If the automaker to watch in 2010 was Hyundai, Kia receives that honor for 2011. Not only does Kia match Hyundai's promise of value and quality products, the Koreans have quickly figured out how to share important parts like engines and platforms without creating me-too vehicles that only have different badges. The differences between a Hyundai Sonata and a Kia Optima are significant -- both the exterior design and the interior execution.
Kia has always tried to be the sportier of the two Korean brands, and models like the Sportage SX do a lot to back up that claim. The suspension tuning, specifically damping rates, could be a bit firmer, but the turbo four-cylinder engine is certainly sportier than most crossover or SUV powerplants. A well-executed interior that can also be described as driver-oriented is becoming a signature Kia touch. The Sportage interior isn't quite as driver-oriented as the Optima's, but I had no problem reaching all the controls.
I'm very impressed by the brand's steady, quiet march. The products have become very good. Kia just needs to perfect its suspension tuning to really advance its sportiness and move from being an also-ran to a real contender in the marketplace. If Kia can improve the damping to provide a firmer yet not harsh ride, the brand will be right there with the best.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The Sportage SX is yet another new, well-executed vehicle from Kia, which is quickly turning the page from just another car company, to one that we look forward to seeing new models from. The turbocharger mates well to the 2.0-liter engine and provides impressive power. My passengers kept asking if this really was a Kia because they "didn't know Kia made cars like that."
Another improvement is the interior. The nicely laid out, two-tier approach for radio and climate controls is very user friendly. Perhaps the only area that needs attention, as in all Korean cars it seems, is the suspension.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator