It’s clear that based on the current and future lineup of vehicles from Kia, the Korean automaker is not too concerned about the perception that they are essentially copying the homework of their Japanese competitors. The Forte is a dead ringer for the Honda Civic, and the Sportage could be a first cousin of the CR-V, and to a lesser extent, the RAV-4. Of course the imitating of economy/utility vehicles is not a major offense if you end up surpassing the original. But while you can be assured that the 2009 Kia Sportage is an inexpensive alternative to the competition, is it also a better vehicle?
Right off the bat the Sportage will appeal, or tries to appeal anyway, to a very specific set of people looking for a small SUV, often with limited need for any real SUV-attributes. This group is slowly being skimmed away from this segment by the crossover, however. Nevertheless, those consumers that are left have some fairly solid options in the previously mentioned CR-V, RAV-4 and the Ford Escape.
The Sportage comes in two flavors for 2009: a base LX trim or EX, in two-two or optional all-wheel drive. The difference between the two is considerable, with most test drivers unsatisified with the Sportage’s base 2-liter, four-cylinder, 140 horsepower engine on the one hand, but very complimentary of the more powerful 2.7-liter, 173 horsepower V6 option.
Other positives include the handling, which is sufficiently “car-like” to illicit many a favorable thumbs up. The Sportage’s independent front and rear suspension and rack-and-pinion steering contribute to this and the vehicle’s nimble handling. Despite the inclusion of stabilizer bars, front and rear, body roll is moderate. In four-wheel drive mode, however, a measure of common sense would be wise as the Sportage is only up for the most minor of SUV duties. A small detail, as the same could be said for the competition. Perhaps the most significant downside is the lack of a five-speed automatic, with only a four-speed offered. The 2009 Sportage earns excellent scores in federal government and comes standard with electronic stability control.
According to the EPA, 2WD models with the four-cylinder engine and manual transmission achieve 20/25 mpg city/highway. Those with the V6 achieve 18/23 mpg.
In terms of styling, the Sportage is unremarkable and certainly not an attention hog like the Soul. However, most potential buyers of this segment are not looking for that kind of stand-out quality anyway. The Sportage, along with the CR-V and RAV-4, is unoffensive and functional. Taking in account the price discrepancy with the Japanes automaker, the Sportage gets higher marks than would be expected.
For 2009, the Sportage gets a few exterior updates, including a modified front grille and head and taillight designs. With clean curves and flared wheel arches, the Sportage may not look rough, but it is certainly not any less attractive than others in this segment. Actually n comparison to the larger Hyundai Tucson, the Sportage has an athletic, trim look, whereas the Tucson looks frumpy.
Like many cars in the Kia lineup, where the Sportage surprises most drivers is in its smartly designed interior which is all new for 2009. Praise is given for the vehicles balance of comfortable seating, upscale features and stylish design. In fact, reviewers say it even beats some top rivals in these areas.
This is similar to the Kia Forte’s one-upsmanship of the Honda Civic. Materials look on par if not better than the CR-V and a snazzy storage philosophy includes an under-the-floor cargo tray. Ergonomics may be excellent, but the list of standard features and available options is relatively short. For 2009, keyless entry and front active headrests are standard for all Sportage models. New options include Sirius Satellite Radio and iPod integration and available navigation.
Both the leather and the cloth seats are comfortable, with good side-bolster support, though a fifth occupant in the rear is only suggested in dire circumstances. Legroom is sufficient for front passengers but larger occupants may feel cramped in the second row. One nice feature of the Sportage is its hauling capabilities, especially with seats folded, which is enhanced by a rear-seat design that folds and lowers into the footwell, making for a flat load floor, and without a need to remove the head restraints.
In all, cargo volume measures 23.6 cubic feet with the back seat up and 66.6 cubic feet with the seat down. Loading gear into the cargo area can be done via the liftgate or the back window, which opens separately.
While someday perhaps Kia won’t be spoken of first in terms of economy, today isn’t quite it. Which isn’t a bad thing in light of the economic strains of current car buying. $19,695 will get you a two-wheel drive manual Sportage, or fully optioned with leather navigation, the V6 engine and 4WD, you will be faced with a sticker price around $28,000. As a side note, Kia is offering 3 grand in incentives right now to sweeten things up a bit more. As with all Kia vehicles, the Sportage comes with a 10-year, 100,000 powertrain warranty.
The Sportage has a base price that is thousands less than competitors making it a must-see for those on a budget. Those interested in the more upscale V6 will probably have to ponder whether nearly 30-grand is too much for a Kia.