You may remember that I recently wrote that finding a place to park during Monterey Car Week can be a challenge. That’s one reason I prefer to drive compact crossover vehicles for the trip there and back from the ClassicCars.com offices in Phoenix.
Although I usually prefer pretty much anything but a compact crossover, they work well for the Monterey trip. They offer plenty of space inside for luggage and for the folding table I use as a desk and even for Bob Golfen, who rides along with me and who — surprisingly — seems to have no trouble folding his 6-foot-6 frame into such cars.
Kia offered me the use of a 2018 Sportage for the trip this year, the upscale SX AWD model, and after more than a week with the Pacific Blue 5-door, I find I may need to update my opinion about such vehicles.
The 2018 Sportage marks the second year of the vehicle’s fourth generation. Now riding on 19-inch wheels with a quintet of Y-spokes pattern, and with reduced overhangs, and with elevated headlamps and quad fogs bracketing Kia’s “tiger nose” grille, the Sportage looks relatively aggressive for a family vehicle that averaged 23 mph for the trip there and back, and for driving around the peninsula trying to find a place to park it.
The Sportage was calm and content and competent, and then some. Because it’s also quite luxurious, and filled with excellent technology, such as rear cross-traffic warning that saved my butt — and the car’s — one day as I was backing out of a parking place between two big SUVs.
The crossover’s interior was gorgeous with two-tone leather, plus there was contrasting stitching that made you feel you were in a luxury vehicle. Plus, the front seats were both heated and air conditioned, and you could heat the steering wheel if you lived in a cold climate, where the all-wheel drive also would be a good thing to have.
There was Harman Kardon premium audio, Apple and Android connections, more than a dozen telematic services and 8 GB of music storage, along with navigation, Kia’s UVO infotainment, and Bluetooth for hands-free calling.
But wait, we’re just getting to the really good stuff…
Like most of the compact crossovers, the Sportage carries a small four-cylinder engine. But in the case of the Sportage SX, that 2.0-liter engine is turbocharged, which means it pumps out 240 horsepower and, even more important, 260 pound-feet of torque, with that twisting power peaking at just 1,450 rpm.
And for the fourth-generation Sportage, Kia stiffened the body structure and tweaked the suspension, and on the center console, there’s a button so the driver can select between Eco, Normal and Sport modes.
Yes, we’ve seen such switchgear before, and sometimes wonder whether there’s really much difference between the modes.
A few times during my week on the Monterey Peninsula, I had an opportunity to drive the Laureles Grade, which takes you from just outside the Laguna Seca race track, up and over a mountain, and T-bones into Carmel Valley Road, or vice versa.
Find yourself on the road at the right time — which means no delivery trucks or oh-look-at-the-view-honey tourists — and the Laureles Grade is a sports car heaven (but be careful near each end, where the speed limit drops and where the local police like to sit).
The road used to be part of the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance, but the climb proved too difficult for some of the older cars, and the descent was taxing on ancient braking systems.
During Monterey Car Week, you’ll see all sorts of exotics racing up and down and around on the road. Much to my surprise, the Sportage held its own in Sport mode. The Sport mode triggers electronic algorithms that tweak engine and gear parameters, make everything more taut and allow you to take full advantage of what the turbo provides.
OK, it’s still no Ferrari or Porsche 911, but how much luggage and folding table and Bob Golfen can you fit into one of those?
And where can you buy one with a $34,400 base price?
2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD
Vehicle type: 5-passenger crossover, all-wheel drive
Base price: $34,400 Price as tested: $36,125
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder, 240 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 260 pound-feet of torque @ 1,450 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 105.2 inches Overall length/width: 176.4 inches / 73.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,765 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 20 city / 23 highway / 21 combined
Assembled in: Gwangju, Korea