In our minds, the raison d'etre of an all-wheel-drive crossover, even a small, high-style one like the Kia Sportage, is to slog through adverse weather. Despite the unseasonably mild weather Southeast Michigan has experienced so far, we can confirm that the Sportage, which we've shod with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, lives up to this basic mission.
"I think we will quite enjoy our last few months with the Sportage, as evidenced by the car's performance in this morning's inch or two of snow," wrote deputy editor Joe DeMatio. "With its Blizzak DM-V1 tires, the Sportage confidently inched down my snow-covered, very steep driveway, and then it bounded along partially snow- and ice-covered roads with utter confidence."
The Sportage received more praise for the surefootedness of its all-wheel-drive system. "It made easy work of the crappy weather we encountered on our way back from the east coast," reported associate web editor Donny Nordlicht. "Better yet, using the push-button AWD lock transformed the Sportage from spunky crossover into more of a planted, heavy-feeling minitruck from behind the wheel; very confidence inspiring."
Still, old man winter has exposed a few chinks in the Kia's armor. For one, Nordlicht noted that the climate control system seems to have difficulty evenly heating the cabin. "In low temperatures, the front passenger gets cold; it didn't seem that anything was wrong with the door seals, but that side of the cockpit is just colder. (Good thing for the heated passenger seat!)."
More significant are the complaints that have surfaced about the Sportage's ride quality:
"The Sportage is miserable over broken pavement," says senior web editor Phil Floraday. "Each bump feels terribly harsh and the dampers don't seem like they do any actual dampening. I'd only want a suspension this firm in an uncompromising sports car like the Mitsubishi Evo MR."
Some of this harshness may be attributed to the aforementioned winter tires, which have also made the Sportage noisier on the highway and somewhat reduced its on-center stability on dry roads. It's also worth pointing out the obvious fact that Michigan roads are some of the worst in the country, especially during the winter. Still, it's also important to note that ride quality has been a consistent problem area for the Sportage, as well as for other Kia/Hyundai vehicles we've tested.
"The Sportage exhibits astonishingly good body control on back roads, but that's not this vehicle's mission," opined West coast editor Jason Cammisa. "The result is a harsh ride, way too much head toss, and a chassis that's constantly moving around. Impact noise is pronounced and road noise is constant." Kia recognizes this issue and to that effect has revised the 2012 model's front suspension and roll bar to help improve ride. We look forward to testing one soon to determine if this addresses our complaints.
The rough ride has not, however, managed to knock the Sportage from its high standing in our fleet. "Despite my complaints, I'm never sad to see my name next to the Sportage on the car board," concluded Floraday. "It's always reliable (not something I can say about some of our more expensive Four Seasons vehicles), looks good, seats four adults easily, and has one of the best navigation systems on the market. I can easily put 600 miles on this car over a weekend and not be counting the minutes until I'm home and out of the vehicle."