First Drive: 2017 Kia Sportage

2017 Sportage SX Turbo

Kia is not lounging on its haunches. The automaker took its longest running nameplate, the Sportage, and completely changed the crossover utility vehicle. It was designed in Frankfurt, Germany, refined in Southern California and it is rolling off an assembly line in South Korea.

The new Sportage is a little bit longer and the wheels are now pushed to the corners. The tiger nose grille is lowered, the headlights are longer and they’re pulled back into the fenders. There are also wrap around taillights. And in what is a becoming a brand signature, the ice cube LED fog lights on the turbo powered Sportage seemed bigger, and thus were more prominent.

It was as though the sheet metal was pulled tightly over the front of the chassis. It gives this new Sportage a distinctive face. Kia cals it “tension.” Wheels at the corners meant the 2017 Kia Sportage hads short overhangs and that makes the 17, 18 or 19-inch wheels look even bigger.

What’s more, wheels at the corner give the vehicle a wider stance, which translates into better road stability. We needed it on the two lane mountain highways as we headed to the La Casa Del Zorro Resort in Borrego Springs, California.

The driving dynamics of the new Kia Sportage have been improved. Increased body stiffness meant less chassis twisting on winding two lane roads like CA-78 and CA-79. The vehicle was steady; the steering was true and bigger brakes increased stopping power for those times when we were moving too fast to make tight turns.

The 2017 Kia Sportage goal is to appeal to a far more active buyer. Michael Sprague, the chief operating officer at Kia Motors America, told us that the target customers for the Sportage are in their mid-30s. The company expects sales to be divided evenly between men and women with active lifestyles. But some customers may be married with one child or perhaps two. Still, the ad campaign will feature single people and their friends.

The new Sportage will be positioned as what we call a “stuff vehicle.” That is, you can haul your friends around, or all sorts of stuff for sports, the beach, mountain climbing, or your kids – whatever or whoever your life may revolve around. Kia is targeting a psychologically younger buyer (read: young at heart) with its new Sportage. And younger not just by age, but spiritually as well; driving pleasure is not necessarily what is under the hood, but what’s coming out of the speakers. That includes connectivity.

The 2017 Sportage is equipped with the third generation of UVO. It supports Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The infotainment system features 14 telematics services at no charge. It has 8GB of music storage, access to Pandora and a portable Wi-Fi hotspot. The touchscreen is now capacitive. Standard is a 120 watt six-speaker audio system The premium setup has 320 watts, eight speakers including a subwoofer, an external amplifier and Clari-FiTM9 music restoration technology.

Of course, there is also Bluetooth, a navigation system, satellite radio, auxiliary and USB jacks, as well as ports for 12 volt-powered accessories.

The sounds are good, but so is the interior space. Any way you look at or measure it, the 2017 Kia Sportage’s interior was more comfortable than the outgoing model. Headroom and legroom are increased – not by much, but more is always better. Kia says that the second row floor has been lowered to enable more headroom, but we think it made getting into the back seat easier too. And the liftgate will open automatically, when equipped, if the Kia senses the key fob within three feet of the rear. That makes putting stuff in the back when hands are full easier.

The interior is also clean. The seats felt really good; they cradled the body like gloves. The dash seemed lower and that created an airy feeling. The infotainment screen was the only thing on the dash, creating a minimalist look. Controls like the radio, media, phone, heated steering wheel, etc. are below. Though it was not the case, each row of buttons appeared a little further in than the row it preceded; it has a cascading effect and is nicely done. The interestingly fresh look did not resemble a center stack.

Soft touch material is used on the dash and the doors. Not only is it tactilely pleasant, but it also helped with sound deadening. It was a pretty quiet drive.

There are three trim levels of the Sportage, and buyers can choose from two different engines. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions and all trim lines come in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive.

The 2.4-liter engine with FWD gets 23 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined. We had the 2.0 liter AWD Sportage with paddle shifters on the way to lunch. It was rated at 20 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. We also had the FWD version on the way back. It was rated at 21 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined.

Each has a computer readout that showed the AWD Sportage got 21.1 mpg during our test drive, while the FWD Sportage got 22.1 mpg halfway through the drive back. It didn’t seem like the Sportage’s mileage was all that good given that it was a four-cylinder engine, even though we drove aggressively and the price of any turbo is added fuel consumption.

Kia said the Sportage’s equipment added weight that kept the mileage numbers lower. Our other quibble is that there was a blind spot behind the C pillar.

Four cylinder vehicles are no longer putt-putt cars. The 2017 Kia Sportage can be equipped with a forward collision warning system and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, which can detect a potential collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian and lane departure warning, which emits an audible alert when it detects the driver straying from the current lane without using a turn signal.

There is more. Blind spot detection with lane change assist, which monitors cars up to 230 feet behind the Sportage and provides the driver with a visual warning in the door mirror when another car enters the blind spot; rear cross traffic alert, which warns the driver if other cars are passing behind the Sportage while in reverse; front and rear parking assist, which uses sonar sensors integrated in the bumpers to warn the driver when nearing other vehicles or objects while parking; and Bi-HID headlights with dynamic bending light and high beam assist technology.

This stuff is not made of air. It makes the driving experience safer and more pleasant. But the software and the hardware adds to the weight of any vehicle.

Oh, and we almost forgot that the AWD engine is rated at 237 horsepower. Torque remained the same. This all-wheel-drive system is 100 percent rear-wheel-drive on dry pavement, but it can send all of the torque to front wheels if needed. It also has a 50-50 locking differential.

The Sportage can tow 2,000 lbs. with trailer brakes. That drops to 1,650 lbs. without trailer brakes. The panoramic roof is bigger and the sideview mirrors are mounted lower on the doors for clearer sight lines.

From front to back, there was improvement, after improvement, after improvement in the 2017 Kia Sportage. The LX and the EX FWD models start at $22,990 and $25,500, respectively. The LX and EX AWD models start at $24,490 and $27,000, respectively. And the top of the line SX Turbo FWD and AWD start at $32,500 and $34,000, respectively. None of the base prices include freight charges.

Frank S. Washington is editor of