

 

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

 

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD

Price: $34,895

Engine: 2-liter turbocharged inline Four, 237 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Ground clearance: 7.3 in.

Weight: 3,997 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 19-in. alloy

Tires: 245/45R19 all-season

Max. towing capacity: 2,000 lb.

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 30.7 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 60.1 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 16.4 gal.

Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 23 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

 

 

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