2017 Sportage Spec

Kia’s Sportage nameplate has been around since this Korean carmaker started selling cars in the U.S. in 1994. And my, oh my, how far this compact crossover has evolved in 22 years.

The 2017 Sportage is a completely re-engineered vehicle. It’s a little larger, wider and longer. It’s a showcase of Kia’s can-do perseverance. At first glance, the five-seat Sportage may look Audi-like, or at least more European than Asian, which is intentional. It was designed in Frankfurt, Germany and Korea, and tuned at the California proving grounds.

Kia says it aimed for precision and craftsmanship when choosing materials and during the build process. There was a big upgrade in the seats, one of which is that they’re made of softer materials. The cabin is much more soundproof. The body is far more rigid, with 50 percent more advanced high-strength steel, which makes a stronger foundation to hang the suspension and brace the engine for reduced noise, vibration and harshness.

There is more headroom and legroom in both rows. The cargo space has a wider opening and lower height. There are user conveniences, such as a dual-level cargo floor and a smart liftgate that will open without having to wag a foot or wave a hand. Just stand near the rear of the locked Sportage, and sensors detect the driver’s key, the system beeps and the tailgate unlatches and opens.

And it has a full-metal-jacket of safety features, including: options for autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot detection, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning and lane-departure warning.

The Sportage is sold in three trim levels, in front- or all-wheel drive with two power choices and one six-speed automatic transmission. The AWD system has artificial intelligence: Its sensors think ahead for “predictive coupling,” or in other words, anticipating conditions rather than reacting to wheel slips.

Pricing starts at $23,885 for the front-drive LX with 181 horsepower and a direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Add $1,500 for AWD. The mid-range EX starts at $26,395, and the loaded SX with AWD, 240 horsepower and a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine starts at $34,895. Pricing includes the $895 freight charge from Korea.

Today’s tester is a front-wheel drive EX with two factory option packages for a total of $31,490, including $395 for Snow White pearl paint. As tested, the extras are considerable: heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, smart-key entry, push-button ignition and a panoramic sunroof.

The base engine has adequate power, but I drove mostly in Sport mode to sharpen off-the-line performance. Fuel economy ratings for the EX are 22 mpg city, 29 highway and 25 mpg combined for front-wheel drive, and 21/25/23 mpg for AWD. I averaged 27 mpg. The SX AWD has ratings of 20/23/21 mpg. Both engines use 87-octane fuel.

The new features, quality of assembly and materials are more premium than mainstream, and they meet the benchmark for attention to detail. Competitors include: the Chevrolet Equinox, the Ford Escape, the Honda CR-V, the Mazda CX-5, the Nissan Rogue, the Subaru Forester, the Toyota RAV4 and platform partner Hyundai Tucson.

There is a tall 39.3 inches of front headroom. The seats are full-bodied with gently bolstered sides. Sightlines are good over the shoulder, and the turning circle is tight at about 35 feet with 18-inch wheels. It’s a comfortable zone to lay down the miles.

The leather-trimmed upholstery has perforated centers with tidy piping in a contrasting color. The power front-passenger seat also has height adjustment, which is a breakthrough for the brand. The visors have extenders and large, lighted mirrors. The center console multitasks with cup holders, a nook and a tray, and a charging e-bin with two 180-watt 12-volt plugs, a USB port and an auxiliary port.

The center stack of cabin controls is slightly angled toward the driver so all buttons and switches are within easy reach. The 7-inch touchscreen is not prone to glare in bright sun, and it can be viewed as a split screen for navigation and audio, or as one large screen for either, as well as the rearview camera.

The rear bench is raised with a very firm seat bottom, but it reclines and there is good footroom and a maximum of 38.2 inches of legroom. There is a fold-down armrest with cup holders and bottle holders in the doors, and grab handles above each door.

The cargo area is a wide and low 30.7 cubic feet, stacked to the roof. The 60/40 backseat folds with a one-handed lever action to allow about 5.5 feet of length for boards, skis and other gear.

While the EX tester had a smooth ride quality around town, it gets busy at freeway speeds. At times the ride is soft and comfy (it has soft springs), but then it gets jiggly from the shock absorbers trying to keep an even keel. There is some gentle float, but it’s capable and predictable around corners. Even when pushed into corners, the Kumho tires never cried out in pain.

If ride quality is an issue, the SX model felt more consistent in its handling without the jumpy highway ride.

The Sportage debuted in 1994 as a cheap and cheerful throwaway, but it’s not so anymore. The larger dimensions make it the right-sized package with more widespread usability for families and millennials.

Mark Maynard is online at mark.maynard@utsandiego.com. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage