A Sportier Sportage?
Kia recently let us loose on the back roads outside Seattle in several pre-production Sportages. Although they were close to being finished products, all combined the equipment levels of a premium EX model with the suspension tuning of the sportier SX.
Kia's engineers are still working on the final ride/handling tuning, but we think they're on the right path. The stiffer suspension setup allows the Sportage to stand out in a crowded sea of competitors, most of which feel gelatinous by comparison. Body roll is negligible, and combined with well-weighted electric power steering and a solid brake pedal feel, the little Kia may well prove to be one of the best-driving models in its segment.
Although the 2.4-liter provided adequate power for the small Sportage, some of Seattle's hillier areas had us wishing for the turbo four sooner than later. Still, even when revved hard, the naturally aspirated I-4 doesn't come off as coarse, and its sound is nicely insulated from the cabin. Better yet, the six-speed automatic quickly upshifts when needed, and gearchanges felt quite smooth.
Room for Improvement?
There's a lot to like in the new Sportage, but there's still room for growth. The 18-inch tires transmitted a fair amount of noise into the cabin, especially when we were cruising at 60 to 70 mph. We'd like to see UVO expanded to include more features like navigation, real-time traffic updates, and additional cloud computing features. Both Kia and Microsoft engineers avoided directly answering our questions but did suggest that those features will be incorporated down the road.
Still, these are minor complaints, especially considering the company expects to price the Sportage similarly to the 2010 model at about $17,000 to $23,000. Given the quantum leap in styling, infotainment, fuel economy, and dynamics, we think Kia's actually found a different means of producing what the original Sportage was: an absolute bargain.