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Here's why this Kia is super-impressive

It's a pleasure to drive, and all of the equipment is easy to use

Jeff Rundles //February 22, 2017//

Here's why this Kia is super-impressive

It's a pleasure to drive, and all of the equipment is easy to use

Jeff Rundles //February 22, 2017//


Recently, a friend was in the market for a new car and, essentially, had her heart set on a Subaru Outback, but like most people contemplating a major purchase, had a few qualms and needed reassurance.

I told her I really liked the Outback and would recommend it, but I added that she should go and drive the smaller SUVs of Hyundai and Kia just to make sure she was doing the right thing. It complicated matters, a bit, because she really liked the Kia Sportage. She went with her initial instincts and bought the Outback, but her comments on the Sportage backed up my own impressions.

As luck would have it, the very next week they brought me a 2017 Kia Sportage SX to test for a week, and all it did was solidify my already solid opinion of the vehicle.  If it was me picking between the Outback and Sportage, at basically the same price, I’m just not sure which way I’d go. I have driven both in recent weeks, loved them both, and I must say I’d probably go with the Kia for two reasons: first, it's priced the same in the low $30,000's with all-wheel-drive, this SX model of the Kia comes with a 240 horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four, while the similarly priced Outback comes with a 2.5-liter four with 175 hp; so I get more oomph here.

Second, and this is a little thing but I loved it, when you lock the doors of the Sportage, rather than beeping to let you know the locks engaged, the mirrors fold in; so it subtly lets you know what’s what and places the mirrors in a more safe position. Other than that they both have all of the modern safety features, the same type of technology, and very similar creature comforts and capacity.

Kia, which was acquired by Hyundai in the late 1990's and shares many platforms with its Korean cousin, calls the Sportage a “family compact crossover,” although to the eye of the average consumer it is just really a mid-sized SUV. There are three models in the lineup – the EX, LX and this SX – and they begin at $23,200, but this top-of-the-line SX carries a base price of $32,500 (on the sticker provided; the Kia website says its $32,700) – but “base price” is something of a misnomer since it had about everything you’d ever want and everything was standard. The only add-on was $895 for inland freight and handling, for a bottom line of $33,395, which is a great price for a vehicle with this much stuff and this much moxie. 

Now, they sent me the front-wheel-drive model of this Sportage, and I just can’t imagine that it would be a big seller in Colorado without all-wheel-drive. Never fear: The AWD model, equipped the same, goes for an additional $1,500, so at just under $35k for all this the AWD version is still a good buy.

To be honest, I liked everything about the Sportage – except one small thing. The vehicle has a nice, overall heavy feel, which I like very much. And when you get in the vehicle and shut the door it has that reassuring “whooomp” sound that gives every impression that this is a solid, we’ll-built vehicle. But when you open the same door it feels as if it wasn’t latched the whole time. It just doesn’t “click.” It bugged me the whole week of test driving, as if something was wrong with the latch.

But everything else was great. The size is perfect – not too big, not too small, making for a good around-town vehicle and a nice highway cruiser. My front-wheel-drive model was rated at 21 mpg city/26 mpg highway, so it has impressive gas mileage for such a substantial car. In AWD, the rating is 20 mpg city/23 mpg highway; still very good for a vehicle of this type.

This very comfortable ride featured both heated and cooled seats (and a heated steering wheel), a huge panoramic sunroof (very cool), and at night the Kia designers made sure you can see all of the knobs and dials on the door panel for the mirrors, windows and locks by making them light up (you’d be surprised how many vehicles don’t have this, which makes fumbling around at night a pain).

I also was quite impressed with how quick the heater came up to speed and warmed the vehicle, and also (because I like a warm vehicle) how well the heater worked. Oh, and when you approach the car at night, lights come on on the mirrors to light the way in, and on the inside even before you open the door. A nice touch.

There was also an impressive Harman Kardon Premium Audio system with an 8-inch screen – like just about every car these days, this all included Bluetooth for hands-free phone use, all of the radio options (AM, FM, Satellite), and all of the necessary hook-ups for a mobile phone that allows access to all of the requisite apps of modern life. 

Usually, I am not a big fan of turbo-charged engines, as opposed to a larger, normally aspirated engine, but this Sportage featured a smooth operating engine that had no turbo lag. Indeed, around town it felt just like a normal engine, but when you need that burst of speed – in town or on the highway – the turbo kicked in and was very impressive.

Here’s some other impressive stuff: Dynamic bending lights (they turn with you around corners; very cool), high beam assist, 19” alloy wheels, rear camera, parking assist, blind spot detection with lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, and autonomous emergency braking. Impressive.

The Sportage was first introduced as a Mazda Bongo in 1993, and there were early problems – recalls – and some of this led to Kia having to join forces with Hyundai. But they settled down with the 2nd generation with the 2005 model year, and ever since (this new one is a 4th generation), this Sportage has been listed as one of the most reliable vehicles on the road, and among the 20 least expensive to insure by Consumer Reports magazine. It also is a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. All impressive.

There are the usual three trims for the Sportage, with the lower-end EX featuring a 2.4-liyer our-banger with 180 hp stating at $23,200. This SX, top-of-the-line model, as I mentioned earlier is loaded with everything standard, and the bottom line of $33,395 (add $1,500 for AWD) makes this an excellent buy.

Plus, it is easy to drive, a pleasure to drive, and all of the equipment is easy to use. Simple. Easy. Impressive. There is plenty of room up front and in the three-seat second row, and ample storage in the way back.

I know, I know. I used the word impressive many times in this review. On purpose.

The 2017 Kia Sportage is impressive. It’s that simple.