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Sportage survives own past, thrives in tough segment

This review originally appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

Kia Sportage exterior

The fourth-generation 2017 Sportage lands with a roomier cabin, a stiffer unibody, a new suspension and a look bold enough to worry the competition. 

Kia’s Sportage compact crossover is a survivor.

It survived its own build-quality issues (one generation was recalled twice for its tendency to shed its rear wheels). It survived the collapse of Kia, which led to its absorption by Hyundai. And it survived a two-year hiatus during which it morphed from truck-based SUV to sedan-based crossover.

Kia Sportage interior

Sportage is quieter, sturdier and better-riding than ever.

The Sportage debuted in 1993 but didn’t become a serious competitor until 2011. Now, the fourth-generation 2017 Sportage lands with a roomier cabin, a stiffer unibody, a new suspension and a look bold enough to worry the competition.

The new look packs an unruly number of creases and curves into the Sportage’s compact frame. Swept-back headlights flank a sharply contoured hood. The front fascia grows deeper to improve engine-bay cooling and accommodate oversized fog lamp housings. In the top SX Turbo trim, a quartet of “ice cube” LED fog lamps glower like machine-gun ports.

Other updates include new driver-assistance systems, seriously improved interior materials and the latest generation of Kia’s UVO telematics and infotainment system, which adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

If there were a most-improved award, Sportage would be a contender.

High-strength steel comprises 51 percent of its unibody, up from 18 percent. Torsional rigidity jumps 39 percent. A host of sound-deadening measures — thicker side-window glass, soundproofing in the doors and wheel arches and new rear suspension bushings — work magic inside.

Sportage is quieter, sturdier and better-riding than ever.
It has also grown some. Overall length is up 1.6 inches and the wheelbase is longer by 1.2 inches. These changes boost headroom and legroom for passengers in both rows. Second-row seating has been tweaked for improved headroom and a more comfortable seating position.

Last year’s engine choices return. The base engine is a normally aspirated 2.4-liter four that makes 181 horsepower and has been retuned for improved fuel efficiency. The optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four makes 240 hp in FWD trim and 237 hp with AWD and is tuned for improved mid-range torque.

Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic that goes about its work in a work-a-day fashion. It’s not especially quick nor intuitive, but it’s nearly always in the right gear for the situation.

Name aside, there’s not much sport to the Sportage. Heavier in its fourth-gen guise than before, it’s also more softly suspended and is clearly tuned for comfort. Buyers seeking off-road chops should look elsewhere, as well; the “metal-look” skid plates on my top-of-the-line SX Turbo tester would faint dead at the first sign of rocks.

Nevertheless, Sportage offers real value in a segment that’s all about value. The competition includes a selection of the industry’s best-selling vehicles, but the Sportage is a survivor. And these days the wheels stay on.

Errata: In last week’s review of the Lincoln MKX, we mistakenly referred to a third row of seats. The MKX is a two-row midsize crossover, with room for five adults.

2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD
Vehicle base price: $22,990
Trim level base price: $34,000
As tested: $34,895
Options: The SX Turbo AWD is a fully loaded trim; our tester had no options.
Tow rating: 2,000 pounds
EPA rating: 21 combined/20 city/23 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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