Both the driver and front passenger enjoy plenty of shoulder, leg, and headroom, but headroom is a little tight in back -- especially in the Sportage EX model, which comes with a standard panoramic sunroof. Rear passengers will, however, appreciate the large side windows, which extend far back into the chunky C-pillars. Contrary to outward appearances, those pillars don't create a sizable blind spot, thanks in part to the extra visibility offered by the lengthy side windows.
The sleek, lowered roofline looks good but restricts cargo access. Cargo volume for the 2011 model drops nearly nine cubic feet from the last model, and the distance from the top of the load floor and the ceiling isn't that tall -- if you want to throw a bicycle in back, you absolutely will need to pop the front wheel off. On the plus side, Kia was able to lower both the load floor and the liftover point, thanks in part to some mechanical changes underneath the skin.
What Lies Beneath
Although they share virtually no sheetmetal between them, the 2011 Sportage rides on the same platform as the 2010 Hyundai Tucson. Like the Tucson, the Sportage uses steel unibody construction, with a strut-type independent front suspension. A new multi-link rear suspension replaces the previous dual-link setup and not only improves handling but takes up less space, allowing the Sportage to have a wide, flat load floor behind the rear seats.
As is the case in the Hyundai, the Sportage's base engine is a 2.4-liter, 16-valve inline four-cylinder rated at 176 hp at 6000 rpm and 168 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Buyers can opt for either a six-speed manual transaxle or a new six-speed automatic designed and manufactured by Hyundai-Kia.
The automatic gearbox also allows buyers to spring for Kia's available all-wheel-drive system, which was co-developed with Magna. In its normal state, all power is routed to the front wheels, but the system will equally split between the front and rear axles as needed. Drivers can manually lock the center differential, but the system reads inputs from the stability and traction control systems to pre-load the diff, reducing the amount of time needed to transfer power.