2011 Kia Sportage SX Turbo HD Video Review

If you don’t know that Kia is knocking them out of the park these days you haven’t been paying attention to the auto world.  The third generation Sportage is a striking example of how the brand has dramatically transformed itself in the last 3 years.  Bold design, a 10-year powertrain warranty and unexpected features combined with value price is tough to beat.  However, more power is always appealing.

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Done.  The newest model Sportage, the SX, packs a turbocharged engine.  Turbos are not just for sports cars anymore, many automakers feel they are just as important as hybrids, diesels and electric power when it comes fuel efficiency.  Both Ford and GM have put them to use in their vehicles.

Compared to the standard 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder found in other Sportages, the SX gets 90 additional horsepower for a total of 260 from a 2.0-liter engine.  More power from a smaller engine?  This, as they say, is a good thing.

That’s not all.  The dreaded “turbo lag”, that brief moment it used to take for the turbine to spool up to provide boost, is a thing of the past.  There’s lots of torque, 269 lb-ft of it at 1850- 3000 RPM so there’s satisfying power right off the line.  The turbo is Kia’s design.

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Why Turbocharging?

Most important, it offers up the power of a V6 and, for the most part, the weight and fuel economy of a four-cylinder.  Less mass means engineers don’t have to design the engine cradle for the extra weight of a heavier optional six-cylinder.  Less weight up front can lead to better handling.  A lighter car is better for fuel economy too.  Win, win, win.  Unlike some turbos, Sportage runs on regular grade gas, no need for premium.  Again, win.

The standard AWD Sportage fuel economy is EPA rated at 21 city, 28 highway.  SX drops that down to 21/26.  Considering the significant power gain it’s a small price to pay.

Putting The Sport In Sportage

SX sprints to 60 miles an hour in about six and half seconds.  The delivery is smooth, there’s nothing peaky in the powerband.  Sportage has always had a firm ride quality, SX takes it up a half notch so this is not a crossover for those who want cushy comfort.   15 Chucking it into tight turns is good fun though, body roll is minimal and response is crisp.  Road noise is higher than average.

Anti-lock disc brakes at all four wheels stop this ute in a controlled manner.  There’s traction control and electronic stability control which is now mandated by the government for your protection.  It can be turned off for those rare times when you need the wheels to spin (like trying to get unstuck from a snow bank).

Electric power steering feels different in Sportage than most others.  As I’ve said before, there’s an almost magnetic need for the wheel to return to center.  After a few days it feels normal, kinda, sorta.

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Dynamax Is Not A Superhero

Kia’s AWD system, dubbed Dynamax is good enough to handle pretty sloppy stuff.  Co-developed with Magna, mud, snow and forest service roads should be no problem.  Under 25 mph, a “lock mode” divvies up power evenly between front and rear axels for maximum stability. Hill decent control is helpful on very steep grades though it’s doubtful many owners will tackle severe slopes in a crossover like this.

Under normal conditions an AWD Sportage delivers it’s power through the front wheels.  Kia says Dynamax doesn’t just react to conditions after they occur, it’s designed to anticipate the amount of all-wheel drive needed.  The claim is that it improves lateral stability when cornering and keeps over and under steer to a minimum.  I just know this rig handles pretty well.

How To Spot An SX

It’s not easy.  There’s a very subtle “T-GDI” badge on the tailgate.  Sill trim, a slightly different grille and dual exhaust are other clues that it’s the go-fast model.  And even though the wheels are different from an EX, it’s tough to tell without looking very hard.  SX is playing its power close to the vest.

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Inside, the black cabin doesn’t look much different either.  Apparently the gauge cluster is tweaked but not dramatically. The Optima SX sedan adds noticeably nicer gauge graphics and warning chimes to what’s found in the EX.  That additional refinement is not immediately found when you make that jump in the Sportage.

The black interior is very dark.  Might I recommend the panoramic roof to brighten things up.  There’s also the option of orange or blue colored inserts that add some pop to the design.  Materials are hard plastic but appear well constructed.  Phone and iPod integration are standard on all Sportages.

Dual-zone auto climate control and a ventilated seat for the driver keeps comfort high (both front seats are heated).  Kia’s navigation system is very easy to use, a rear view camera shares the screen.  The six-speed automatic can be shifted manually on the console.  The six-speed manual is not offered with the turbo engine, it’s only offered on the base Sportage.

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Very small drivers, pay attention to the windshield pillar during your test drive.  Like other aerodynamic cars these days it can block left side visibility.  My wife may be big on personality but at five feet tall, not on height.  I wedged myself into her position and find it disconcerting when taking left turns.

What My Evil Twin Thinks

When adjusting the driver’s seat for a comfortable driving position my 5’9” doppelganger finds foot and leg room to be pretty good.  Three trim adults will be alright in the back, keep it to two if they’re full sized.

There are pockets on both back seats and storage in the doors.  A folding armrest with cupholders is always nice.  The seats themselves are very comfortable but they don’t recline or slide fore and aft to max out either cargo and leg room.  Finally, no power port back here so make sure your kid has a full charge on his iPad before that trip to Grandma’s house.

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Room For Gear

Sportage isn’t available with a powered hatch.  Smaller folks might have a reach problem but the door is pretty light so there’s really need for electric assist.

Under the load floor there is divided storage space with enough room for a laptop computer and other small stuff.  A simple hook keeps the floor up and out of the way while stashing things.  Notches at floor level near the hatch opening are designed to hold the security shade so it’s not left in the garage.  It also blocks things from rolling out of the trunk.

As far as cargo room, Sportage is average for it’s class at 8 packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue (the trunk measurement metric for professionals everywhere).  The 60/40 split seatbacks are easy to drop with the pull of a strap, creating a hole large enough to swallow a very large TV.

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A word about design.  Nearly everyone who rides in Sportage comments favorably on the chunky-yet-sleek look.  Audi-esque LED running lights up front are crowd pleasers too.  The tabbed grille, called the “tiger nose” is repeated not only in the top of the windshield line but throughout the interior as well.  An element that the engineers apparently discussed at length is the rear turn indicator that’s located down near the bumper.  It will be easy for other motorists to miss it.

How Much Will All This Cost?

A front-wheel drive Sportage SX starts at $27,700 with destination.  The fully loaded unit I’m driving goes for $31,200.  That might be more than expected for a Kia but it remains a good value.  Members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association think so. They’ve named it “2011 Northwest Affordable SUV of the Year”.

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The combination of keyless ignition, panoramic glass roof, a darn good sound system, and leather seating with heat and ventilation can be hard to find on vehicles costing $10,000 more.  Going up against RAV4, CR-V, Tucson, Rouge, Escape and Forrester, Sportage SX is powerfully compelling.  Buying a compact sport ute?  Don’t leave Sportage SX off your test drive list.

FULL GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY KIA.

14 Comments

  1. simply aaron says:

    Hey Tom… What was your avg. mpg in the SX model?

    • TV says:

      I saw about 20 mpg average. You have to remember though, the cars I drive are practically brand new and generally get worse fuel economy than one with 5-10K on the clock. It’s why I seldom give my fuel economy experience. I really can’t be very accurate on just one tank of gas.

  2. prins004 says:

    TV, I think you always misspell the word ‘warranty.’ I think you could check that.

  3. langleyhs2013 says:

    love the styling but doesnt it have a huge rear blindspot?

    • TV says:

      Not as bad as some but the backup cam really helps. The worst one oddly enough is upfront for those drivers who are smaller.

  4. 68mlo says:

    I like the exterior design of the Sportage…a LOT. It’s one of the most attractive compact CUV’s at any price point, in my opinion. I wouldn’t change a thing with the lines of the vehicle, though I do question (as Tom did) the wisdom in placing the turn signals in the rear bumper. I can’t imagine how anyone thought that was a good idea. Any driver that tailgates (and they know who they are) is going to render those turn signals invisible.

    The interior is decidedly plain compared to the exterior, but it’s a clean and functional look that will probably age well. The hard plastics are slightly disappointing, mainly because the exterior is so nice-looking and one possibly expects a nicer interior to go along with it. However, the hard plastic is not unexpected and as I’ve always said…as long as the hard plastic bits don’t look or feel cheap, I can live with it. I love that Sportage (and all other Kia models, I believe) has standard iPod/MP3 ports; very cool. Not crazy about the plain-Jane gauges, but taken as a whole…I suppose the interior isn’t a bad place to spend time.

    21/26 MPG is not the range I’m looking for in my next vehicle, so I’d probably pass on the Sportage. But, if I really, REALLY needed a small CUV and could live with the fuel economy numbers…I think this Kia would be at the top of my list.

  5. simply aaron says:

    I test drove one the same day this review was posted. I went a Kia dealership to give to see if they had the 2012 Soul in stock but those will not be here in Saint Louis until mid September. I had test driven the 2011 Soul a few weeks ago and was very impressed with it over all. The dealership did however have the 2012 Sportage Turbo. I had to give it a spin just to see how it was to drive it. I fell in love with it the moment I put on the gas to merge onto the highway! This thing hauls a**!! lol My fiance made the comment “Oh lord we need to start saving money now for speeding tickets!”

    Kia has sealed the deal for me when I go to buy my next vehicle next year. I am very excited about what they offer. I only hope they keep the mind set of “more bang for your buck”.

    Hyundai/Kia wants the top spot and they just might get it!

  6. chiefboyle says:

    Aussies and Brits say “Maazda” too Tom :)

  7. Ken says:

    I will buy this one over any of the Toyotas and Hondas or Nissans, I will also consider Tuson.

  8. TheCarFan says:

    Very interesting and good review. But the problem is the turbo. Is it really necessary for this vehicle. I believe that the 176HP engine delivers enough power for this vehicle. In the other hand, Kia made an amazing work for the styling, it really gets the attention. The LED accents give to the car a very attractive line. The interior is also very stylish, but why did Kia put only dark colors for the SX trim.

    This review, as always, is one of the best available on the Internet. I also like the joke about Canadians and Americans. Tom Voelk and his team did another very excellent video.

  9. hiptech says:

    Great review as always Tom! That said, I do have a comment to make about your description concerning the A-pillar visibility issue. I’ve heard you say on more than one occasion something similar to this statement:

    “Very small drivers, pay attention to the windshield pillar during your test drive. Like other aerodynamic cars these days it can block left side visibility.”

    As I mentioned in the forums section titled “State of the Industry” in a post I titled “Are cars becoming too dangerous to drive?” the issue isn’t so much aerodynamics but rather a stricter government mandate for roof deflection (crush standards). These have caused manufacturers to “beef-up” the vertical pillars in order to meet the requirements…

    Otherwise I like the Kia Sportage a lot (as well as most all of Hyundai/Kia’s new product lineup). I do agree the dash does appear spartan but can’t help wonder if this is intentional so as to help dealers sell OEM accessories or aftermarket trim products?

    Anyway, great work here as usual…

    Many Thanks

    • raschmidt says:

      I think the dash reminds me of the 1st gen Lexus RX, which to be honest I thought was the best one Lexus made.

    • TV says:

      Part of it is the roof crush mandate, no doubt. In the case of Sportage the A pillar is very raked, the pillar thick and the side mirror on the large side. For my wife it adds up to a very large blind spot. Most average sized drivers don’t have much of a problem. I kind of feel it’s my job to point out details though.