Better Than Ever (But Still Too Thirsty)
The Sportage, now in its fourth generation, is Kia‘s longest-running nameplate. For context, when the original Sportage debuted in 1995, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was rising up the Billboard charts and Michael Jordan was taking a baseball sabbatical. Feel old? Since then, Kia has sold over 700,000 of its compact crossover, with last year’s sales alone up 25 percent year-to-year. Based on our time with a naturally aspirated all-wheel-drive EX and a turbocharged all-wheel-drive SX, we’d say Gen 4 has the 800,000 sales target well within reach. (But just be aware that you’ll be reaching for your gas card more than had you shopped elsewhere.)
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Within its class, the Sportage is not terribly fuel-efficient. The 2017 Sportage EX with AWD is EPA rated at 21/25/23 mpg (11.2/9.4/10.2 L/100km) city/highway/combined, which doesn’t sound all that thirsty until you look at a comparable 2016 Honda CR-V Touring AWD (25/31/27 (9.4/7.6/8.7 L/100km)) or a 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited (25/32/27 (9.4/7.3/8.7 L/100km)). Even keeping in mind the EPA’s more strict fuel economy tests for the 2017 model year, that’s quite a difference, and our Real MPG results echo these numbers. With the Sportage EX’s tailpipes exhaling through a megabucks gas analyzer, the crunched data revealed 19.4/28.5/22.6 mpg (12.1/8.2/10.4 L/100km). Meanwhile, our long-term CR-V Touring returned 23.0/28.8/25.2 mpg (10.2/8.2/9.3 L/100km) and our Outback 2.5i Limited managed an even better 24.1/31.0/26.8 mpg (9.8/7.6/8.8 L/100km). Two other long-term compact crossovers the Nissan Rogue SL AWD (20.1/28.2/23.1 mpg (11.7/8.3/10.2 L/100km)) and the Mitsubishi Outlander SEL AWD (23.2/26.9/24.7 mpg (10.1/8.7/9.5 L/100km)) out perform the Sportage EX as well. As for the turbocharged 2017 Sportage SX, we weren’t able to subject it to Real MPG testing, but its EPA numbers of 20/23/21 mpg (11.8/10.2/11.2 L/100km) can’t match those of the 2.0-liter turbo Ford Escape AWD (20/27/23 mpg (11.8/8.7/10.2 L/100km)).
So why does the Sportage have such a craving for petrol? We can’t point to the likely culprit of it being exceedingly overweight, given that the EX AWD tipped the scales at 3,616 pounds (1,640 kg), or 86 pounds (39 kg) lighter than our portly 3,702-pound (1,679-kg) Outback, and the SX came in at 3,750, or 41 pounds (1,701, or 19 kg) lighter than the 2013 Escape Titanium AWD 2.0T. Nor can we assign blame to the EX’s direct-injected 2.4-liter inline-four, which is feeding fewer horses (181) than the CR-V’s DI 2.4 liter (185). Ditto for the SX’s 237-horse 2.0-liter turbo that’s down a few horses to the Escape’s. Thus, it seems the Kia’s relatively old-school six-speed auto needs a replacement either one with another couple gears or, as is de rigueur in the segment, a gearless CVT. Or perhaps the Sportage can borrow the 175-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo and seven-speed twin-clutch automatic from its platform mate, the 2017 Hyundai Tucson, which scored 24/28/26 mpg (9.8/8.4/9 L/100km) in EPA estimates for an AWD model.
Now for the good news. The six-speed, while not a beacon of fuel efficiency, is responsive and smooth, and in the turbocharged SX, can be seamlessly operated via paddle shifters. Further, straight-line performance in the EX is class-competitive, with 0 to 60 mph happening in 9.0 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.9 seconds at 83.0 mph (134 km/h), both quicker than what we spurred from the Outback 2.5i Limited (9.5 seconds and 17.4 seconds at 82.1 mph (132.1 km/h)). The 237-horsepower SX is noticeably quicker than its non-turbo sibling, posting times of 8.1 seconds and 16.2 seconds at 86.4 mph (139 km/h), but it’s nonetheless many furlongs behind the last Escape Titanium AWD 2.0T we ran (6.8 seconds, 15.2 seconds at 88.8 mph (143 km/h)).
Numbers aside, both Sportages felt lively and fun, especially when the road turned squiggly. The suspension is tuned to the taut side of the spectrum, but not overly so, offering improved compliance than what we’ve experienced in past generations. Feel through the rack-and-pinion steering is excellent, with no noticeable dead spots and a firm sense on-center. Brake feel is both strong and linear, with the four-wheel-disc setup serving up a reassuring pedal. The Sportage might not ride with the cushiness of an Outback or steer with the precision of a Mazda CX-5, but its ride-handling compromise is better than it’s ever been, now more in line with that of the CR-V and Rogue. In fact, the Sportage EX’s maximum lateral acceleration of 0.83 g, figure-eight time of 27.4 seconds, and 60-0 braking distance of 114 feet place it tops among the Outback, Rogue, and CR-V.
Styled in Korea and Germany under the watch of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, the Sportage dons a European flair, with hints of Q5 and Porsche Cayenne. Compared to its predecessor, the new Sportage is 1.6 inches longer overall and rides atop a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase. And with a girth of 73.0 inches, the Sportage is wide for its class, some 0.6 inch broader than the Outback. The SX’s 19-inch alloys do a nice job of filling the wheelwells, and the EX’s 18s look snazzy as well. Inside, the Sportage epitomizes modern simplicity. The design is clean, straightforward, and handsome, with an eye-pleasing layout, intuitive controls, and greater use of soft-touch materials on the dash and doors. There’s more headroom and legroom than before, and cargo room is up 18 percent, now to 30.7 cubic feet with the rear seats up. Like most Kias, the Sportage isn’t lacking in comfort and convenience swag. Between them, our two testers boasted 320-watt eight-speaker harmon/kardon audio; Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; navigation; enhanced UVO3 infotainment and telematics with 14 no-charge services, including vehicle diagnostics, geo fencing, and curfew alert; heated and cooled seats; heated steering wheel; and a panoramic roof.
Kia says 51 percent of the Sportage’s body is made up of advanced high-strength steel, and that 113 yards of structural adhesive (a five-fold increase) are utilized to increase stiffness. As a result, not only does the Sportage come across solid and squeak free, it also scores well in IIHS crash tests, earning the coveted Top Safety Pick + rating. That score wouldn’t be possible without the Sportage’s available forward collision warning system and autonomous emergency braking. Moreover, the Sportage can also be had with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and blind-spot detection with lane-change assist.
Our AWD EX tester carried an as-tested price of $32,595 USD, well below the bottom line of a CR-V Touring AWD ($34,295 USD) or an Outback 2.5i Limited with EyeSight and nav ($34,635USD). In terms of style, content, safety, and dynamics, the new Sportage embodies a big leap forward from the third generation. Though when it comes to fuel efficiency, it represents barely a baby step. Yes, this fresh fourth gen is without a doubt the best Sportage ever, but with combined fuel economy that significantly trails that of a heavier Outback, it’s unrealistic to claim the Sportage is best in segment. Exactly where it falls will require a thorough comparison test. Stay tuned.
|2017 Kia Sportage||EX AWD||SX T-GDI AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$32,595||$34,895|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.4L/181-hp/175-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4||2.0L/237-hp/260-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed automatic||6-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,616 lb (58/42%)||3,750 lb (59/41%)|
|WHEELBASE||105.1 in||105.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||176.4 x 73.0 x 65.2 in||176.4 x 73.0 x 65.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.0 sec||8.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.9 sec @ 83.0 mph||16.2 sec @ 86.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||114 ft||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.4 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)||26.8 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||21/25/23 mpg||20/23/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||160/135 kW-hrs/100 miles||169/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.86 lb/mile||0.91 lb/mile|
Additional photos from Motor Trend and the automaker are below.