Our Kia Sportage spent a lot of time on the highway this month, but whether it's actually well suited to this task remains a matter of some debate.
By far the longest highway trip was with senior editor Eric Tingwall, who took his girlfriend and an assortment of snowboarding gear to Canada. He appreciated the Sportage's ample cargo room -- "The perfect size for our two snowboards, two duffel bags, a backpack, a pillow, and a bag of food" -- but had some gripes once he got moving.
"My biggest complaint? Cabin noise," he wrote. "The Sportage's cabin is far louder than a Chevrolet Equinox's, largely due to wind noise at the A-pillars. There are even several compact cars with better insulation and sealing. Over a five-hour period, the constant rush of wind grows very tiresome."
He's not alone. "The wind roar coming from the panoramic glass roof is so intrusive at highway speeds that I could barely converse with my passenger," reported associate web editor Jake Holmes. "Closing the fabric sun shade reduced the noise a little bit, but it was still a loud highway ride," he added.
The wind does more to the Kia than make for a noisy ride. "The Sportage gets pushed around a lot on the highway in windy conditions, particularly now that it's wearing winter tires," griped copy editor Rusty Blackwell, one of several staffers who has complained about high-speed stability. As always, it's worth mentioning the desperate condition of Michigan's highways. Tingwall noted that during his trek across Canada's better-maintained pavement, he experienced no wandering issues and found the ride -- another consistent source of complaints -- perfectly comfortable. "On good roads, the Sportage's tidy body control presents no drawback in terms of ride comfort," he logged.
The highway fuel economy and range, however, seem to underwhelm regardless of road quality. Tingwall averaged about 22 mpg during his 750-mile trip, well below the 28 mpg EPA rating. "I rarely hit the EPA's highway number on such trips, but I expected to at least achieve the combined rating of 23 mpg," he said. As it was, Tingwall quickly ran through the Kia's 14.5-gallon fuel tank, and needed to stop after about 300 miles, leading him to grumble, "The range is unacceptably short." He also points out that our Sportage's 2.4-liter four-cylinder hardly offers blistering performance in return for its drinking habit. "Acceleration is noticeably weak between 50 and 80 mph," he noted.
Senior web editor Phil Floraday points out that he - like most of us - tend to exacerbate the fuel range issue by frequently exceeding highway speed limits. "I'm not blaming the Sportage for my desire to drive 80 mph," he said. "But I still wish I didn't have to visit gas stations as often as I do in this crossover."
Lest we get carried away, it's important to note that the Sportage is hardly a jittery econocar on the highway. And our observed fuel economy is still acceptable for a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle. Still, we see room for Kia, which has made a huge leap forward in terms of design, to take a step forward in refining the Sportage. As Tingwall concluded:
"Bringing the Sportage up to speed with the best of the small crossover pack -- particularly in terms of refinement -- requires taking inspiration not from Toyota and Honda but from BMW or Lexus or Audi. Kia engineers need to look at what makes those vehicles great and figure out which attributes they can distill into a Sportage at a Kia price point."