It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a Kia Sportage. Two generations, in fact. The last one I drove was probably some time around 1999 and I’ll pull no punches here: It was the single biggest pile of crap I ever drove, bar none. With the exception of its price tag, it had absolutely no redeeming qualities.
Nevertheless, it’s a complete 180 with the 2011 Kia Sportage EX. I’ve never been a big fan of the “cute ute” category, which seems to be populated by a bunch of vehicles that can’t decide if they want to be cars, trucks, station wagons or neither. But if I take myself out of the “enthusiast” category and think about the way that most people use their vehicles, the Sportage EX hits almost all of its marks.
It’s not an overly powerful vehicle, with a 2.4-liter four cylinder cranking out 176hp and 168-lb. ft. of torque, but it doesn’t really need to be. Consider that the Sportage is going to spend most of its time stuck in traffic or dropping kids off at school, and the smallish four makes all the sense in the world, especially when it can deliver 21/28 estimated fuel economy. (More on that later, once I’ve run a couple of tanks of fuel through it.)
The EX AWD is the top of the Sportage line, but by today’s standards, it’s fairly priced. The EX AWD starts at $24,795, and comparably equipped against the Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape and the Nissan Rogue, it comes in at $25,490, which is a pretty nice price given all its equipment. Kia’s on a full-court press to get as many of these things sold as possible, so street price probably comes in under 25 grand.
I’m truly surprised at the level of equipment: navigation, dual zone automatic climate control (unavailable from the aforementioned competitors), heated seats (with a cooling feature for the driver), leather interior, power everything and a rear-view camera (more on that in a second).
It’s lighter than its competition by between 100 and 200 pounds, which contributes to its slightly better fuel economy. But it also offers 500 pounds greater towing capacity than the Escape, Rogue or CR-V. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the difference between hauling one or two motorcycles behind.
Early complaints? Let’s get to that rear-view camera. The Sportage wouldn’t need one if you could see anything out the back window. It’s a mail-slot, obstructed by two massive headrests. When are auto manufacturers going to learn that visibility is just as important to safety as 92 airbags and stability control?
So far, though, that’s it for gripes. I’ll update my thoughts early next week.