The 2011 Kia Sportage, all-new for the first time since 2005, represents the latest move by the South Korea car maker in its drive to become a household name, if not a regular dinner guest, in U.S. new car-buying families. And as far as conveniently sized, sporty crossover utility vehicles go, Kia has executed well.
With gas prices showing no signs of retreating, Kia's engine masters have stepped up by obtaining better fuel economy and more horsepower out of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine than the previous model's 2.7-liter V6 produced. According to the EPA, the 2011 Kia Sportage earns a City/Highway rating of 21/28 miles per gallon (substantially reduced from the 2010 Sportage V6's 18/21 mpg). Helping those ratings is that, depending on the model and features, the 2011 Sportage weighs 100-200 pounds less than the 2010 version.
The 2011 Sportage lineup starts with front-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission. Uplevel models use a 6-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
We found the 2.4-liter engine delivers its power smoothly and mostly in a linear manner, with only an occasional, slight surge after an upshift in the automatic as the electronics adjust to the changing load. Those gear changes are clean, if not remarkably sharp, with ready downshifts for overtaking or merging. Steering feels heavier in the AWD version but reasonably responsive in both, with good directional stability. AWD comes with a limited locking feature for low-speed use in adverse conditions.
Kia's Southern California-based designers spared no pixels in styling the new Sportage. From every aspect, the 2011 Sportage is fresh and sharp, with the only obvious carryover feature the trademark oval logo centered in the grille and in the liftgate. Character lines are crisp but subdued, contrasting nicely with the overall rounded look. Blackened lower trim panels imply good ground clearance while keeping the tires visually in proper proportion to the body.
Interior accommodations in the 2011 Sportage are more comfortable than those in the 2010 model, if not as commodious. Front seats offer improved support in all areas, including for an occupant's often-neglected thighs. Leather-trimmed seats are available on the top model EX, as is an air-cooled driver's seat, which is a first for whatever the class segment is. However, the front seat passenger is left with fore-and-aft and tilt-seatback adjustments only, all manual. Hauling ability is a win/lose, with more space behind the second seat but less space with the second seat folded when compared with the previous model.
Creature comfort and entertainment features follow the traditional pattern, with an AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker stereo and air conditioning standard. The upgrade audio system adds a subwoofer and an external amplifier plus what's fast becoming the required navigation system, in the new Sportage with a touch screen that also integrates the display from an included backup camera. The EX gets dual-zone, automatic climate control.
Initially, all 2011 Sportage models will be powered by the beefy 2.4 liter four cylinder making 176 horsepower. Due later in the model year is a turbocharged, 2.0 liter four cylinder Kia promises will pump out more that 270 horsepower.