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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.