Hyundai and Kia are taking no prisoners in the crossover market.
They’re growing market acceptance and share as young couples and families gravitate towards the value packed and style conscious offerings. The big news for 2020 has been the launch of the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride, two full-sized platform mates that are getting a lot of attention for all the right reasons. However, the other CUV news at Kia is a mild mid-cycle refresh on a favorite, the Sportage.
Since its complete redesign for 2017 the Sportage has really done well at attracting budget conscious shoppers into Kia showrooms, and this refresh aims to continue the trend by packing more of what today’s crossover buyers are looking for into the Sportage’s family friendly package. We spent a week with a well-equipped 2020 Kia Sportage EX Tech AWD to see if the refresh is enough to keep it competitive in a red-hot segment.
On the outside, updates for 2020 are mostly kept to new front and rear fasciae, headlights and wheels. Unless you’re very familiar with the Sportage, the 2020 isn’t obviously different from the 2019, but it is generally a handsome little CUV. Its rounded curves, muscular stance, and slightly bug-eyed headlamps clearly distinguish it from the mass of other compact crossovers on the road, with a bit more flare and flash than most competitors. Our tester came finished in a rather unique color called Modern Bronze; paired with the 18-inch machine finished alloys the Sportage definitely stands out from the pack.
The rest of the 2020 updates are largely tech related; with all trim levels getting a standard eight-inch touchscreen now compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Safety is often high on the priority list of crossover shoppers and more updates have been made here with a full suite of the latest electronic driving aids such as forward collision avoidance assist, blind spot detection, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert.
Interior updates are minimal, but the interior of the Sportage is still a nice place to be. Our well-equipped EX Tech trim tester has heated and ventilated black leather buckets, a smartly laid out dashboard with intuitive controls and plenty of handy storage up front for your daily carry items. For the Sportage’s price point, the interior materials score quite high with lots of matte finish soft-touch black plastics with silver and piano black accents. It’s no luxury car, but it’s simple, clean and upscale looking.
While the Sportage is dimensionally slightly smaller than some competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 (reviewed here), rear passengers still have plenty of head and legroom, and the cargo area doesn’t seem to suffer at all. We did load the baby, stroller and a day’s worth of “baby stuff” into the Sportage for a day trip. While the stroller took up the majority of the cargo area, and the rear facing baby seat did require my wife to move her front seat forward a little, we were glad to have the Sportage’s compact dimensions.
There are two engines available in the Sportage, the standard engine is a 2.4L naturally aspirated four-cylinder making 181 horsepower and 175 lb-ft. of torque at 4,000RPM, and that’s what came equipped in our EX tester. A 2.0L turbocharged four is only available in the top-line SX trim level, but it does offer a significant performance boost with 237 horsepower. While simple and time-tested the 2.4L is underpowered in the Sportage, so passing and merging need to be thought out, and the engine does sound fairly gruff when worked up above 4,000RPM.
Both engines come mated to a competent and smooth six-speed automatic, and power is fed to all four wheels through the Dynamax™ intelligent all-wheel-drive system which proactively transfers torque for better traction during acceleration, cornering or in low traction scenarios. The only exception would be the entry level LX model, which is front-drive only.
In some ways it’s a shame that the 2.4L is so weak in the power department, because aside from the obvious lack of urgency, the Sportage is quite pleasant to drive. It’s nimble, the steering is tight and responsive, the ride quality is on par with all of its competitors and lastly, it’s surprisingly quiet at highway speeds making it a nice highway cruiser.
The other major fault with the Sportage however is also related to the powertrain; it’s thirsty. With a good mix of highway and city driving I saw an average for the week of 10.6L/100km, which is just slightly better than the rated 10.8L/100km for city driving and a far cry from the 9.1L/100km highway rating. I can only imagine that the underpowered 2.4L has to be working extra hard to move the fairly large Sportage and its heavy all-wheel-drive system around, hence the fuel penalty in anything but optimal highway cruising.
For the Sportage’s faults, it is priced aggressively enough that one might just be willing to forgive and forget. You can get into a base model LX FWD for a rock bottom $25,795, and $27,795 puts you into an LX AWD. Both of these models come with the nice smart phone friendly eight-inch touchscreen, heated front seats and 17-inch alloy wheels. I really think that you’d be hard pressed to find a more practical, better-equipped compact crossover, with AWD, for a better price anywhere.
Stepping up a level puts you into the EX trim level, which actually has three sub-trims, starting with the EX ($31,695) which adds a 10-way power driver’s seat, 18-inch wheels, forward collision avoidance and lane keep assist. EX Premium ($34,695) adds a power liftgate, LED taillights, leather seating and blind spot detection. Lastly, the EX Tech tested here adds LED headlamps, navigation, ventilated front seats, premium sound and Kia’s UVO IntelligenceTM system which allows voice control of the vehicle’s infotainment system. The as-tested price of our EX Tech came to $37,995.
There’s definitely value to be had here. If I were shopping I’d be looking at the lower trim levels like an LX or EX AWD where you’re getting a very practical and livable compact SUV for a very aggressive price. If you’re after the more luxurious options you’re probably better off just spending the extra cash to step up to the SX with the more powerful turbocharged engine, which extinguishes at least one of the biggest pain points we had with this model.