After almost a decade on the market, the Kia Sportage has been replaced by a new model. It carries the same name, but the 2011 Sportage isn't anything like it was--now, it's a smarter blend of hatchback virtues and cute-ute styling, with more emphasis on economy than off-roading.
We're rating the Sportage a 6 here at FamilyCarGuide. It's useful for young families with smaller children, and scores well in safety tests, and has a stash of standard equipment that hits a sweet spot for today's in-touch drivers, though it's not quite as large or as practical as the Honda CR-V or Ford Escape.
Like its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Tucson, the 2011 Kia Sportage has hit the game-reset button. In replacing the Sportage, not refreshing it, Kia stretched it in most every direction to provide more interior room for people and cargo. It's most noticeable in front and in the cargo hold: good head and leg room are carved out of the Sportage's fun, blocky shape in front, and there's more storage space than ever.
The second-row seat is where you'll notice the Sportage still isn't quite as spacious as the CR-V or the Escape. Big adults will touch the headliner and the back of the front seats on a regular basis, though kids will have no problems, and though the rear doors are wide enough to load in a car seat with reasonable ease. The back seat folds down nearly flat, which means in theory, a Girl Scout troop's sidewalk cookie sale could move from hot spot to hot spot in one trip.
Kia's upped the safety profile of the Sportage, with standard curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control. For that, it's earned a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). None of the more exotic features you'd find on bigger SUVs can be had, even as options, but a rearview camera comes with models equipped with the available navigation system.
Performance is much better than before, and the new Sportage offers a choice of four-cylinder and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The base car will feel adequate for everyday driving, and its fuel economy is at the top of the segment, thanks to an available six-speed automatic. It's not particularly free-revving, but when it's combined with the Sportage's more lively steering feel and much more controlled--sometimes overly taut--ride, the crossover sheds forever the disconnected, bobbly feel that was a hallmark of the prior model. The turbocharged SX model is a bit of a surprise: it doesn't feel quite as quick as all that power would imply, but it does get minor tweaks that give it a distinct edge when compared to the ride and handling of the similar Tucson.
The Sportage's styling has been a hit with High Gear Media's reviewers from the word go. From some angles it owes much to European hatchbacks. The fenders and tough front end have more in kin with the bigger Sorento SUV (and the one-hit wonder, Kia's 2009 Borrego). The cockpit's even more swell, with better materials and fit than we've seen on pricier cars, and an available UVO voice controller for the phone and entertainment system that works much like Ford's SYNC setup.It's more expensive than before--a Sportage SX nudges the $30,000 mark--but the 2011 Kia Sportage is also much more composed, much more safe, and much more family-savvy than before. Sure, it's pint-sized in the grand SUV scheme of things--but sometimes, all you need is a clever crossover with a lighter touch on the gas than it leaves behind on the trail.