First Look: 2011 Kia Sportage

We first laid eyes on the all-new 2011 Kia Sportage last month at the Geneva motor show, but now that the cute-ute is in New York for its official U.S. debut, we're learning more about what we'll soon see at dealers across the country.

As you may already know, the new Sportage is even more pavement-biased than the outgoing model. Altogether, the new unibody is longer, wider and lower than the old model. What's more, even its all-wheel-drive system is heavily biased towards the front wheels, transferring only "a percentage" of the power on tap to the rear wheels to combat slippery surfaces. In the hairiest of situations, drivers can opt to lock the center differential and send 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels, though only to 25 mph. Additional off-road themed features include both hill start and hill descent assist systems designed to keep you in control in all situations.

Providing the power are two engine options, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 176 horsepower that will be available at launch and a new 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder that will launch a few months down the road. Power numbers for that engine haven't been announced yet, though they do say it will be more powerful, so it's probably a version of the new Theta II engine that's begun making its way around the Hyundai/Kia lineups. There's also no mention of the old 2.7-liter V-6, so it appears to be dead as it's less powerful than even the base four-cylinder.

The new four-bangers will put their power down through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, either to the front wheels only or to all four through its aforementioned AWD system. Connecting the power to the ground are new wheels offered in sizes ranging from 16 inches to 18 inches. A MacPherson Strut design holds the front wheels down while the rear end gets a new multi-link design.

Along with the new suspension, Kia switched to a new quick-ratio electric power steering system that also helps save fuel. Kia isn't talking numbers yet, but the company promises both engines will offer better fuel economy than the old model. The company has also been working aggressively on quelling NVH problems to make the new Sportage a much smoother ride, but without sacrificing handling.

The new Sportage will be offered in just two trim levels -- LX and EX. The base LX trim will come nicely equipped per Kia's push to offer more content for less money to woo buyers. That means standard satellite radio, auxiliary audio connections, Bluetooth and its host of driver aids.

Upgrade to the top-shelf EX trim and you'll get a telescoping steering column, leather on the steering wheel and shifter, auto-folding rear seats, dual-zone climate control, a cooled glove box and a power driver's seat. You'll also have the option of adding nav, rear parking sensors, a panoramic sun roof, heated and cooled seats, leather seats and Kia's new UVO voice control system. Most of these options are available on the LX trim, too.

Along with the turbo four-cylinder's official outputs, we're still waiting on fuel economy numbers, pricing and an on-sale date, though it's expected sometime late this year. Whatever we don't learn in New York should come to light later this year as the on-sale date approaches.

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