Sportage Shows Kia’s Styling Growth

Small sport ute is beautifully designed, but please, fix the ride.

by on Feb.10, 2011

Kia's new Sportage continues the automaker's recent trend toward building stylish vehicles.

For the better part of two decades Kia has made progressively better cars, but the design and styling still lagged.

The designs were often boring (previous generation Sportage) and sometimes strangely ornate (Amanti).

Not many people looked at a Kia, any Kia, and said “Wow, I want to drive that.”

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That is changing rapidly. The latest Optima is a smartly styled mid-size sedan. The Soul is a funky little box, the type of shape that hipsters love. And now, Kia has an swoopy new Sportage small crossover.

Kia says the new Sportage design takes its – sorry about this – cue from the Kue concept that was introduced at the 2007 North American International Auto Show. Well, OK. That sleek two-door concept did have a high beltline and a low roof, much like the new Sportage, but after that, they don’t have all that much in common.

The Sportage's style continues inside with a delightful interior design.

No matter where its design inspiration came from, the new Sportage is a looker. A “spearing shoulder line” gives visual interest to the sides and ties the headlights to the taillights. The swept-back grille and windshield suggest motion.

What’s most interesting about the latest Kia designs is that they still seem to have a Korean flavor.

Following the current trend in automotive design, the Sportage amps up the interior with high-quality materials and high style.

Power comes from a smooth 2.4-liter four cylinder connected to an even smoother six-speed automatic transmission.

Well-designed vehicles have cool details, such as the Sportage's shapely taillights.

In fact, that transmission is the Sportage’s best feature. It shifts quickly in auto or manual mode and most shifts are almost imperceptable.

Acceleration is about what one would expect from a 3,186-pound vehicle with 176 horsepower. It has enough power to get in front of traffic when needed.

EPA fuel mileage is rated at 22 city and 30 highway, which is competitive with other vehicles in this class. What wasn’t so good was 21 mpg observed in mostly freeway driving.

The test car featured a pleasant tan interior with heated leather seats. The driver’s seat is cooled as well, a compact crossover first. The seats are long-haul comfortable and supportive.

The Sportage is powered by a 176-horsepower 2.4-liter four cylinder engine.

This well-optioned example also came with navigation and a twin-panel sunroof, but no all-wheel drive, a $1,500 option.

But not all is perfect inside the Sportage. As is typical of Kias and Hyundais, interior lighting is an issue. Certain instrument panel lights and the navigation screen do not dim with the rest of the dash lights when adjusted. Also, some screens, such as the one for the stereo, are just too bright at night.

Interestingly, the stereo was surprisingly anemic. Listening to talk radio on XM, the volume was maxed out just to hear Brian Billick explain the intracacies of the 4-3 defense.

Kia has adopted a striking wheel design such as on the Sportage

Also, why does a laptop bag on the passenger seat cause the seatbelt warning light to flash? Most cars have weight sensors set to allow something weighing a few pounds to be set on the passenger seat.

But the Sportage’s biggest demerit is its ride – it steers and handles very well, but the downside is the ride is far too stiff over lumpy pavement. It’s particularly uncomfortable over pavement with high-frequency bumps.

The front seats have expansive room and the seats are comfortable. The rear seat is comfortable for two with good head and kneeroom, but space to wiggle toes under the front seats is limited.

While the high beltline and squashed roof are stylish, the design tends to mean rather narrow windows. The Sportage’s rear window is quite small, but it doesn’t seem to restrict the view all that much.

The cargo area is well finished and features four tie-down hooks. Under the load floor is a compartmentalized storage unit.

Prices start at $18,990 (including destination) for the base Sportage, one of three trim levels. This top-level front-wheel-drive EX starts at $23,990. The test vehicle came with nav and premium audio ($1,500) and premium leather ($3,000). The leather package includes heated front seats (cooled on the driver side only) the twin-panel sunroof, rear sonar, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, heated outside mirrors and push button start. The test vehicle tipped the cash register to the tune of $28,490.

All-wheel drive, which the test vehicle did not have, adds $1,500, but is only available on LX and EX models.

Kia is pushing the envelope with the styling of its latest vehicles. Now, it just needs to work on some of the details to get to the next level.

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