The Kia Sportage compact crossover exudes a sporty character, led by its distinctive design but augmented by sharp handling and a turbocharger option.
Redesigned for the 2017 model year, the Sportage sees only minor revisions for 2018. Vital safety technology, including autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, is more broadly available on 2018 Sportage models.
The 2018 Kia Sportage comes in three trim levels: LX, EX, and SX Turbo.
Each is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Biased toward the front wheels, the all-wheel-drive system is fully automatic, needing no input from the driver. Like most crossovers in its category, the Sportage promises no off-roading credentials.
Sportage LX and EX versions hold a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated to deliver 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. In the SX Turbo, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder produces 240 horsepower (237 hp with all-wheel drive) and 260 pound-feet. Either way, a 6-speed automatic is the sole transmission.
Kia has a long tradition of offering well-equipped vehicles for the price, and the Sportage carries on that standard.
A rearview camera is standard. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts are standard on Sportage EX and SX Turbo. Technology Packages with modern safety features, including autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warnings, are available for LX and EX trim levels, standard on Sportage SX Turbo.
Ratings of Good for each crash-test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety resulted in designation of the 2018 Kia Sportage as a Top Safety Pick when fitted with emergency braking.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has rated the Sportage at five stars overall and for the side-impact crash, but just four stars for frontal collision and rollover crash protection (the latter a calculated figure, not based on testing).
Sportage LX ($23,600) has front-wheel drive and the 2.4-liter engine. Standard equipment includes a rearview camera, cloth upholstery, basic 5.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, six-speaker audio, Bluetooth, 17-inch alloy wheels, power windows and locks, and air conditioning. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $990 destination charge.)
All-wheel drive is optional ($1,500) on all models.
Sportage EX ($26,400) adds 18-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, 7.0-inch touchscreen, foglamps, and heated power-folding mirrors. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is included.
Sportage SX Turbo ($32,900) substitutes the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, adding a sport-tuned suspension. Standard features include autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, parking sensors, paddle shifters, 19-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, and power tailgate.
More than most compact crossovers, the Sportage relies on a swoopy design and a sporty nature. Some consider its bold styling excessive. A relatively long wheelbase and short overhangs gives it a feisty appearance.
The front ends are slightly different on all-wheel-drive models, which have greater ground clearance.
SX Turbos flaunt the most dressed-up look, helped by 19-inch alloy wheels. Slim taillights are tied together by a refined chromes strip. A red panel connects LX and EX rear lamps.
Within the classy, reasonably roomy Sportage cabin, soft-touch plastics mix with helpful ergonomics, resulting in a sense of high quality, even in basic LX models.
Fabric upholstery in base LX trim is appropriate, if not noteworthy. EX and SX Turbo trim levels move up to leather. Soft-feel surfaces appear on both the dashboard and front doors.
Front seats provide good support. Headroom and knee clearance are satisfying up front and in the outboard rear seats. Out back, a third passenger shouldn’t feel too squeezed, at least for short trips.
Cargo space totals almost 31 cubic feet behind the second row, expanding to 60.1 cubic feet with seatbacks folded. Low liftover height eases luggage loading.
On the cleanly laid-out, driver-oriented dashboard, controls sit within easy reach. Split into upper and lower halves, the dashboard is slightly canted, helping the driver focus on gauges.
Three infotainment screens are available. Clear, high-resolution 7.0- and 8.0-inch touchscreens don’t wash out on sunny days. Kia’s UVO infotainment operates better than most, and is easy to navigate.
Outward visibility is impeded by thick roof pillars and a high beltline.
Ride comfort and handling prowess are Sportage strong points. LX editions with 17-inch tires yield the softest ride, but the EX is only a tad stiffer. SX Turbos ride on firmer springs, with different dampers. Steering is set up slightly differently, too, giving the SX a distinctive character.
Handling confidently and predictably, unlike some competitors, the Sportage shows minimal sloppiness. By compact crossover standards, at least, the Sportage feels sure-footed through curves and corners. Steering offers a little more heft than is customary. LX and EX models feel well-planted, without being overly firm.
The Sportage is impressively quiet, thanks to extensive sound-deadening and acoustic glass.
With either engine, performance ranks above average. The basic 2.4-liter engine performs adequately, but cannot be called inspiring. Acceleration is more stirring with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, in the SX Turbo.
Kia’s all-wheel-drive system reacts swiftly on slippery surfaces, to improve grip by the rear tires. A special front bumper that provides slightly more ground clearance goes on AWD models, to help on snow-covered pavement.
The quiet base engine sends only a subdued growl into the cabin. Especially with all-wheel drive, fuel economy trails class-leading rivals. An LX with front-wheel drive is EPA-rated at 23/30 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops that estimate to an unimpressive 21/25/22 mpg. Slightly larger wheels cut EX figures to 22/29/25 mpg with front-wheel drive, or 21/25/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.
SX Turbos consume the most, EPA-rated at 21/26 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined, with front-wheel drive; and only 20/23/21 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The Kia Sportage is a competent crossover that stands out mostly for styling and value. It has a modestly sporty nature. The cabin feels like refined quality, and front seats promise long-trek comfort. Especially in SX Turbo form, the Sportage performs with a touch of gusto. Kia’s warranty is another plus.
Driving impressions by Andrew Ganz, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.