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First Drive: 2017 Kia Sportage SX 2.0T

It’s been over twenty years since the first release of the Kia Sportage. Since the mid 90’s, automotive market segments have become quite skewed. Gone are the days of the family wagon and the cross country trips to Wally World. Without question, crossovers are the hot ticket of desire with the majority of manufacturers due to the demands of consumers, and profits being high on their priority lists. Because of this you cannot fault anybody for making crossovers because they simply cannot sell enough of them.

Kia invited me to test the newest version of the Sportage in my lovely Southern California hometown of San Diego, to see how it stacks up in this highly competitive and saturated market.

Styling is what sells cars. Reliability is going to be a close second, but the primal feeling of loving what you drive from a purely aesthetic standpoint is what consumers want. That being said the new Sportage can be best defined as polarizing. Both Kia and Hyundai captured the talents of German automotive designers years ago and with this new styling trend Kia stated that they wanted to take risks.

Peter Schreyer, President of Kia in North America and Chief Design Officer for Hyundai and Kia, had full reign with the design of this new Sportage. Personally, I find it not necessarily attractive but certainly interesting to look at. Perhaps my favorite feature of the exterior is what’s described as “ice cube” fog lamps. It’s something that reminds me of the headlight treatment in the more recent Porsche models so having a styling treatment from a premium brand can’t be a bad thing.

With form you also need function. Whenever I read a press release about any new automotive product and I see something that states the body-in-white has been reduced in weight (in this case 56 lbs), I am fairly certain we will not be dealing with a feather weight. The Sportage weights in at 3,596 lbs for the front-wheel drive 2.4L EX and climbs all the way up to 3,997 lbs for the SX 2.0T all-wheel drive variant. There’s a fair amount of weight to haul along. You do, however, get an increased interior capacity and it all happens within the same overall footprint as the prior-generation Sportage.

Powertrain options remain similar to the last version as well. You start with the entry-level 2.5 liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 184 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. With the SX Turbo models, which Kia had primarily available for our media drive in front-wheel and all-wheel-drive configurations, you get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. These figures are down in both departments of power delivery by 1 hp and 2 lb-ft and 20 hp and 9 lb-ft for each engine option, respectively.

With the weight of this Sportage, fuel economy is tolerable but not exactly market leading with 24 city/30 highway/26 combined for the 2.4 liter front-wheel-drive model and 20 city/23 highway/21 combined for the 2.0 turbo all-wheel-drive model.

Handling feel and driving dynamics were something of a pleasant surprise for me. After spending some time with both the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5, I was fairly certain nothing in this segment could come close to the steering feel and sure-footedness of the Mazda offerings, but I was wrong. Spend an extra $1,500 to get the Magna Dynamax all-wheel-drive system, and it returns a Sportage that grips and holds the road with ease.

Using torque vectoring by of the brake system, this setup determines if wheel slip is occurring and adjusts the traction as necessary. The front-wheel drive variant felt as you would expect of a front-wheel drive crossover. It lacks the poise of the all-wheel drive system but for those not testing the handling limits of the Sportage will not notice this. Another positive note  for the all-wheel-drive version is that the initial residual data figures determine a 100% value estimate of getting the all-wheel drive system so for me I would spring for that option even with the nominal fuel-economy decrease.

Standard safety driver features include lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking system, and forward collision warning but sadly no radar guided or adaptive cruise control system. This could be a negative for the Sportage because other models in this segment are offering this technology.

The interior of the Sportage has a nice upscale feel about it. All touch points are soft and lend a quality feel about the cabin. The 7-inch UVO entertainment system in our test vehicles responded well to inputs and was intuitive to use. Android Auto and Apple Car Play will be available in April 2016 as a $1,500 option and is available as a software update to the early adopters of the 2017 Sportage.

Overall, the 2017 Kia Sportage is a good follow up to the previous generation. With interesting styling, competent powertrain options, fairly competitive technology, and excellent driving dynamics it proves itself as an offering to look out for in this market segment. Though most buyers may not drive the canyons to test the handling capabilities of their Sportage as I did, if you choose to do so you will find an enjoyable driving experience that is enough to make you happy.

[Disclaimer: Kia invited me to attend the event and put me up with a place to sleep for the night. I apologize to all of those who were witness to my Karaoke skills the last night of the event.]

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