An old favourite that just keeps on kickin' | The Kia Sportage might be an underdog in the small SUV segment, but I do think it’s poised to become a very serious contender.
Kia has been on a roll lately and the last few models that I’ve driven have impressed me with a pleasant driving experience and strong value proposition, making each of them very competitive in their respective segments. I’ve also recently driven a gamete of small SUVs, a booming segment where the competition is quickly intensifying, so it seemed appropriate to spend a little time with the 2015 Kia Sportage SX to see if Kia has worked their magic here as well.
The first thing I noticed about my well-appointed SX-trim Sportage tester is that it has a very likable and quirky appearance. It has a few unique angles, some well-fitted and placed chrome trim, and a short stubbiness to it that help to set it apart from the hordes of small SUVs on the road. The Sportage’s styling represents a nice balance; it’s different enough to stand out from the crowd, but it doesn’t make a big loud obnoxious statement either. I’ve come to expect outstanding exterior fit and finish from Kia and the Sportage is no exception. The paintwork, panel fit and trim are all top-notch, and it’s all rolling on a set of very nice 18-inch alloys. Exterior lighting is also given some well-deserved attention and my tester came with LED turn signals integrated into the side mirrors, LED daytime running lights and some big chunky-looking fog lights to balance out the friendly looking front fascia.
Much like the exterior, the interior of the Sportage has been well thought out to be both practical and good looking. Unlike a lot of its competitors, the Sportage doesn’t feature a swooping roofline, and not conforming to this styling trend means that there is more usable height available inside the SUV for rear passenger headroom and cargo space. As an added benefit the overall interior feels more open and roomy due to the taller ceiling. Another aspect of the Sportage’s interior that I am particularly fond of is the center console arrangement. Not only do the large cupholders sit inside a larger storage well, the space is very versatile and serves as a perfect catch all for just about anything. My only caution is that you shouldn’t get carried away tossing stuff in here like I did, as by the end of my week with the Sportage, this space looked something like the inside of my fiancee’s purse.
Seriously though, Kia’s use of space inside the Sportage is nothing short of amazing. The dashboard, on the other hand, is one area where I think there’s some room for improvement. The radio controls are angled too far upward, making them awkward to use and the gauge cluster is obviously outdated. Those two little gripes can be easily overlooked; however, one thing that I continually struggled with is the lack of driving information available. Typical information like trip odometer, average fuel economy and range are available but limited to a tiny red LED panel in the gauge cluster that is only capable of displaying one type of information at a time. Updating that gauge cluster to be more user customizable should be a must for Kia, especially in a small SUV like this which is often targeted towards tech-savvy younger families.
Now, it’s important to point out that my SX trim level test vehicle, while reasonably well equipped with the likes of sporty heated cloth seats, automatic climate control and Kia’s UVO infotainment system, is actually not the top of the line offering for the Sportage. A refreshing change since most test cars come fully equipped, this SX model is what I would consider a volume seller. It’s very reasonable $34,500 MSRP and respectable list of interior luxuries and exterior finishings make it a compelling deal for many buyers. That said, those who want the complete luxury experience in a small SUV have the option of opting for the EX or SX Luxury packages, which top out right around $40,000 and offer just about anything you would expect to find in a much pricier luxury SUV. This includes features like a dual pane sunroof, cooled front seats, navigation and xenon front headlamps.
The big difference between the SX (and the SX Luxury) compared to all the other trim levels is that the SX comes with the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder putting out a very impressive 260 horsepower. That’s a significant power upgrade over the standard 2.4L 4-cylinder which would have 182 horsepower. The turbo is no slouch either, making the Sportage SX a little SUV that can really scoot. It’s not perfect though; throttle response is on the dull side and the turbo lag is pretty apparent, but any little SUV that can drop down a gear and make smooth effortless passes on the highway is pretty good in my books.
I came away from my road test of the 2016 Mazda CX-5 GT a couple weeks ago stating that it is the fun option in the segment, but I may have to rethink that now. See, where the CX-5 wins on its engaging handling, the Sportage has a 76 horsepower advantage that absolutely gives the CX-5 a run for its title as the “fun SUV”. Unfortunately, the Sportage does not boast the same spirited handling dynamics. It does feel well planted and composed, but it doesn’t have that magical mechanical connection to the road that the CX-5 benefits from. Ultimately, the choice is yours; the powerful Kia or the playful Mazda.
Opting for the power of the turbo will cost you a little bit more at the pumps and I averaged a respectable 9.9L/100km over my week of commuting. That is a very fair number, but it does fall short of the 9.2L/100km average I posted with the CX-5. Naturally, the turbocharger and the ~80 extra horsepower might have something to do with it. The Kia Sportage might be an underdog in the small SUV segment, but I do think it’s poised to become a very serious contender. Its unique styling, spacious and practical interior, and that impressive turbo make it difficult to ignore. I have to admit that if I were shopping this segment it would be a very tough call between the Sportage SX and a CX-5 GT.
2015 Kia Sportage SX Gallery