2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo First Review: Power and value intertwine

By Matt Degen on March 7, 2016 7:00 AM

Believe it or not, the Sportage compact SUV is the longest-running nameplate in Kia's lineup. Introduced for the 1995 model year, the Sportage has morphed from a small, basic and ungainly utility vehicle -- and briefly as a convertible! -- to a sleek, well-equipped crossover.

Kia's small SUV established itself long before such vehicles dominated the landscape. That means that, like other veteran players such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Sportage benefits from name recognition in a segment that's only expected to grow.

The 2017 Kia Sportage now enters its fourth generation as an all-new vehicle. The remake results in a vehicle slightly larger than its predecessor, and its 1.6-inch expansion in length (to a total of 176.4 inches) helps increase interior space for passengers and cargo alike. There's fresh design inside and out, with a bolder take on Kia's signature "tiger-nose" grille up front. Along with extra space, the interior boasts new switchgear, additional premium materials and more a more driver-centric dash. On the tech and safety side, some of the most newsworthy updates include CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, and the ability to apply the brakes autonomously if a collision appears imminent with a pedestrian or another vehicle.

Under the hood, the 2017 Kia Sportage compact crossover retains a choice of 4-cylinder engines. A 181-horsepower 2.4-liter powers LX and EX trims, while the SX Turbo returns with, yes, a turbocharged 2.0-liter. Both are linked to a 6-speed automatic transmission and are available in front- or all-wheel drive.

Kia invited us to sunny San Diego to drive the 2017 Sportage, though the only model available was the top-line SX Turbo rather than the higher-volume LX and EX trims.

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Turbo power, go!

Among the first things you notice in the Kia Sportage Turbo is that it's surprisingly quick off the line. This top-line version of Kia's small SUV has always been a sleeper, and we like that.  At first blush, it looks like an ordinary Sportage, but when you get on the gas pedal, it really goes.

Thankfully, its turbo power doesn't lag, either. With the turbo Sportage, power delivery is smooth, continuous, and immediate.  More than just instant gratitude for Type A drivers, this is an important when you need to move quickly after seeing that semi bearing down on you far faster than anticipated.

Quiet, but not the most agile

Aside from spry acceleration, one notable trait about the latest Kia Sportage is its quiet cabin. Kia says its engineers have reduced the dreaded NVH -- noise, vibration and harshness -- via additional insulation, thicker front side glass and even a quad-bushing setup in the rear suspension. The proof that it all works is the lack of noise that crept into the cabin during our test that took us over hills, through the desert and ultimately back to bustling downtown San Diego.

Through those hills that took us through the apple pie-loving locale of Julian and out to the Anza-Borrego desert, we had the chance to push the Sportage Turbo through some serious twists and turns. It never lost its composure, but neither did it seem to relish being thrown into a curve the way a Mazda CX-5 might. We think an even stiffer suspension for the turbo model, perhaps even offered as an option, would help for the admittedly few buyers desiring to put the sport in sport utility vehicle.

The steering, too, felt less direct and engaging than that of the resident athlete among compact SUVs, the CX-5. Switching the Sportage into sport mode did help tighten steering feel in addition to altering shift points so that this sporty SUV held revs longer.

Front-drive models didn't suffer from torque steer -- in which all that power going to the front wheels translates to a steering wheel that requires an iron grip. And in the AWD model, that's not a worry at all, as the Magna Dynamax system has the ability to shift power 100 percent front to back (but not side to side like a Subaru).

Slightly less power, marginal fuel economy

With 240 horsepower, the Kia Sportage Turbo is hardly lacking in the pony count. As we mentioned, it's more than enough to get the Sportage SX up to speed. But if you're the type of person who studies the finer points of vehicle stats, you'll notice that horsepower count is actually down 20 from the last model. Torque, too, is down slightly, from 269 lb-ft to 260.

One might think this tamping down would help fuel economy, but massive gains aren't seen here. The outgoing Sportage SX had ratings of 20 mpg city/26 highway for FWD models, while AWD versions earned 19/25. The new, 2017 Sportage Turbo is rated at 21/26 mpg for FWD models and only 20/23 for AWD versions. While your mileage will vary, these ratings aren't exactly boast-worthy. A turbocharged Subaru Forester, which comes standard with AWD, is rated at 23 mpg city/28 highway, while a Ford Escape with a 2.0-liter turbo engine earns 21/28 for AWD models and 22/30 in FWD form.

We recognize that if you're spending the extra dough to get into a top-line, turbocharged Sportage -- prices start at $33,395 for FWD, $34,895 for AWD -- fuel economy probably isn't top of mind, but it's good to know what you're getting into before you buy.

Also: See the New and Redesigned Cars of 2016

Still a value

Those top-end prices buy a lot of car and a lot of content, the kind of features that you'd have to pay extra for even in a luxury vehicle like an Audi Q5. Among the Sportage SX Turbo's standard goods are 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, leather interior, power-operated and heated/ventilated front seats, hands-free power tailgate, premium Harman/Kardon audio system, panoramic sunroof and all those innovative safety features.

No doubt most Sportage buyers will prefer a more economical trim, but if you splurge on the SX, know that you're getting a powerful compact SUV that's loaded with the latest amenities, technology and safety equipment.


 

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