Kia just added another rig to the roster of cars best ignored by shy people.
The redesigned 2017 Kia Sportage is a sure-fire attention-getter. It’s a splashy compact crossover with the devil-may-care charisma of its Seoul hatchback sibling.
The Sportage crams more action into its front third than most crossovers do from stem-to-stern. It’s a seriously stylized, crease-free smorgasbord of curved protrusions, stylized lamps — of head, driving and fog varieties — and sculpted sheet metal.
If you don’t want to be seen, don't drive this car.
The Sportage grows slightly larger this year, which means more room for cargo and for second-row passengers. It’s well equipped, its platform is stiffer and its suspension has been retuned to produce a smoother ride.
The little crossover is marginally less thirsty than last year’s model, though neither of its engines is a paragon of efficiency.
Most competitors are a little larger than the Sportage which, on the downside, means less cargo space. On the upside, it’s more maneuverable in crowded parking lots.
The original Sportage was a tiny body-on-frame SUV that made its States-side debut in 1995. It was a tinny mess. In an Australian safety test, its seatbelt failed and its structure collapsed. The second-gen model was recalled twice due to the rear wheels’ tendency to detach themselves from the moving vehicle.
It’s a testament to Hyundai that it could right the ship. Now, the Sportage is a top safety pick and one of the least expensive small crossovers to insure, a reflection of its safety record.
The early, truck-based Sportage was a capable off-roader. It was reborn in 2002, however, as a sedan-based crossover with limited off-road chops.
At 6.8 inches, its ground clearance is about an inch lower than the competition’s.
Instead, the Sportage has developed a reputation for athleticism; it’s more responsive and handles better than most in its class. This year’s suspension tune-up improves ride compliance without compromising handling. Even the base EX, which has the lineup’s softest suspension, balances compliance with body-motion control.
The Sportage exhibits moderate body lean in corners and neatly soaks up the impact of broken road surfaces.
The top-of-the-line SX Turbo, which we tested, runs 19-inch wheels and a firmed-up suspension. If not cushy, ride quality was more than acceptable.
Steering is accurate and nicely weighted and has good on-center feel. The system is numb and incommunicative, though.
The Sportage is available with a choice of two engines. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. The up-level SX Turbo trim runs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four good for 240 hp and 260 lb-ft.
Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that makes quick and smooth shifts. All trims come with standard front-wheel-drive; AWD is a $1500 option.
With the naturally aspirated four, the EPA estimates FWD efficiency at 26 mpg combined (23 city/30 highway) and 22/21/25 with AWD. The SX Turbo is rated at 23/21/26 and 21/20/23.
Tow capacity maxes out at 2,000 pounds.
Sportage’s well-equipped cabin helpfully blends touchscreen and analog controls; . A 5.0-inch touchscreen is standard on the base LX. The mid-range EX upgrades to a 7.0-inch screen and adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SX gets an 8-inch display and adds navigation and a Harman/Kardon surround sound system.
The EX qualifies for a pair of options packages that fetch most of the SX trim’s up-level features, including assorted safety and driver-assist functions, navigation and the Harman/Kardon stereo.
In all trims, front-seat occupants enjoy excellent head- and legroom and most drivers will find a comfortable driving position.
The quiet and well-organized cabin includes a handful of casual storage opportunities, including a small, covered center-console bin.
Sportage arose from the flames to become Kia’s longest-lived nameplate. It’s latest iteration is its best yet. Just know that people will be looking.
2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD
Vehicle base price: $23,200
Trim level base price: $34,000
As tested: $34,895 (including destination)
Options: The SX AWD is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options.
Tow capacity: 2,000 pounds
EPA rating: 21 combined/20 city/23 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified