First Drive: 2011 Kia Sportage SX

Ben Wojdyla
Ben Wojdyla

As you might expect, the turbo treatment really livens up the Sportage. Acceleration comes on quick, almost too quick for a crossover, with the Theta II Turbo GDI engine delivering V6-beating numbers through the rev range. No official numbers are available at this time but we'd estimate 0-60 times somewhere in the mid to high 7's. Our tester was of the front-drive variety and in spite of all that power, torque steer was slight and quite manageable. As with the Optima SX, the engine is a bit harsh at certain rev ranges, but the benefits outweigh that drawback. Bombing along in Florida traffic at 60 mph, we had no trouble seeing 32 mpg on a car with less than a thousand miles on the ticker -- this despite an EPA estimated 22/27 mpg city/highway fuel economy rating.

The Sportage SX isn't too shabby in a corner either, for an over-3200 pound crossover it's got some moves. So much weight in the nose relegates it to understeer, but reaching the limit of adhesion is predictable and the 18-inch wheels and low profile tires communicate well to the driver. Steering is weighted perfectly, and the crisp turn in is a satisfying change for the segment. The ride is a bit stiff for some back sides, but over smooth pavement it has a planted, confidence-inspiring feel. Hit a chuck hole and you'll feel it though, right in your kidneys. Impact harshness is something Kia hasn't quite figured out with these SX models. About the only other complaint we have is with the Sportage's tiny back window and the lack of rear visibility, but these are the sacrifices that are made for style.

We're getting to the part where a declaration needs to be leveled upon the Sportage SX, and something feels so counter-intuitive about calling this the best vehicle and bargain in the segment. What else delivers this level of performance, packaging, styling, comfort and fuel economy for around $26K? Nothing, that's what. Remember the now-defunct Saturn brand's final tag line: “That's a Saturn?” You can't help but drive around a leather-lined, upscale, comfortable, quick, fuel-efficient crossover that looks this good without thinking to yourself “This is a Kia?” Yes, this is a Kia, and it's damn good.

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