Kelowna, British Columbia ― Kia Canada recently invited the media to beautiful Okanagan Valley to test drive the all-new 2017 Kia Sportage, a crucial product for the Korean brand. Do I need to remind you just how popular compact SUVs and crossovers are these days?
Like the fine wines that made this area famous, the Sportage has gotten better with age. However, to stay competitive in today’s market, manufacturers have to constantly adjust and perfect their formula. Last year, it was the platform cousin (Hyundai Tucson) that completely reinvented itself. Now, it’s the Sportage’s turn.
A bit like Kia’s latest models, the new 2017 Sportage isn’t a dramatic departure from its predecessor. The lines are familiar, and the engine selection is the same, albeit with a few revisions. You have to look at the details to really see a change. So, how does the redesigned Kia Sportage fare against the current segment leaders? Let’s find out.
At first glance, there’s no doubt this is a Kia. The brand’s signature “Tiger Nose” grille appears front and centre, and the stretched headlights return with just a few tweaks. The newly sculpted hood adds character to the vehicle, while the front fascia is further highlighted by either projector-style or LED fog lights, depending on the trim level. Just below the latter are functional air intakes that help reduce turbulence and cool the front brakes.
The 2017 Kia Sportage’s profile hasn’t changed much. The side glass is now cut off by a wider C-pillar giving this crossover a unique look. The rear end is more conservative, although the taillights are connected by a chrome-accented LED light bar on EX and SX models. The Sportage SX also stands out with a pair of oval-shaped stainless steel exhaust tips. By the way, each trim level has its own set of alloy wheels ranging from 17” (LX) to 19” (SX).
The outgoing model featured a distinctive dashboard where quality and ergonomics prevailed. On the other hand, rearward visibility and cargo capacity were lacking. Well, designers did their homework and addressed both.
More specifically, the 2017 Kia Sportage has thinner A-pillars, 62mm wider side windows, and a 30mm taller rear window. The rear-view mirror is larger, too, and a back-up camera now comes standard. As for the trunk, it offers more possibilities thanks to a height-adjustable floor: In the raised position, you can even store the cargo cover underneath it. While there’s extra room for luggage in the new Sportage, some competitors still offer more. As you can imagine, pretty much every interior dimension was increased.
Naturally, material selection was improved. The refined dashboard puts the main controls in a clear and accessible layout, while the revised front seats provide additional side support and comfort. Cloth, premium cloth, and leather seats can be found in LX, EX, and SX models, respectively (as a matter of fact, leather is optionally available in EX Premium trim).
As far as interior amenities go, the 2017 Kia Sportage has you covered and then some. From standard heated seats to available cooled seats, you’ll feel like driving first class. Android Auto compatibility (Apple CarPlay will be available later), wireless smartphone charging, electronic parking brake, power tailgate, and Harman/Kardon stereo can also be specified.
With regard to safety, many of the latest systems on the market either come standard in SX trim or with the EX Premium package including blind spot detection, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, and parking sensors.
Updated chassis and powertrains
The old Sportage was known to offer above-average handling and driving pleasure, so the goal here was simply to build on that. Engineers increased chassis rigidity by 38% through the use of high-strength steel and extra adhesive. The result is a quieter, more confident ride.
The suspension, meanwhile, received stronger components to preserve and even improve the vehicle’s sporty dynamics ― and it works. The electric power steering responds more quickly, as well, and offers three driver-selectable modes (Eco, Normal, Sport). These modes also influence throttle response and transmission mapping.
Once again, the Kia Sportage is available with front-wheel drive or Dynamax intelligent all-wheel drive. The latter adds downhill brake control and a locking function that splits the engine’s torque equally (50/50) between the two axles. I validated the system’s performance off the road, even though you and I know that 99% of Sportage owners will never dare to venture far away from pavement.
Under the hood is the same base 4-cylinder with 2.4L of displacement. At 181 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, it’s no powerhouse, of course, but I found that this engine is really well suited to the Sportage. If you want more gusto, the SX models house a turbocharged 2.0L mill. Surprisingly, its numbers are down from last year at 237 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. Why? Kia simply wanted to reduce fuel consumption. Both engines team up with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Driving the 2017 Kia Sportage
The winding roads around Vernon, BC proved ideal to assess the improvements made to the new Sportage. The first thing I noticed was the quiet ride, along with the firm suspension. The steering may not be razor-sharp like that of a German sports car, but it works nicely with this family-oriented utility vehicle.
As mentioned earlier, the SX is the cream of the crop, but it comes at a hefty price of $39,395. It certainly is more fun to drive, although Kia opted not to pair it with a dual-clutch transmission like Hyundai did with the new Tucson 1.6T. While smooth, gear shifts are therefore a bit slower than they could have been.
That being said, most 2017 Kia Sportage buyers will select a lower-trim model and settle for the less powerful engine. Don’t worry, in 95% of situations, the naturally aspirated 2.4L will prove competent enough. Sure, the turbo is quicker from 0-100 km/h, but if you ask me you’d be wise to ignore it. As for the gadgets on board, it’s up to every customer to decide what’s best for their needs.