2011 Kia Sportage — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2013.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
The Kia Sportage has really changed since hitting the streets. Looking like a shrunken, even boxier Ford Explorer when it first rolled off the assembly line in 1995, the Kia's small utility vehicle was nothing more than basic, no-frills transportation. Performance and looks were sacrificed so dealers could stick a rock-bottom price tag on its front window.
Today, however, the Korean automaker is pushing to become a brand centered on impressive design and innovative technology. The all-new 2011 Sportage is an excellent example of both.
Over the years, Kia has made some impressive upgrades to this small ute. This year it pulled out all the stops, improving both looks and performance significantly. But did Kia change enough to make the Sportage competitive with heavyweights such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4?
Notable options include a panoramic sunroof, an upgraded sound system with a navigation system and rear backup camera, keyless access and starting, universal garage door opener, rear park assist, leather upholstery and heated and cooled seats. Kia's UVO infotainment interface is due later in the model year. It will be standard in the EX model. A turbocharged and sporty SX model is also due later in the model year.
Standard safety equipment on all models includes dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags with rollover deployment, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, hill-start assist and downhill brake control.
Under the Hood
EPA fuel-economy ratings are 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway for the manual transmission, 22/31 mpg for front-drive versions with the automatic, and 21/28 mpg for all-wheel-drive versions.
Kia's Dynamax all-wheel-drive system sends all the power to the front wheels under normal driving conditions, and constantly monitors conditions to know when to begin to send power to the rear. Drivers can also select a Lock Mode that locks in a 50/50 front-rear torque split when conditions warrant it.
The new UVO (short for "your voice") system is a convenient interface for phone and entertainment functions. It uses a fairly simple voice-command system that doesn't require multiple commands to activate its various features. It will take some time to learn the core commands — there are 144 — but once learned, they will prevent drivers from looking away from the road to make a call or change a song. We like the standard jukebox hard drive, but it's pretty small and can hold only about 250 songs. There is also no integrated navigation system. Not a good move.
While the Sportage's new design is more attractive than past iterations, it changes the vehicle's proportions, giving it more space in some areas and less in others. The driver sits lower this year, but seat travel is longer, creating more useful legroom. Front and side views are clear, for the most part, but the view astern is blocked by thick rear pillars. Driver's seat comfort is limited by too few adjustments, a headrest that tilts too far forward, and the fact that the telescoping steering wheel is offered only on the EX model. We're particularly annoyed by the headrest. It intrudes on long-trip comfort when you just want to sit back for the ride. Otherwise, the front row offers plenty of space, and the seats are shapely and fairly well-bolstered.
The rear seat has good headroom, and legroom will be good for an average-size adult. But the short seat bottoms might become tiresome on long trips. A handy, fold-down center armrest aids rear passenger comfort, though — a nice touch.
The sportier, lower roof line reduces cargo room. Even with the 60/40 split-folding rear seat folded flat, the Sportage has only 54.7 cubic feet of cargo space, almost 12 cubic feet less than last year's model. By comparison, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 offer about 73 cubic feet. With the rear seats up, the Sportage still has a useful 26.1 cubic feet of cargo room, which should be enough for a week's worth of groceries.
On the Road
The Sportage doesn't have sportiness down pat, though. The steering has an artificially heavy feel, though it is fairly quick. Sporty features such as a small steering wheel, steering-wheel shift paddles or thickly bolstered seats are not offered. The brakes, on the other hand, feel natural and are easy to modulate.
We found that the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine offered as much power as most of us would ever need. It gets the vehicle up to speed easily and it works well with the 6-speed automatic transmission to provide decent, if not willing, passing punch. For those who want more, a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is due later this year that should make the Sportage impressively quick, much like the 3.5-liter V6 offered in the RAV4.
While the Sportage isn't meant as an off-roader, it does have some features to give it a modicum of prowess off the beaten track. Kia's all-wheel-drive system includes a button to lock in a 50/50 front-rear torque split, ensuring some type of grip as long as one axle has it. Features such as hill-descent control and hill-start assist will also help get the Sportage out of some tough spots. Still, with a lower ride height and a wider stance, the Sportage's AWD system is meant more for on-road security than off-road capability.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Kia provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitatethis report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.