The Sportage happily navigated the highways of Southern Ontario with ease.
For 2017, Kia Canada brings a brand new Sportage to the table, offering a new take on their entry into the crowded compact crossover SUV market. After getting a sneak preview at the cute-ute during a media launch event earlier this year, we recently got the opportunity to test out a top-range 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo AWD. Finished in a reasonably loud Modern Bronze, the SX gets the addition of a turbocharged powertrain in conjunction with a full gamut of tech features and gadgets. Facing stiff competition amongst the likes of the Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, and Mazda CX-5, the Sportage has its work cut out for itself as it tries to set a stronger foothold in the segment.
Although the base model, front-wheel drive Sportage LX starts at just below $25,000, the top dog SX comes in at $39,595 and includes a wide range of features. There’s a smart key system with pushbutton start, LED taillights, heated and (front) cooled leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, Harman/Kardon audio, adaptive (swivel) high-intensity discharge headlamps, quad LED fog lamps, a power liftgate, as well as an automatic collision mitigation braking system. Each trim level isn’t configurable with additional options, and the only extra cost is $200 for the Modern Bronze paint. This is right in line with the Forester XT and Escape Titanium (reviewed here). The Mazda CX-5 GT can be had similarly equipped for a couple thousand dollars cheaper, but there’s no option for a turbocharged powertrain, but superb driving dynamics and fuel economy remain a strong suit.
Powering the 2017 Kia Sportage are two powertrains: most will opt for a 2.4-litre inline-four cylinder engine making 181 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and 175 lb-ft of torque at 4,000RPM. The top dog SX Turbo AWD trim turns things up a notch with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four that puts out 237 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and a punchy 260 lb-ft of torque between 1,450 and 3,500RPM. The turbo four uses direct fuel injection and a twin-scroll style turbocharger to make the most of the boost – at least, on paper.
These technologies greatly help throttle response in other cars but in the real world, the Kia struggles a bit with lag before the turbo surges to life, delivering more power than expected for a given throttle position. When taking it easy in order to avoid the turbocharger’s non-linear response, the engine ends up delivering a dull experience when out of boost. Bottom line – without a turbo in the way to complicate matters, the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre engine will have better throttle response and behave better around town, even though it loses the drag race.
Paired with both engines on the Sportage is a six-speed automatic transmission in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations, but the SX Turbo gets the addition of paddle shifters for manual operation. Shift quality was reasonably good, with no clunks, hunting, or slow shifts to report. When equipped with the turbocharged engine, it allows for a fuel economy rating of 11.9 L/100km in the city, and 10.2 L/100km on the highway – not particularly good numbers that are lagging behind the competition, and the Kia is trumped by both the Subaru Forester XT (reviewed here) and Ford Escape 2.0-litre EcoBoost.
With a good amount of highway driving, observed economy over the week on test did manage to beat the nominal numbers slightly, returning 10.0 L/100km. The Sportage’s saving grace here is that regular 87 octane is acceptable, whereas the Subaru requires premium. Chalk up another advantage to the 2.4-litre non-turbo engine – a rating of 11.3 L/100km in the city and 9.3 L/100km on the highway is much more reasonable. The more efficient configuration will also be more range-friendly, thanks to a 62-litre fuel capacity.
Moving on to driving dynamics, the Sportage happily navigated the highways of Southern Ontario during its week on test. The size was manageable around town, and noise was well controlled at higher speeds. Ride quality was quite firm, with road impacts ending up quite jarring. The SX model’s 245/45R19 tires are likely a contributor to the firmness, and the 2016 Ford Escape Titanium also exhibited the same phenomenon. The 17 and 18-inch wheel options on LX and EX trim levels are likely to ride better. With the larger wheels and wider tires, however, handling is a bit sharper, thankfully. The Sportage gets close to, but doesn’t defeat the compact crossover handling king, the Mazda CX-5 (reviewed here).
One interesting tidbit to note – when behind the wheel, the high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights light the road up very well, but are mounted quite high relative to the bumper line of the car. On more than one occasion, especially when the fog lights were left on, oncoming traffic flashed their own high beams to express their dissatisfaction with the Kia’s headlight brightness. This may have been due to excessively high headlight aim adjustment on the test car, however, the generally high mounting of the lights may not thrill other drivers on the road, especially when the Sportage is approaching from higher terrain.
On the inside, the Sportage SX Turbo turned out to have a smart looking and very well designed interior, and the two-tone Canyon Beige leather on the test car offered a quirky, but modern colour palette. The orange accent piping on the seats paired well with the beige and black, and the metal-finish accelerator and brake pedals were also a nice touch. The gauge cluster was simple and easy to understand, and all the buttons on the centre stack were large and easy to find. Air conditioning on the Sportage was ridiculously cold, and numerous writers on our team reported having to set the temperature considerably higher than expected on the dual-zone automatic climate control. Add into the equation a set of ventilated front seats, and the Sportage ended up being a very cool place to spend during the summer time.
For multimedia and infotainment, Kia’s setup keeps the menu system relatively simple and straightforward, allowing drivers to pair their phones via Bluetooth, or access the navigation functions. The Sportage also supports Android Auto functionality on EX and SX trim levels, which lets Android device users mirror their smartphone’s messaging, navigation, and music player functionalities onto the Kia’s 8-inch touch screen display. Audio quality from the Harman/Kardon speaker system was also quite good, pumping out plenty of bass and clarity to help make longer drives shorter.
At the end of the day, the 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo AWD is a fairly worthy competitor to the Subaru Forester XT and Ford Escape Titanium. However, given a similar price point, the other makes offer more refined powertrains that are more fun to drive. The LX and EX trims, whether in front-wheel or all-wheel drive, still feature a good set of features and technology, especially with the EX Tech. Every trim outside of the SX also offers the more livable 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder engine, and a smaller wheel diameter that should help with ride quality.
While this means that the SX Turbo AWD isn’t necessarily able to play well with the higher-power entries from Subaru and Ford, it does make a lot of sense to compare to the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V, when looking at the Sportage’s lower trim levels that don’t include a turbocharger. There’s no shame in this, of course, and Kia has ensured that their volume models will satisfy the Canadian car buying public well.