It never hurts to produce a vehicle with styling inspired by a striking auto show concept vehicle. That’s the case with the 2011 Kia Sportage crossover. It has styling inspired by Kia’s sleek Kue concept vehicle displayed at the 2007 Detroit auto show.
The Sportage has Kia’s longest-running nameplate. With the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, it was among the first crossovers sold in the United States.
The 2011 Sportage — introduced at a San Francisco media preview — rips a page from the old Detroit strategy of making new cars longer, lower and wider than predecessors. It’s a bold “looker,” with dramatically swept-back headlights, sculpted hood, high beltline, sweeping angles and more pronounced wheel flares.
The interior has easily read gauges and large outside mirrors to help with driver vision. But radio controls are small, and there’s too much hard, bland-looking plastic used for the dashboard and front door areas. Front armrests have soft plastic portions to comfortably cover hard plastic. Console cupholders are nicely located to avoid spills.
The new Sportage is plenty roomy for tall adults, but it won’t seat five comfortably because the center of the back seat is too hard.
The 2011 Sportage is quieter and more refined with more sound insulation and a new bodyshell design with greater use of high-tensile strength steel. It has a new platform with newly engineered independent front and rear suspensions. They provide improved handling with more precise responsiveness to driver input.
The ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, and steering is quick, although stiff. Brake feel is reassuring. However, I expected a tighter feel on rather rough downtown San Francisco streets. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) version had a heavier feel than the front-drive version.
The Sportage comes with front or AWD in three trim levels. The AWD system continuously monitors driving conditions and anticipates AWD system requirements, compared to other common AWD systems that can only react to conditions after they occur.
All Sportage models are decently equipped. They start with an $18,295 Base version, with standard items, including: air conditioning, power windows, door locks and body color mirrors, Sirius satellite radio, MP3 connectivity and Bluetooth wireless technology. Door handles also are body color.
Next up is the $20,295 LX version, which adds power outside mirrors with LED turn signal indicators, privacy glass, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sat audio system with Sirius satellite radio capabilities, 12-volt power outlets, tilt wheel, keyless entry and multi-way adjustable front seats. There’s also chrome body trim and door handles.
Move up to the $23,295 EX trim level and added are dual-zone temperature control air conditioning, 18-inch (up from 16-inch or optional on LX 17-inch) alloy wheels, leather-wrapped telescopic steering wheel, automatic folding rear seats, illuminated vanity mirrors, illuminated and cooled glove box and a power driver’s seat.
The EX is available with leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, air-cooled driver’s seat, push-button start with Smartkey, rear sonar detector and rear-view back-up camera, heated side mirrors and a panoramic sunroof.
The 2011 Sportage is among the first Kia models to offer UVO powered by Microsoft. It’s a hands-free, in-vehicle communication and entertainment system (Standard in the EX) that enables occupants to answer and place phone calls, receive and respond to SMS test messages, access music from a variety of media sources and create custom music experiences. HD radio also will be available to enhance listening enjoyment.
Safety items include front-side and side-curtain air bags, electronic stability/traction control and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist for surer fast stops.
There’s also Hill Start Assist Control to help when pulling away on an uphill gradient and Downhill Brake Control to hold the Sportage to a slow speed down steep grades. A back-up warning sensor and rearview back-up camera are optional.
The 2010 Sportage 2.7-liter, 173 horsepower V-6 is gone, replaced by a 2.4-liter, 176-horsepower four-cylinder with dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. It delivers better fuel economy — an estimated 22 mpg city and 31 highway — than the V-6, which provided an estimated 18 and 23. Available all-wheel-drive drops economy figures to 21 and 28 mpg.
The new engine allows lively in-town acceleration, but average 65-75 mph passing on highways — although it provides relaxed cruising at highway speeds. Drivers wanting more open-road verve may want to wait for the Sportage’s new “SX” version’s turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder, available later in the model year. Its horsepower figure wasn’t disclosed, but figure on more than 200.
The new Sportage is available with a six-speed manual transmission in the base model and a six-speed automatic transmission in the LS and EX. Only the automatic transmission, which has Sportmatic clutchess shifting, was available at the preview.
The automatic transmission worked efficiently in one model, but caused the Sportage to jerk forward unexpectedly under normal start-off acceleration in another test model. The “jerky” model probably hadn’t been set up properly.
The large cargo area has a low, wide opening, and split rear seatbacks fold forward and sit fairly flat to increase cargo space. There also are shallow storage compartments hidden under the removable cargo floor covering.
The hood has an interior padding for noise control and a finished look. But it’s held open by an old-fashioned prop rod instead of hydraulic struts.
Large SUVs once were all the rage. But smaller, more efficient crossover vehicles like the Sportage are gaining popularity. It’s a trend likely to continue pending tighter federal fuel-economy requirements.
Dan Jedlicka is the former car reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times. To read more of his automotive content visit his web site: www.danjedlicka.com.