Welcome to the jungle. Not the Amazon – we mean the compact SUV market.
But it’s almost as treacherous – while you won’t find Piranha, you’ll find every car maker worth their salt constantly biting at each other for that big, delicious share of the hottest segment in the marketplace.
Your guide today through this land of hungry hippos is the 2018 Kia Sportage. In these treacherous waters, it’s good to have experience on your side, and the Sportage is tried and trusted. In our previous test, we loved the performance, quality, features and style. But that was almost two years ago. Does the Sportage still live at the top of the food chain?
The Korean Kayenne
When we last tested the Sportage, there was a lot of disagreement about the front end, especially the SX’s quad LED fogs mounted low in the grille. It didn’t bother us then, and it doesn’t bother us now – it actually reminds us of the Porsche Cayenne.
Between the fogs are Kia’s signature “Tiger Nose” grille, and on the SX model, the added bling of Bi-Xenon headlights, metal-look skid plates front and rear, chrome side-sill trim, and dual exhaust outlets. Riding on aggressive-looking 19” alloys, the Sportage has aged well, and the sculpted contours give it an athletic vibe that’s handsome and modern, and sets it apart from some of the more snoozey competitors.
The Asian Audi
While the exterior says Stuttgart, the interior says Ingolstadt. With Audi’s former head of design Peter Schreyer at the helm of Hyundai and Kia, it’s no surprise that the Kia interior feels positively Audi-ish.
It starts with good solid design – a large speedo and tach flanking loads of LX goodies, including 4.2-inch color LCD display, and an 8-inch touch-screen with Voice-Command Navigation, Sirius XM, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Harmon/Kardon Premium Surround Sound system with 320-watts pumping through 8 speakers. There’s even LED interior lighting!
Like all Kia products, we find the UVO info-tainment systems simple and easy to use, from initial set up to day-to-day use. The Sportage strikes an ideal blend of touchscreen access and logical switches for climate control, a separate line of controls for heated/cool seats and heated steering wheel, and on the left of the steering column, blind spot warning lane keep assist. Around the shifter, the controls for the AWD system, right where you would need them. Very logical, and very German.
The materials, at least in our top-of-the-line SX also feel, well…top of the line, with your touchpoints enjoying a heated, leather-wrapped, sport steering wheel, pus heated and ventilated leather power front seats. From the panoramic power sunroof to the alloy sport pedals, you feel surrounded by the good life.
Passenger space is excellent up front, and comfy for adults in back. Cargo space with the rear seats up is about average for the class, but dropping them yields a flat floor and loads of room. Our tester had optional roof racks that would definitely rack up the goods from mountain bikes to cargo boxes. You won’t have any trouble bringing along what you want. And while most compact SUV’s don’t do a lot of towing, if you want to bring along even more gear, the Sportage will max out at 1,650 lbs.
The Bargain BMW
When it comes to driving, the Sportage is impressive fun – especially in SX Turbo trim. Where LX and EX models get a workman-like 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder kicking out 181 hp, the SX gets a massive power bump, with the 2.0-liter turbo 4 producing 240 hp (237 in AWD models). Torque gets a likewise solid, jumping from 175 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm to a strong 260 lb-ft at just 1,450 rpm.
Combined with a quick-shifting 6-speed automatic, the Sportage SX is the rocket of its class, with loads of low-end power and plenty of oomph available at any time, any speed. It’s also impressively refined – again feeling very European – in its power delivery. The only downside, it goads you into lead-footing it, and if you’re like us you’ll see 18 mpg. If you can contain yourself, you’ll do better, with mid 20’s available to the frugal. And if efficiency is truly key over performance for you, we’d go for the EX or LX models.
Regardless of model, the handling is enjoyable with a nice steering feel – yes Kia and Hyundai are finally figuring this out – and the sporty Sportage feels responsive and pointable. The All-Wheel-Drive in our tester is a win-win situation – we’ve driven front drive SX Turbo’s, and it’s a lot of power for 2 wheels to handle.
With all four wheels divvying up the duties, accelerating in, and powering out of turns is confident and fun. While Mazda’s CX-5 still reigns the roost for handling thrills, the SX’s turbo whumps it everywhere else. Choose your weapon.
Ride quality also impresses. Large, heavy wheels like the SX’s 19’s are often the enemy of a quiet and smooth ride, but not here – this is a comfortable crossover from the daily commute to the weekend getaway.
Do I need to rob a bank to make a getaway?
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, the days of bargain-priced Kias (and Hyundais) are long gone. That said, they still prove to be an excellent value.
You can get into a stylish 2018 Sportage LX front wheel drive for $23,600. (Add $1,500 for AWD). It’s nicely equipped with goodies like 6-speaker audio, 5-inch touchscreen with rear camera display, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The EX is probably your best value – starting at $26,400. You get some nice upgrades like a 7-inch touch-screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather seating with heated front seats, and important safety gear including Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. All this, and 18-inch wheels.
Our SX Turbo tester is One With Everything – starting at $32,900 plus $1,500 for AWD gets us to $34,400 (add $990 for Destination). Included on top of the EX gear is that muscular 2.0-liter turbo, 19-inch wheels, 8-inch touchscreen with Navi and Harmon/Kardon Surround sound, heated and ventilated front seats, panoramic sunroof and the exterior fashion bits we mentioned earlier.
And no matter which Sportage you go for, you get the awesome 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty – nice reassurance with a turbo motor – and a 5-year/60,000 mile limited basic warranty. Adding to the confidence in your choice, the 2018 Sportage is an IIHS Top Safety Pick and also gets a 5-star safety rating from NHTSA.
Competition? A loaded, comparable Honda CR-V Touring AWD is $36,415, The 2018 RAV4 Limited comparably equipped out at $35,725 – but we’d wait on that – an all-new 2019 RAV4 is coming soon. We’ll have a test for you when we get our hands on one. And if you have to ask, the new X3 starts at $41,000 – but expect to easily eclipse $50k with all the toys…
Even though there’s loads of competition, the 2018 Sportage SX Turbo remains one of our favorites for its Euro style, strong equipment level, high-quality materials, and great, fun-to-drive performance.
The 2018 Sportage remains the King of the Jungle.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.