Kia Sportage EX AWD - fits in with royalty

You can call this Sportage Part II, or maybe Part four-by-four.
Back around Christmas, Kia sent us its dramatically restyled third-generation compact crossover, styling heavily related to the company’s dramatic “Kue” concept from 2007. But it was a front-wheel-drive model.

Now, with marathon commuting duties ahead for me, an all-wheel-drive model was available for the 330-miles of driving to and from the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Would a South Korean crossover stand up in the rarified atmosphere, dueling on the tarmac with new Rolls-Royces and Bugatti Veyrons mixed with classic Duesenbergs and Allards? Let’s update the story, plus see how good it is for backwoods cruising as well.

· Kia koncours – The new Sportage seemed to fit in quite well among the cars around the concours, the new design very angular and wedgy, far better than the last-gen, as I said in December. The shield-shaped 4-bar grill is flanked by upswept headlights with Audi-like LED running light bars on the bottom edges, while our test vehicle’s metallic red color really brought out the gray trim around the chrome-framed fog lights at the bumper’s outer edges. There’s a lower air intake over a fake brush shield, the gray plastic carrying around to the edges of the pronounced wheel flares and along the sill line to lower part of the rear bumper. Crisp design lines work well on a long wheelbase shape with a sweptback windshield and squared-off tail with some aero roundness, while the 18-inch tires with silver and black alloy wheels gave it a custom look. We looked like we belonged, although everyone was looking at the Bentleys, Lambos and Spykers around it in traffic. But I guess when Kias start using the LED running lights we have seen on Audis and other German cars, maybe its time has come and gone.

· Sportage seating – It is still a bit hard to believe that a compact Sportage can be had with a heated/cooled power leather driver’s seats, a superb audio system with AM-FM-Sirius Satellite-CD-USB/MP3 audio inputs, touch-screen satellite navigation system with real-time traffic, and voice command of phone calls, SMS text messages and music media sources. Yes, there hard black over pewter plastic here, but well done, solid and creak-free. Like I said before, the interior lights come on when you approach with the keyless remote, a very classy import touch. Then there’s keyless entry and a start/stop button inside, just like a high-end import. A thick leather-rimmed steering wheel hosts stereo and cruise control buttons on the upper spokes, and voice command and Bluetooth cell phone on the lower silver ones, and it all tilts and telescopes as well. The central 140-mph speedometer with inset red LCD trip computer display flanked by an 8,000-rpm tach and gas and temperature gauges looks upscale too. This tester also had the panoramic sunroof with full moonroof (manual sunshades) over the front seats and a fixed glass roof in back. Back-up video and sonar assisted when maneuvering around a Lamborghini Gallardo in a parking spot. Back seat room was pretty good, with decent head and leg room and a fold-down center armrest. Split the seatbacks 60/40 and the slightly high but flat and wide storage area gets downright big, with storage underneath. And the rear deck is carpeted. This could be the comfy modern crossover when the Alfa Romeo is getting tuned up.

· Sportage systems – Our 8,800-mile-old Sportage EX AWD had the same 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine with 176-hp as we tested in December, but the new SX’s 270-hp 2-liter turbocharged GDI engine might have fit in better with the jet-setters. The front-wheel-drive tester we had a few months ago did 60-mph in 8.5-seconds. Add a few pounds with our EX’s all-wheel-drive and it did the same in 8.8 seconds, a bit slow off the line. It netted an average 24-mpg compared to the front-wheel-driver’s 18-mpg. Our driving did see the “ECO” reminder pop up on the gauges when you drive economically. The new platform, 174.8-inches long with a wheelbase of 103.9 inches, is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor. It’s all unibody with independent McPherson struts in the front and multi-link rear with new dampers and coil springs, perfect for the winding rural roads we used on our trip, a bit sports sedan firm while maintaining comfort. Like
I have said, it did get a bit hard-edged over some bad bumps, but never crashing on rebound. Handling was nimble, the all-wheel-drive front-biased most of the time, but bringing in the rears as needed to neutralize things when we pushed. There wasn’t a lot of body roll either. But the “motor-driven” power steering still has a very artificial feel at speed, with a noticeable assist. The all-wheel disc brakes did their job when a shuttle bus pulled out in front of me, with decent pedal feel and stopping power with minimal nose dive and no fade after a few hard stops in a row. Off road, our street-tired Sportage also did well in light to moderate conditions, with a full-time electro-hydraulic all-wheel-drive system with dash-mounted buttons to lock the center differential and offer hill descent control that taps brakes to walk you down a slope.

We took it down a pine forest dirt path and up and down some sandy hills, fairly light in slope since this was Florida. Power transferred to the wheels that needed it with no slip, while locking the center diff helped in one rutted sandy stretch. Hitting some 45-degree-angle hillocks saw decent approach and departure angles and nothing rubbing underneath as we crested the top despite less than 7 inches ground clearance. Again, the suspension was up to the job, if a bit stiff over ruts. Call the AWD a very good addition for rainy or snowy conditions, and able to get you to a beach or forested cabin. For safety, driver and passenger front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags with ABS, stability control (that can be shut off), Electronic Brake Distribution and a Brake Assist System. There are also grab handles on the center console

· Kia kost – There are three flavors of Sportage. The base model starts at $18,295 with 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, SIRIUS Satellite Radio with three months complimentary service, MP3 connectivity and Bluetooth wireless technology. The LX adds side mirror LED turn signals, keyless entry and tinted glass. An EX FWD starts at $23,295, while our AWD is $24,795 with 18-inch alloy wheels, roof cargo rails, rear spoiler and chrome body trim and door handles. Options included: $1,500 navigation with rear camera; and a $3,000 premium package with premium audio, heated front seats with driver’s seat cooling, keyless entry/start, double sunroof, rear sonar, auto-dim rearview mirror with Homelink, heated outside mirrors and cargo cover. Final price - $29,990, $2,000 more than the FWD EX we had in December. Competition includes Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Dodge Nitro and Kia’s sister ship, the Hyundai Tucson. The Mitsubishi, Dodge and Chevy are less, the others equal or more if fully loaded, with the CR-V getting the most power at 180-hp. Some also offer V-6s that will equal the Sportage’s hotter optional engine. And some have more precision in their driving.

· Bottom line – Like I said in December, the Sportage may be the best looking of all of the compact crossovers, and that helped it fit in with the royal set at the Amelia Island concours. Its level of fit and finish were good, and its level of fitment was amazing for its price and size – cooled seats, panoramic moonroof, leather, sat-nav and a great audio for just under $30,000! And while it had all-wheel-drive, its mpg was better. Just get rid of the electric power steering.
Vehicle type – compact 5-passenger sports utility crossover

Base price $24,795 ($29,990 as tested)
Engine type DOHC, 16-valve in-line four
Displacement – 2.4 liter
Horsepower (net) – 176 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) – 168 @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission – 6-speed automatic with manual shifting
Wheelbase – 103.9 inches
Overall length – 174.8 inches
Overall width – 73 inches
Ground clearance – 6.8 inches
Height – 64.4 inches
Front headroom – 39.1 inches
Front legroom – 41.4 inches
Rear headroom – 38.5 inches
Rear legroom – 37.9 inches
Cargo capacity – 26.1 cu.ft./54.6 w/rear seats folded
Towing capacity – up to 2,000 lbs.
Curb weight – 3,355 lbs. (169 more than FWD)
Fuel capacity – 14.5 gallons
Mileage rating – 22-mpg city/31-mpg highway
Last word – Fit in with royalty, functioned OK off road too

By Dan Scanlan - MyCarData