Kelowna, British Columbia – The Kia Sportage has always stood out a little bit amongst its compact crossover rivals. Despite having started off modestly with a very low cost of entry, the Sportage has evolved into a seriously interesting entry. Kia Canada invited me out to stunning Vernon, British Columbia to experience the all-new 2017 Kia Sportage through the beautiful Rockies. These unique roads gave us the opportunity to sample some of the first examples on Canadian soil, and put them through the paces.
Kia’s brand has experienced significant growth since their entry to the Canadian market in 2000. In October 2015, they sold their 700,000th unit, making them the fastest growing mainstream brand in the Canadian market. Summer 2016 will mark the opening of their new Mexico plant, capable of pushing out 300,000 vehicles per year. This new plant will initially build Forte models, and later adding Rio to the portfolio as well. Something that makes me particularly happy is that Kia has won 42 major design awards in five years – it’s no secret that they make some of the most beautiful mainstream vehicles available today.
The fourth-generation Sportage is all new and implements Kia’s latest design language. It maintains a similar profile to its predecessor, but has a fresh fascia that boasts LED daytime running lights, LED fog lights, and optional adaptive xenon HID headlights. Kias have certainly come a long way from being the “cheap and honest” choice to being legitimate players in every respective class. The character lines reflect the Sportage’s edgy character and cheerful personality, while maintaining the level of sophistication required from this segment. All trim levels have a decklid spoiler to enhance the sporty look, and the top-trim SX employs 19” wheels for a particularly dynamic look, with vibrant design unique to this vehicle.
Keen readers will observe that the Sportage is the chassis-sharing cousin of the Hyundai Tucson (reviewed here), which was redesigned for the 2016 model year. This means some of the Tucson’s key bragging points are also reflected on the Sportage, such as excellent interior quality. Now this is one area where Kia has seriously stepped up their game – the interior of this crossover is remarkably finished. All materials used are of high quality, including soft-touch dash materials, piano black trim bits, and of course, leather seats and steering wheel on higher trim models.
Heavily targeted towards millenials, Kia has ensured the Sportage comes with a slew of technology to make it more appealing to its market. This starts with the LED lighting all around, and goes as far as an 8” multimedia interface with wireless charging, voice-activated navigation, Apple Siri capability, and an intelligent power liftgate with proximity sensors. Android Auto is standard on trims EX and up, and Apple CarPlay will be flashed into the system by dealers later this year. Safety features like blind spot detection, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, Advanced Traction Cornering Control, and intelligent all-wheel-drive are also available. The front seats can be had with ventilation, and heated rear seats are equipped on certain trim levels.
The Sportage has yet another trick hidden up its sleeve – it’s one of very few compact crossovers offered with a higher-output optional engine. The standard engine is the 2.4L GDI inline four-cylinder also offered in the Optima, good for 181 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 175 lb-ft of torque at 4,000RPM. The SX trim, my personal favourite, is offered with the Optima and Sorento’s 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, making 237 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 260 lb-ft of torque between 1,450 and 3,000RPM. Both engines are offered with a sole transmission choice, a six-speed automatic with an available manual mode and paddle shifters.
We only drove the 2.0L turbo-four on this particular event, but stay tuned in the spring for a detailed review on the volume-selling 2.4L model. The 2.0’s power delivery is excellent, right through the power band. There is a little bit of turbo lag at the start, but the transmission is well-calibrated and ensures the Sportage pulls hard right up to highway speeds. Despite riding on 19” wheels, ride quality is excellent, though notably on the firmer side. Those prioritizing comfort will want to opt for the 18” wheels for a suppler ride, though this will require foregoing some features.
Kia’s Drive Mode Select system lets the driver choose between “Normal”, “Eco”, and “Sport” modes. Toggling between these modes alter variables such as shift points, fuel delivery, spark timing, and steering effort. The steering is electrically assisted, so there isn’t very much authentic hydraulic feel, but the weight is adjusted and “Sport” mode is the one that you will want to use for those spirited weekend drives. “Eco” dulls throttle response and short-shifts the transmission, but is the ideal choice for maximizing efficiency and does its job without any nonsense.
The all-wheel-drive system that Kia estimates 70% of Canadian buyers will equip their Sportage with, is known as Dynamax™ Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive. This system boasts Advanced Traction Cornering Control that can push more torque to applicable wheels during cornering, minimizing either understeer or oversteer. There’s also automatic torque distribution, capable of a 50:50 split front/rear, which can also be forced using the “Lock” button. It is a front-based system, which sends 95% of torque to the front wheels in everyday driving.
Fuel efficiency is often one of the highest priorities of crossover buyers. The 2.4L FWD model is the least powerful and most efficient, rated for 10.4L/100km city and 8.0L/100km highway, The volume-selling 2.4L AWD is 11.3L/100km city and 9.5L/100km highway, and Kia estimates 11.9L/100km city and 10.2L/100km highway for the sleeper 2.0L (AWD only). It’s worth mentioning that both engines, including the turbocharged one, are tuned for 87-octane fuel.
Pricing starts at $24,795 for the base front-drive LX model, which comes surprisingly well equipped. It includes a reverse camera, 17” alloy wheels, air conditioning, projection headlights and fog lights, 5″ screen, folding rear seats, stability control, hill assist control, air conditioning, heated front seats, and a lot more. The model many Canadians will buy is the LX AWD, which starts at $26,995. The fully loaded SX comes in at a hefty $39,395, equipped with everything the Kia has to offer. This is a bit less than a loaded Tucson, which does not offer this 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder.
For under $30,000 in the compact crossover category, there are a few excellent choices. The challenge faced is that the vast majority of these are bland, forgettable entries. The Ford Escape, Subaru Forester and Jeep Cherokee also offer more power on higher trims. The third-generation Sportage differentiated itself from its rivals using unique styling, a punchy powertrain option, and with features previously unheard of at this price point. The 2017 Kia Sportage continues this trend, offering a modernized look, a lot more refinement, and the implementation of the latest in technology that ensures that your family is safe and sound for years to come.