A trademark black mesh grille flanked by auto on/off, directionally adaptive, projector HID headlamps with integrated LEDs and auto high beams; two quads of LED fog lights; an aluminum-look skid plate below; 19” machine-finished alloy wheels down each side; power-folding, heated side mirrors integrating LED turn signals; satin chrome door handles; a black glass rooftop; aluminum-tone roof rails; unique LED lightbar taillights, twin stainless exhaust pipes set within another aluminum skid plate; yet more satin chrome aluminum-look trim joining glossy black accents from front to back; etc.
Am I describing a Porsche? Audi? BMW? Mercedes-Benz? Lexus? Infiniti? Maybe an Acura? Not at all. If it were any of these, it wouldn’t have as many features, cost tens of thousands more when similarly equipped, and wouldn’t be backed by a 5-year/100,000km comprehensive warranty.
Instead, welcome lights hidden behind the door handles brighten and the mirrors unfold when approaching the new 2017 Kia Sportage SX, while proximity access gets you inside before passing over aluminum doorsill plates. If loading something in the back, a beautiful polished aluminum cargo protector plate becomes visible once the powered liftgate lets you in by just standing next to it for a few seconds with the key fob in your pocket or purse. Back in the driver’s seat, push-button ignition gets things started, at which point strategically placed LEDs offer subtle backlighting.
Continuing the premium brand experience is contrast-stitched, perforated leather upholstery, along with soft-touch materials over the entire dash top, upper instrument panel, and door uppers; fabric-wrapped roof pillars; piano black lacquer surfacing and aluminum trim throughout; high-quality switchgear; alloy pedals; a heated, leather-trimmed, flat-bottom, sport steering wheel; a TFT/LCD instrument cluster; a state-of-the-art 8” colour infotainment screen with navigation and voice recognition; Bluetooth phone and audio streaming; Android Auto; a rearview camera with active guidelines; a fabulous-sounding Harmon/Kardon audio system; satellite radio; and downloadable apps.
But wait, there’s so much more. The 2017 Kia Sportage SX also boasts inductive wireless charging; dual-zone automatic climate control; heated, cooled, and power adjustable front seats; heated rear seats; an auto-dimming rear-view mirror; a massive, dual-panel sunroof; an electromechanical parking brake; front and rear parking sensors; blind spot monitoring; lane departure warning; rear cross traffic alert; autonomous braking; selectable drive modes including Eco and Sport; paddle shifters; and more importantly a 237-horsepower, direct-injected, twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder with 260 lb-ft of dynamically distributed torque teaming up with an all-wheel drive system.
The new Kia Sportage SX is truly something special, easily rivaling compact SUVs from the brands mentioned above that cost tens of thousands more, let alone its true competitors.
As it is, this top-line model can be had for just $39,595 plus freight and dealer fees. My Polar White tester featured black leather hides, but you can choose to have the seats upholstered in particularly rich-looking Canyon Beige leather (which is more of a milk chocolate brown). Then again, you might not be into white, so take your pick from Sparkling Silver and Mineral Silver (medium grey) or optional Scarlet Red, Storm Blue, Black Cherry or Modern Bronze. Nothing else is optional in SX trim, and I can’t think of much that’s missing.
At the risk of sounding like I’ve merely been listing items from a brochure, my intention is to help you realize there’s little reason to pay more for a premium-branded compact SUV.
On that note, the 2017 Kia Sportage SX drives brilliantly, too. The aforementioned paddles make the most of a fairly quick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission when set to Sport mode, and the little powerhouse of an engine responds to throttle input like few in the class, yet burns only 11.9L/100km in the city and 10.2L/100km on the highway ― numbers that only marginally exceed the base 181-horsepower model’s fuel consumption ratings.
It would all be wasted if the Sportage SX didn’t handle well, but a tight body structure, independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension with performance shocks, and my tester’s 245/45R19 all-season tires made for a thoroughly enjoyable vehicle that proved as capable of carving up canyons as cruising along the highway or touring around the city.
The ride, while firm in an almost Germanic way, was totally comfortable on all but the worst road surfaces, and even then it was more than bearable. Meanwhile, the big 4-wheel discs enhanced with ABS, stability control, and most other electronic driver aids provided strong stopping power and great surefootedness despite this turbocharged model’s substantive 1,813kg (3,997lb) curb weight.
While the driver’s seat could use a little more lateral support to keep up with available performance, I found its 10-way adjustability extremely comfortable and powered lumbar soothing to the lower back, plus all seating positions but the centre rear are form-fitting and quite spacious. Really, there’s a lot of leg and knee room for such a small SUV, and ditto for headroom that’s made even taller thanks to the glass roof.
One of the reasons we love our SUVs is their cargo capacity. The redesigned 2017 Kia Sportage has no shortage of that thanks to 798 litres behind the rear seatbacks when the cargo floor is raised or 868 litres when lowered. After dropping the 60/40-split rear seats down, you can access up to 1,565 litres with the floor elevated or 1,703 litres when it’s recessed, the former position providing a nice, flat load floor all the way to the front seatbacks. Speaking of which, the cargo floor is nicely finished with high-grade carpeting, and the previously noted protector plate is a real thing of beauty ― such level of luggage compartment luxury is normally only found in a few of those premium brands. Moreover, the Sportage SX also comes standard with a cargo net and a retractable cover that’s housed in a very high-quality, removable aluminum crossmember.
The gain in interior space is the result of an extended wheelbase and slightly more overall length, although this new model is just as wide and tall as its predecessor. It is heavier, mind you, and also a bit down on engine output. However, it certainly didn’t feel lacking, and I wouldn’t even consider buying the old one compared to this new unit. Don’t get me wrong, last year’s Sportage was still a better choice than many of its rivals, but Kia has really stepped things up with the fourth generation.
It appears I’m not the only person who thinks that. So far the 2017 Kia Sportage has earned Essen, Germany's Red Dot Design Award and Hanover, Germany’s iF product design award, plus even more importantly an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating in top-tier SX trim. All previous-generation 2016 Sportage models earned 5-star safety ratings from the NHTSA, so therefore the new 2017 model should follow suit.
Something else that should impress is first overall placement in J.D. Power’s latest 2016 Initial Quality Study for the Kia brand (yes, that means it beat Porsche, Lexus, Toyota, Honda, and all the rest) and another number one for the Sportage in its “Small SUV” segment, something the Korean manufacturer hopes to duplicate in three years when this new model gets surveyed for J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study (the old version currently underwhelms at just below average).
I should make it clear that you don’t have to pay upwards of $40,000 to own a Sportage, with a nicely equipped base model starting at only $24,895 plus fees. It’s a lot of SUV for the money no matter how you spec it out. You’ve got to love a car company that punches way above its weight, and the 2017 Kia Sportage certainly does that.