2011 Kia Sportage Driving Impressions

We found the new Kia Sportage enjoyable to drive, and the all-wheel-drive models more than the front-wheel-drive models, but neither is boring or outside of its element in the overwhelming majority of circumstances and situations.

Kia has done a commendable job of milking maximum power out of the 2.4-liter four-banger, actually bettering the 173 horsepower of the 2010's 2.7-liter V6, all while getting better fuel economy, by three miles per gallon in the city and by seven mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. And for shoppers wanting more punch, due later in the model year is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 270-plus horsepower. The 6-speed automatic (there were no manual transmission-fitted Sportages at the press launch) handles gear changes reasonably smoothly, including downshifts when necessary for passing and merging, whether in regular auto or Sportmatic mode. Brakes did their job with confidence and no noticeable fade after several miles of reasonably rapid motoring on twisting two-lane roads winding through the Santa Cruz Mountains south of San Francisco.

Response to steering inputs was decent on the test EX wearing the low profile tires and 18-inch wheels, with understeer more easily induced in FWD than in AWD. The same held for steering effort, with the AWD feeding back a heavier, more solid feel. Given the relatively high center of gravity, body roll in tight corners was modest. Directional stability, i.e., the tendency to hold its line on straight stretches and through corners, raised no concerns, requiring corrections only in response to pavement irregularities. Suspension damping was decent over bumpy pavement, the worst of which produced something more like head nodding than head bobbing. If that bumpy road turns into mud or is blanketed with snow, the new AWD system offers a Lock Mode that puts equal amounts of torque to each wheel up to a maximum of 25 mph.

The test models we drove were early production models, i.e., not quite ready for prime time, so the minor squeaks and rattles emanating from somewhere in the neighborhood of the dash are likely not indicative of what will be in dealers showrooms. The tire noise from the stock Hankook tires, though, could be, which would be too bad, as otherwise, the ride and road holding were quite respectable.

Comparing overall handling, the Forester feels about the same in terms of road holding and overall stability, with its lower center of gravity making up for a track (distance between the wheels side to side) that's more than three inches narrower. The CR-V and RAV4 don't fare as well, tipping the scales at between 200 pounds and 300 pounds heavier than the new Sportage and riding on a track that's narrower than the Sportage's by two inches, the net effect of which is to allow more body roll in turns and to generate head gyrations that are closer to bobbing than to nodding over rough pavement. Basic ride quality, though, is comparable.

* MSRP is the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of the vehicle. Unless specifically indicated in the advertisement, MSRP does not include taxes, fees or other charges. Actual dealer pricing may vary. Consult your dealer for more information and complete details.

* The dealer advertised price may not reflect specific dealer offers, and may be subject to certain terms and conditions as indicated in the advertisement. Consult your dealer for more information and complete details.

* Images and options shown are examples, only, and may not reflect exact vehicle color, trim, options, pricing or other specifications.

Request More Info