You’ll just need to decide if the outside-the-box design works for you.
Automotive design is an interesting field, and it sometimes spawns a discussion that devolves into ardent enthusiasts squaring off with one another, with opinions being spouted off as hard facts, often on the internet. Cars nowadays have generally moved away from modest and simple designs, moving towards almost towards design, for the sake of design. Some enthusiasts (ourselves included) yearn for the days of simple and organic lines and curves. Kia has made a big name for themselves ever since they hired Peter Shreyer away from the Volkswagen Group. Their mainstream cars like the Optima and Sorento are smartly designed, inside and out, and the Stinger GT (reviewed here) is the new hotness for 2018. In order to sample their medium-sized crossover offering, we were sent a fully-loaded Scarlet Red 2018 Kia Sportage SX SX T-GDI for evaluation.
The Kia Sportage first started off, strangely enough, as a body-on-frame mini-SUV with Mazda roots. It then became the crossover that people started associating with the Kia brand, but the third-generation Sportage really took the nameplate to the mid-size CUV battle, starting in 2010. It was a sharp-looking and somewhat blocky crossover, with a squared off roofline and those quirky taillights. It didn’t really fit into the cookie-cutter crossover look, and the fourth-generation Sportage, new for 2015, continued that theme.
The biggest quirk that seems to generate some discussion are the headlights. People often associate cars as having “faces” – a term that can be called anthropomorphism. The Sportage puts its full-LED headlights high up, with the LED “ice cube” driving lights down below. It’s a look that is certainly different, but not quite to the same effect as the current Jeep Cherokee. Out back, the Sportage is fairly conventional, until you notice the location of the amber turn signals, which are mounted low in the rear bumper, separated from the brake lights and taillights. The large 19″ wheels are pushed out to the corners adding to the aggressive style. Overall, Kia says the Sportage has a “bold” look, and they’re certainly correct – you’ll just need to decide if the outside-the-box design works for you.
Inside, Kia’s traditionally strong feature set continues. Goodies such as a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated leather seats, and a large 8″ interface (with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration) give off a good first impression. The SX trim also throws in a wireless phone charger, with a grippy enough surface that will hold your phone in place. The panoramic sunroof is great at keeping the otherwise very black interior bright, even with the relatively high door sills. Headroom is surprisingly good, even in the second row, thanks to the Sportage’s fairly square profile. A few small details such as the lack of an automatic up/down function for most of the power windows, and the just-average material quality shows where Kia strives to keep costs down, and features up. What would you prefer? Better touch points, or more features that you can use every day?
The difference in strategy between the Kia and Hyundai relationship becomes more apparent once you look under the hood. While the Sportage is technically related to the Hyundai Tucson, both are powered by mostly-different engines. The base Sportage has a naturally-aspirated 2.4L engine under the hood, producing 181 horsepower – in-line with most entry-level offerings in the mid-size CUV space. If that’s not enough power for you, Kia offers a 2.0L turbocharged gasoline engine in the Sportage. Thanks to a twin-scroll turbo and direct-injection, it produces 237 horsepower at 6,000RPM, and 260 lb-ft. of torque from a useful 1,450-3,500RPM. Power is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission and Kia’s Dynamax all-wheel-drive system, sourced from Magna.
The generous torque output is handy, with relatively minimal turbo lag, and full torque coming on quickly. The flat torque curve is especially practical, as most consumers don’t find themselves exceeding 4000rpm on a regular basis. The six-speed automatic does a decent job managing that rush of torque, though I found throttle tip-in from a stop and at speed was a little eager, so enabling the Eco mode mellows things out somewhat. The flat-bottom steering wheel on the Sportage SX may suggest sporting intentions, but it remains firmly in the crossover camp.
Compared to its cousin, the Hyundai Tucson, the 2.0L turbo-four in the Sportage delivers much more power, and with it, comes more fuel consumption. It’s interesting to note that Hyundai’s most powerful engine option in the Tucson (as of this writing) produces less horsepower than the base 2.4L engine in the Sportage, so it’s a little difficult to compare the two directly, based on trim levels. Kia Canada rates the Sportage SX at 11.9L/100km in the city, and 10.2L/100km on the highway. During my week of mixed city and highway driving, I ended up with an indicated average of 11.0L/100km, which is pretty much right in the middle of the two estimates. The Sportage will handle up to 62L of regular 87-octane fuel.
It’s also worth noting that the Sportage is somewhat thirstier than a lot of its direct competition. Not everybody offers a high-powered 2.0L turbo-four, but out of those who do, the Kia manages to consume a little more. The Ford Escape Titanium, Subaru Forester XT (reviewed here), and the Chevrolet Equinox Premier – all with turbocharged 2.0L engines, all are rated to consume less than the Kia Sportage SX. On the other hand, the Kia only asks for regular 87-octane, unlike the others mentioned.
The Kia Sportage starts at a base price of $25,095 for the LX, in a front-wheel drive configuration. Adding all-wheel drive to the LX adds $2,200. The mid-range EX makes all-wheel drive standard and makes a Premium ($33,995) and Tech ($37,695) package available. The fully loaded SX Turbo stickers for $39,595, and the only option on this particular tester is the $200 charge for selecting Scarlet Red, bringing the as-tested price to $39,795, before taxes and additional fees.
Where the 2018 Kia Sportage SX T-GDI fits in with the rest of the segment is a little interesting, and it all depends on your priorities. Some people or families would prefer the “safe” option: something like a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CR-V are class leaders for a reason. To others, the simple fact that these two nameplates are everywhere is enough to want to look elsewhere. The Kia Sportage offers up a more unique (read: different) design that may appeal to you. It boasts more available horsepower, and Kia’s traditional knack of throwing in the proverbial kitchen sink is a big deal. I think I would prefer one of the midrange EX models, even with the reduced horsepower output. The EX Premium still gets that excellent panoramic sunroof, at a decent savings. This particular SX Turbo tester may not be my #1 choice in this segment, but when it comes to being a quirky and high-value package, the Sportage fits the bill.