2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD by Ben Lewis

We only somewhat jokingly called the Sportage SUV the “Korean Cayenne” for its Porsche like looks, and sporty personality. But it seems like Kia has taken that to heart, as it is continuously refining and improving the popular vehicle and making it better in every way. And it was pretty great to start with.

Fresh Face

The makeover for the Sportage starts with a more aggressive front and rear fascia, including new headlights with LED indicators and LED fogs, and a new front grille, bumper, air intake and skid plate. It still looks like a Sportage, but the design feels more of a piece, and looks more upscale, too.  Adding to the luxo touch, the outside power mirrors fold when you lock up. Nice.

The profile is familiar, but new 19-inch wheels look aggressive and sporty, and seem to poke out of the wheelwells for a muscular stance. Around back, redesigned taillight trim, redesigned rear bumper and skid plate give a modern update, and ties in well with the front end. How far has Kia gone? They even redesigned the exhaust tips!

Our tester, in a particularly tasty Pacific Blue looked rich and upscale – perfectly in fitting with its top of the line SX AWD trim. We also liked the metallic-look skid plates that give a bold contrast to the paint color. All in all, a handsome, modern SUV.

Fresh Space

Inside, the changes are less numerous, and would be more notable on the lower trims. There’s a new available SOFINO leatherette (our SX has standard leather), all models get a standard 8” touchscreen Apple CarPlay and Android auto, with available navi (Our SX gets all that), and available wireless smartphone charging (also standard on the SX).

All that shouldn’t deter from enjoying the SX – the interior has a rich leather smell, and the seats are beautifully trimmed out. The dash layout is typical Kia, which is to say very Audi-like, with sensibly placed controls that work easily. Large analog gauges are crisp and clear, with a handy Supervision Meter Cluster with Color Display (fancy name) and the info-tainment is a model of convenience and quick set-up.

The SX is full of goodness, like Harman Kardon premium audio system (great sounds), smartkey with pushbutton ignition, power heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, dual zone climate control, and hands-free liftgate.

The seats are excellent front and rear, supportive and adult friendly, and the visibility outwards is good. We especially liked the huge panoramic sunroof for jaw-dropping views, and lots of light into the cabin.

We have a teeny, tiny gripe with some of the plastics around the center console being hard and scratchy – tip offs that some things have to be shared with the entry-level model. But overall you feel surrounded in quality, and loads of tech.

Same Old Fun to Drive

With the changes, we’re glad that Kia decided to not mess with the drive. The Sportage – especially in turbocharged trim, is one of our favorite driver’s SUVs.

Under the hood is a state-of-the-art 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder turbo, producing 240 horsepower and 260lb-ft of torque. Like BMW, we think this number may be actually less than what it really puts out – this engine feels very stout! The 6-speed automatic is also excellent with smooth shifts in Normal mode, and a nice aggressive grabbing of gears in Sport. It is also a happy sounding motor, with a throaty growl, and with our tester’s All Wheel Drive, there’s plenty of traction to go along with the power.

The suspension set-up feels sporty too. The steering has excellent feel, and the Sportage is quick to respond to the helm. The ride is Euro-firmish, but never harsh, and it goads you on to go have fun, making it a great vehicle to shuttle the family, without feeling like you had to compromise driving enjoyment.

When you have that family aboard, you can appreciate some new safety features for the Sportage that bring it up to state of the art for small crossovers, including Driver Attention Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Smart Cruise Control with Start& Stop, Forward Collision Assist with pedestrian detection and High beam assist.

Same Old Kia Value

Pricing remains to be a strong point for the Storage – although we do have to point out that old days of Kia (and Hyundai) having fire-sale prices to buy market share are long gone. Kia is a mainstream competitor – and a strong one at that.

The Sportage Lineup stars with the LX at $23,995 and you get the handsome new styling, 8-inch touchscreen, climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and tasteful 17-inch alloy wheels. Power comes from a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that provides 181 horses. AWD adds $1,500 to the price on all Sportage models.

The Sporty Sportage S goes for $26,140 And adds goodies like Sofino leatherette, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Looking for a little luxury? The EX model starts at $27,290, and gives dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and more.

But for the thrill of turbo power, you’ll need to step up to the SX model at $33,590 which also leather interior, 19-inch wheels, panorama sunroof and Harmon Kardon audio system. With AWD, our tester started at $35,090. The only extras were accessories including a cargo mat, cross bars, floor mats, cargo net, cargo cover and tow hitch. All nice stuff, and bumps us up to $36,170. Add $1,200 for destination and our tester rang the bell at $37,290.

Competitors would be the new Toyota RAV4, also sporty, but it can’t touch the turbo rush, for $40,238. Three grand is a big step up. The Honda CR-V will give you the rush of turbo – although it’s more lux than sport, and comparably equipped, it’s whisker close at $37,440.

We love that Kia continues to improve the Sportage in a very European-like manner. Korean Cayenne indeed!

Fresh new looks, added convenience and safety – plus the thrill of turbo power – the 2020 Kia Sportage SX remains a thrilling small SUV.