What the SkyActiv should have been I have yet to wrap my head around the concept of the $50,000 Hyundai Genesis from a few weeks ago. I know I know; "the Koreans have come a long way".
The most mind-blowing part of my weekend at the ALMS race at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is that I was to spend it piloting a $40,000 Kia. Despite the recent trend of the keys to these pseudo-luxurious Korean cars mysteriously turning up in my hands, I have yet to wrap my head around the concept of the $50,000 Hyundai Genesis from a few weeks ago. I know I know; “the Koreans have come a long way”. I completely respect their efforts, but like that Genesis, like the Optima, and even the Rio, I need to drive these cars and spend some quality time with them before my mind will actually absorb the idea. Enter the $39,195 2012 Kia Sportage SX. I had a neighbour nearly a decade ago who bought a Sportage. It was a horrendous vehicle, to say the least.
This new Sportage shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai Tucson. My expectations for this little SUV weren’t that high. All it had to do was beat the Mazda CX-5 SkyActiv, which in my opinion is (was?) the best new small crossover on the market today. With its 2.0L turbocharged engine, which it shares with a plethora of other Kia/Hyundai vehicles, the Sportage delivers a surprising 260-horsepower. The one thing that always has me looking forward to driving a new Hyundai/Kia product is that they don’t use the dreaded CVT. A smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic puts the power onto the road in this Sportage.
The driving dynamics of the Sportage are enthusiastic. It’s pretty difficult to make an economy crossover fun to drive, but somehow Kia has pulled it off. It’s not a dramatic amount of power, but the Sportage is eager to go no matter what gear you’re in. Passing at highway speeds is something the Mazda CX-5 lacks the ability to do, and the Kia pulls it off effortlessly. My absolute favourite part of this Sportage was the fuel economy. Kia rates the 2012 Sportage SX right around a combined 8.6L/100km. Driving with a relatively heavy foot, I managed to average 7.0L/100km over approximately 1500km.
I’m still a firm believer in the fact that soccer moms don’t need an all-wheel-drive cute ute to take their kids to soccer practice. Other than increased ride height, vehicles in this class don’t really offer anything you don’t already get in, say, a Ford Focus Hatchback or a Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. Where this vehicle excels is on a road trip to a campsite. As I said, my colleagues and I took the Sportage on a camping weekend up to Bowmanville for ALMS race weekend. It involved four bachelors, a couple tents, and enough camping gear to last 3 nights in the wilderness. This of course included a plethora of iPads, notebooks, and camera equipment.
Okay, so ride height isn’t tall enough to venture into the same places that a Toyota FJ Cruiser might go. However, the Sportage SX eagerly barrelled through a series of dirt roads, mud, and grass to get us to our campsite a few kilometres out of civilization. The amount of technology in this thing was pretty much the same as in the Optima. However, neat little features like the power outlet in the trunk came in handy for inflating air mattresses and giving our iPhones the little bit of juice needed to find out that we lacked any sort of network reception out in the sticks.
So in short, the Sportage SX essentially out-does the Mazda. However, it does this at a price premium of roughly $10,000. If you subtract the turbo and stick to the 2.4L 176-horsepower motor; subtract the panoramic roof, the navigation system, and some of the other toys, you’re sitting at a $25,000 SUV. At that price point it actually bests the Mazda CX-5 GS we tested by roughly $5,000. With that kind of value, there’s no doubting that the Sportage is a clear winner. Why? It gets great fuel mileage, it’s styled beautifully (for a cute ute), it’s reliable, and best of all, it does all this while staying cheap to buy and maintain. How hard can it really be for other manufacturers to pull off a feat like this?