When a vehicle’s been around for a few generations, as the Sportage has, its basic characteristics are usually well-established, so you know what to expect from the next one. But for the fully redesigned 2017 Sportage, Kia directly addressed two of our primary complaints about the previous model. First, the formerly cramped backseat is now remarkably roomy, to the point that a family might not need anything more. And second, the formerly firm ride is now relatively compliant.
In short, we’re running out of reasons why the Sportage isn’t a head-of-the-class standout among small crossover SUVs.
The new 2017 Kia Sportage has a fresh face that prominently features Kia’s corporate grille.
If there’s one thing that still holds the Sportage back, it’s lackluster fuel economy, which we called out last year and must underscore again for 2017 despite mild improvements. This is a predictable problem, as both available engines and the mandatory six-speed automatic transmission are largely carryover items from the outgoing Sportage. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive combo is pegged at 22 mpg in combined driving, according to EPA estimates, trailing the Honda CR-V by a significant 5 mpg, while the optional 2.0-liter turbo can only manage 21 mpg in combined driving. On the bright side, the engines are quiet and refined, and the smooth-shifting transmission responds quickly when you need a downshift.
By the numbers, at least, another 2017 Sportage shortcoming is its cargo capacity, which is limited to 60.1 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded down, easily outdone by the RAV4’s 73.3 cubes and the CR-V’s 70.9. Still, you might find it more than adequate for your needs, and the Sportage is notably nose-to-tail shorter than both rivals, making it a bit more maneuverable in close quarters. Additional strengths include an upscale cabin that’s surprisingly quiet at speed, an excellent optional 8-inch Uvo touchscreen and responsive steering that gives this Kia an appropriately sporting feel.
The 2017 Kia Sportage joins a group of affordable crossovers that’s never been more competitive. In addition to the above-mentioned RAV4 and CR-V, there’s the smaller Honda HR-V, which offers an exceptionally spacious interior for its size and impressive fuel economy but suffers from laggardly acceleration. The Mazda CX-5 is a perennial favorite among our staffers for its capable handling and well-rounded feature set, while the reinvented 2017 Ford Escape merits strong consideration. But if you’re shopping for a crossover in this genre, you owe yourself a drive in the thoughtfully redesigned 2017 Sportage.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2017 Kia Sportage is a small crossover SUV with seating for five. It’s offered in three trim levels: LX, EX and SX Turbo.
All 2017 Sportage versions have a central control layout that wraps toward you for ease of access.
The LX comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, automatic headlights, rear privacy-tinted windows, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, rear climate vents, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, a 5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a USB port, an auxiliary input jack and satellite radio.
The EX upgrades to 18-inch wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, roof rails, a gloss-black grille, a windshield-wiper de-icer, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rear USB charging port and a 7-inch touchscreen with the latest version of Kia’s Uvo infotainment system (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto).
The SX Turbo boasts 19-inch wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, automatic high beams, LED foglights and taillights, power-folding mirrors with LED turn signals, a sport-tuned suspension, a hands-free power tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, LED interior lighting, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a heated flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, an upgraded driver information display, an eight-way power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, dashboard accent stitching, gloss-black interior accents, an 8-inch touchscreen interface, a navigation system and an eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
A number of these standard features can be added to lower trim levels as options. For the LX, the Popular package adds the roof rails, heated mirrors, windshield-wiper de-icer, power driver seat, heated front seats and illuminated vanity mirrors, while the Cool and Connected package throws in the 7-inch touchscreen with Uvo and the automatic climate control. For the EX, the Premium package adds the panoramic sunroof, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, LED interior lighting and heated steering wheel (though this wheel lacks the SX Turbo’s flat-bottom design and shift paddles), while the Technology package tacks on the automatic high beams, hands-free power tailgate, ventilated front seats, power passenger seat, 8-inch touchscreen and Harman Kardon audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
In LX and EX trim, the 2017 Kia Sportage is motivated by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. The SX Turbo model gets a stronger turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that cranks out 240 hp and 260 lb-ft. Both engines come paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available as an option.
Given the turbocharged engine’s surprising thirst and so-so acceleration, we’d lean toward the regular 2.4-liter engine that comes standard in this 2017 Sportage EX.
According to the EPA, the Sportage LX should return 26 mpg combined (23 city/30 highway) with front-wheel drive and 22 mpg combined (21/25) with all-wheel drive. The Sportage EX’s official estimates are slightly different, but expect essentially the same in real-world driving. The SX Turbo drops to 23 mpg combined (21/26) with FWD and 21 mpg combined (20/23) with AWD.
Although these fuel economy numbers are a tick or two better than those of the previous Sportage, they’re still unimpressive for a small crossover with four-cylinder power. Many rivals, especially those with AWD, are typically better.
Standard safety features on all 2017 Kia Sportage models include antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control, a rearview camera, hill-start assist, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
The SX Turbo additionally includes a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a forward collision mitigation system with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and front and rear parking sensors. These items are optional on the Sportage EX, with the blind-spot monitor/cross-traffic alert included in the Premium package and the other items included in the Technology package.
Kia’s Uvo telematics suite, standard on the EX and SX Turbo trims (and optional on LX), includes emergency and roadside assistance, stolen vehicle tracking, geo-fencing and speed tracking (allowing parents to set limits for teen drivers) and other smartphone-enabled features accessible via the Uvo app.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2017 Sportage’s interior is impressively executed. The dashboard has a substantial, upmarket look and includes a broad central control layout that tilts toward the driver, giving the cockpit a sporty character to match the name. Materials quality is class-competitive, and we’ve noted no squeaks or rattles in our test vehicles to date. The base LX trim is rather sparsely equipped by today’s standards, but one could argue that it gives you most of what you need, including Bluetooth, a USB port and a small touchscreen. Higher trims can be outfitted with a high-resolution 8-inch touchscreen that features sharp graphics and quick response times, but even the LX is eligible for an upgrade to the EX’s standard 7-inch touchscreen with Uvo infotainment functions (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for full smartphone integration).
Passenger space and comfort are outstanding for this size class. As expected in a crossover, the driver and front passenger have plenty of head- and legroom, and the available power seats include bottom cushions that tilt independently for additional customization. Rear occupants are hardly worse off, however. Even with a 6-footer in the driver seat, another 6-footer can sit immediately astern without issue, and he or she will enjoy ample thigh support. This level of accommodation is normally associated with midsize crossovers, so it’s a welcome surprise in the compact Sportage.
Although the 2017 Sportage trails segment leaders in terms of outright cargo capacity, this is still a pretty handy vehicle if you’ve got stuff to haul.
With all that space devoted to making rear passengers happy, there’s not a whole lot left over for the cargo area. You get 30.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seatbacks, which trails class leaders by about 4-6 cubes, while folding down those seatbacks opens up a similarly modest 60.1 cubic feet. That’s still a fair amount of hauling capability, though, so it’s worth taking a look at the dealership to see if you think you really need more.
The Sportage has evolved noticeably from the firm-riding crossover it used to be. Kia seems to have realized that crossover buyers appreciate comfort, too, because the 2017 Sportage strikes a rewarding balance between ride compliance and handling control. There’s still a certain athleticism to the way this crossover steers and takes a corner, but impacts now tend to be absorbed or shrugged off rather than transmitted vividly to the cabin. We also appreciate how quiet the reasonably priced Sportage remains at speed; not too long ago, you would have needed a luxury-brand model to enjoy such isolation from the elements.
Given how accomplished the Sportage is otherwise, the engines are something of a letdown. The base 2.4-liter engine operates smoothly, but while it keeps you moving with traffic well enough, there’s not much surplus power for passing. We like that Kia provides a higher-performance engine in the SX Turbo, but it doesn’t give you the punch you’d expect based on its extra 59 hp, and its fuel economy penalty may be hard to swallow. In any event, we’re fans of the six-speed automatic, which is one of the best-mannered transmissions you’ll find in this segment.