Kia’s Sportage has grown up nicely.
I remember my first experience driving the then-new Kia crossover. It was in the mid-1990s and the drive was through a horrible lake-effect snowstorm in western Michigan. But the compact Kia’s all-wheel drive proved stunningly sure-footed when other larger vehicles were sliding off and getting stuck.
Now, here we are, a couple of decades later and the Sportage is moving into its fourth generation, now all grown up into more of a mid-size utility vehicle and has matured in style as well, offering all sorts of luxury accoutrements.
I’ve just spent a week in the 2017 Kia Sportage SX, albeit one with front- rather than four-wheel drive, but that’s fine for here in Phoenix, where we don’t have to fret about lake-effect or any other sort of snowstorms.
The SX is the top-level Sportage. The line starts with the LX, with EX in the middle and then the SX, technically the SX Turbo. While the LX and EX are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, the SX comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that offers 240 horsepower and a whopping 260 pound-feet of torque, with the curve peaked all the way from 1,450 rpm to 3,500.
The only choice for shifting is a six-speed automatic, but apply your right foot firmly and the turbo will have you thinking there’s a big strong six under the hood, though how many good-sized crossovers with big sixes also will provide average fuel economy of nearly 30 mpg?
Standard equipment on the Gen-4 Sportage SX includes the typical safety technologies, but also blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking assist and autonomous emergency braking.
The SX also comes with dual-zone climate controls, Harman Kardon premium audio, Kia’s UVO infotainment/navigation/connectivity with an 8-inch screen, leather seating — heated and ventilated up front — power-foldaway mirrors, panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, “dynamic bending” headlamps and Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.
All of that comes in a package with a stiffer body (by 39 percent in torsional rigidity) and new suspension that a stiffer body enables to better accomplish is mission of riding and handling control and comfort.
That package also has a new design with sharp creases replacing old-fashioned curves. Sportage also wears Kia’s new “tiger-nose” grille, has a lower, wider front intake for enhanced engine cooling and to add volume to the lower portion of the vehicle’s face without adding width to the vehicle. Overhangs are shortened, wheels are 19 inches in diameter and are moved closer to the corners and have new and bolder arches.
Kia terms the Sportage’s fog-lamp display as “ice cube,” though I think it looks more like bullets or maybe missiles ready to be fired by a would-be James Bond.
The interior is roomy and the cargo area has expanded to 30.7 cubic feet (compared to 26.1 in the Gen-3 version). Load-in height is lower for easier access.
2017 Kia Sportage SX
Vehicle type: 5-passenger sport utility vehicle, front-wheel drive
Base price: $32,500 Price as tested: $33,395
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 240 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque @ 1,450-3,500 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches Overall length/width: 176.4 inches / 73.0- inches
Curb weight: 3,666 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 21 city / 26 highway / 23 combined
Assembled in: Gwangju, Korea