2017 Kia Sportage First Drive

by Heather Platt | Posted on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

It’s hard to get excited about most mainstreamcrossovers, but the truth is this is one of the hottest segments of the market right now. The automotive space is saturated with a glut of these profit-making, two-box, semi-practical, soft-roading vehicles, and the tide isn’t likely to abate soon. At first blush, Kia’s redesigned 2017 Sportage isn’t the most eye-catching of new products, but it’s poised to do very well in the ongoingCUV wars.

2017 Kia Sportage

Progress in this kind of battle is often measured in inches of space, and the 2017 Sportage grows both inside and out. The new Kia measures the same 73 inches wide as its predecessor, but it gains 1.2 inches on the wheelbase, and 1.6 inches in overall length. There’s more room overall for passengers, and there’s 18-percent greater cargo space in back. Plus, the luggage floor can be moved down into a lower position to make more vertical space when needed.The Sportage was penned by renowned designer Peter Schreyer (he of first-gen Audi TT fame), but the end result is a bulbous-looking crossover, especially when viewed from the front – it’s like a chipmunk with too many acorns in its cheeks. The “tiger-nose” grille – a hallmark of Schreyer – was moved up to accommodate the “ice-cube” fog lamps, while the headlights sweep back along the sides of the car. The A and C pillars are thinner, allowing occupants better visibility from inside the car, but from the outside, the rear three-quarter view looks blocky and cut up. The rear doesn’t seem to match the rest of the car, either – it’s more svelte and understated.

Looking past its exterior design, the new Sportage is marginally, uh, sportier, thanks to a new, lighter, stiffer body, a redesigned suspension, and new engine tuning. Kia is mostly chasing improved fuel efficiency with its latest powertrain updates, as both engines have slightly lower outputs than their predecessors but have marginal improvements in fuel economy. The entry-level 2.4-liter inline-four (same as the Optima and Sorento) puts out 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque – decreases of only 1 hp and 2 lb-ft – and can be had with front- or all-wheel drive. Step up to the top-of-the-line SX Turbo and you get a 2.0-liter turbo-four that puts out 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (that’s 20 hp and 9 lb-ft less than before). Kia estimates the 2.4/FWD combination will return 23 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway, and 26 mpg combined, while the 2.0T/AWD will score 20/23/21.

With front-wheel drive, it’s possible to get the Sportage’s rear end to unset itself on a winding road – it’s not our first choice. Instead, the Magna Dynamax all-wheel-drive system electronically senses the road and anticipates slide events and can brake individual wheels to prevent or mitigate traction loss. The system can push as much as 100 percent of the power to front or rear wheels as needed, and there’s even a 50/50 locking differential – you know, for those times when you have to scale a small snowbank to get to soccer practice.

The 2017 Kia Sportage might just be another new crossover, but it’s poised to do well within its class. For one, at $22,990, it offers a low cost of entry into this highly popular and competitive segment – even a loaded one will slot right around $35,000. It’s a little awkward to look at, but it’s at least distinctive – it doesn’t just blend in with other CUVs, especially from up front. Overall, the 2017 Sportage easy to like and pleasant to use. That’s hardly exciting, but in this segment, that’s good enough.

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