The Kia Sportage has never been one for small evolutionary changes. Originally a cheap, poorly made penalty box, today's Sportage is a stylish, well-rounded compact crossover. Redesigned for 2017, the Sportage is now in its fourth generation. The current model builds on the strengths of its predecessor, while offering increased rear passenger room, increased cargo space and improved ride quality. We'd steer buyers clear of the first two generations of Sportage, but the third-gen model makes for a solid, if slightly cramped, used-car choice. Thanks to excellent build quality and stronger performance, the current model is the most appealing Sportage yet.
Current Kia Sportage
The Kia Sportage is a five-passenger compact SUV offered in three trim levels: LX, EX and SX Turbo. The LX and EX models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. The SX Turbo gets a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 240 hp and 260 lb-ft. Both engines pair with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional.
The LX trim is basic but comes with the essentials: 17-inch alloy wheels, rear tinted glass, rear climate vents, 60/40-split folding seatbacks, a 5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth and a six-speaker audio system with USB input and satellite radio. The EX trim adds 18-inch wheels, roof rails, leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear USB charging, a 7-inch touchscreen, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, among other items.
Upgrades on the SX Turbo trim include 19-inch wheels, bending xenon headlights, a sport-tuned suspension, a hands-free power liftgate, a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, 8-inch touchscreen interface, navigation and a Harman Kardon audio system. The SX Turbo also adds driver assistance features including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision mitigation with emergency braking, lane departure warning and front and rear parking sensors. Many of the EX features can be added to LX models as options, as can SX Turbo features to the EX.
In reviews, we've praised the current-gen Sportage for its evolution into a smooth cruiser. Previous generations ride a little too stiff, like a sport crossover without the sport. Today's Sportage has a suspension and chassis design that better absorbs bumps in the road, which is enhanced by a surprisingly quiet cabin. We also like the Sportage's newfound passenger space, particularly for backseat riders who got the short end of the stick in earlier models. Cargo capacity is up, too, at 60 cubic feet of max cargo space with the rear seats folded down. It's a fair amount of room, even if less than what many competitors offer.
We're still underwhelmed by the engines, though. The regular four-cylinder operates smoothly but usually at the upper reaches of its ability. There's not much surplus for passing. The turbo four-cylinder doesn't give you the extra punch you'd expect, either. Both engines are fine in most daily driving situations, but you'll need to plan ahead and dig into the accelerator for quicker passing maneuvers and merges.
Used Kia Sportage Models
The previous third-generation Kia Sportage was made from 2011 to 2016. Its trim levels mirror today's model with the exception of a base model that was dropped in 2014.
LX and EX trims came with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 176 hp, while the SX got a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine making 260 hp. All came with a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive was standard, all-wheel drive an option.
LX trims included features like alloy wheels, Bluetooth, satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface, while upper trims added larger wheels, heated and ventilated seats, leather upholstery, a rearview camera, navigation, and Kia's Uvo telematics system. Many of these features were also available as options for LX and EX trims.
We liked the Sportage's attractive interior. Hard plastic panels abounded, but cosmetically they looked fine and build quality was good. Passengers and driver alike benefited from well-contoured seats and adequate head- and legroom while rear-seat room was merely adequate for two average-size adults. This generation Sportage comes up a bit short in cargo space with just 26.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 54.6 cubic feet with the 60/40-split folding seats laid flat. For reference, competitors offered up to 70-plus cubic feet.
On the road, the Sportage lived up to its name with sharp steering and athletic handling that made it more engaging than most other compact crossovers. That came at the expense of ride quality, however, as the taut suspension meant a bit more of a stiff-legged ride on rough pavement and washboard highways. Performance from either four-cylinder engine was just average, however, although the turbo four-cylinder made a decent alternative to the V6s offered in competitors of that era.
Tweaks for 2012 brought improved handling, additional sound insulation (for a quieter cabin) and the introduction of the Uvo voice activation system. There were only minor changes in 2013, but for 2014 the base model and its manual transmission were dropped, the 2.4-liter engine upgraded to 182 hp, and all models re-tuned with more performance-oriented suspension settings. There were also various feature upgrades to navigation, touchscreens, audio and telematics systems.
Changes were again minor for 2015 and 2016, the latter featuring just a handful of additions to option packages, including a touchscreen display and rearview camera for LX trims, and standard leather for EX and SX trims.
The second-generation Kia Sportage was launched for 2005 and ran until 2010. Considerably different from the first-gen model, this Sportage featured a new unibody platform shared with the Hyundai Tucson. This generation gained interior space, but was far more drab in design and interior material quality. There were no significant changes made during this generation.
There were two trim levels: LX and EX. Both trims came equipped with standard amenities like alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, tinted glass and a six-speaker CD stereo. Satellite radio as well as auxiliary and USB audio jacks were added for 2009.
The LX was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine capable of 140 hp. It came standard with a five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. Most Sportages with this engine were front-wheel drive, though Kia did offer all-wheel drive on manual transmission-equipped models. As an upgrade for the Sportage LX and standard on the EX, Kia offered a 173-hp 2.7-liter V6. It came standard with the automatic transmission and was available in front-drive or all-wheel drive.
This Sportage might not have looked too big from the outside, but the interior had plenty of headroom and legroom, both in the front and the back. The rear seats split and folded flat for a level cargo floor and a maximum of 67 cubic feet of storage. Fit and finish was decent, but the materials felt cheap. Safety was a strong suit with impressive crash test scores and a full complement of airbags, stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes.
In reviews, our editors found this Sportage did few things poorly, but it failed to stand out in a segment where its competitors did the same things exceptionally well. Dull styling and a drab cabin did it no favors, while both its engines were unimpressive from both a power and fuel economy standpoint.
The Kia Sportage started life in 1995 as a body-on-frame compact SUV. Though one of the first such vehicles, it was too small and underpowered to compete with the roomier, more carlike mini-utes later introduced by Honda, Subaru and Toyota. The base Sportage came with a meager 94-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Rear-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission were standard. Kia also offered a part-time 4WD version of the base trim. The 4x4 Sportage came with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 139 hp. A better-equipped EX trim came standard with 4WD and the more powerful engine. A four-speed automatic transmission was an option on all 4WD models.
Kia eliminated the weaker four-cylinder in 1997, leaving all trims equipped with the stronger 2.0-liter four-cylinder, now rated for 130 hp. That same year, Kia began offering the four-speed automatic on 2WD models.
In 1998, Kia added a two-door convertible to the Sportage lineup. It was available with both drivetrains (2WD and 4WD). After that, there were no more significant changes to the Kia Sportage, only minor face-lifts and interior modifications. The final year of production was 2002. Buyers should generally avoid these early models, as they don't match the levels of comfort, performance and fit and finish offered by competing models of the same time period.