The Kia nameplate is synonymous with value, but the Korean manufacturer is trying to change that. Oh, it'll keep the value, but it wants to add design to its strengths. If the Sportage looks vaguely like an oversize Italian hot hatch, it's no coincidence-it was penned by a designer from Italy. And if its LED daytime running lights look familiar, it's no surprise-Kia's design head is the former Audi design boss.
The Sportage shares its platform with something slightly more Korean-the Hyundai Tucson. That means it has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed stick or a very smooth six-speed automatic. The new engine makes more power than last year's optional V-6, which is a pleasant surprise, but the Sportage isn't exactly quick in a straight line. A turbocharged 2.0-liter with more than 270 hp is coming next year, and that model will also have adaptive dampers. The additional thrust will turn the Sportage into one of the quickest cute-utes, but the dampers may be overkill, as it already offers surprisingly well-balanced handling and amazingly good body control.
Top-spec Sportages offer dual-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, keyless start, and leather seating. The driver's seat is power-operated and can be cooled at the touch of a button. This is hardly the stuff you'd expect from a Kia.
On sale: Now
BASE PRICE: $18,990
SPECS: 2.4L I-4, 176 hp, 168 lb-ft; front- or 4-wheel drive
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Yet another dramatic new-model makeover from Hyundai/Kia.