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2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD: Improved looks and handling

Written by Steven Macoy Thursday, 02 December 2010 13:03

Kia continues to improve its entry-level sport-utility vehicle, adding generous doses of value, style and performance to the 2011 model. And with a long list of options, it still comes in under $30,000.

The last Sportage we drove, a 2008 model, had a bland appearance, mediocre fuel economy with a V-6 engine, and indifferent handling. The new model has sleek, supple lines and much more precise handling. Its 176-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine is unexpectedly smooth and quiet, and works well with the Sportage's 6-speed automatic transmission.

The Sportage is a five-passenger, compact SUV that competes with the likes of the Toyota RAV-4, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander. The latter is our favorite in this group because it does everything the others do and is a lot more fun to drive.

Still, the Sportage is coming along nicely. Its original incarnation, introduced during the 1990s, was noisy, coarse and underpowered, though its styling was somewhat ahead of its time. Later editions were smoother but lacked road feel and didn't corner crisply. Today's Sportage has none of the deficiencies of its predecessors.

Our Sportage was the top-of-the-line EX with all-wheel drive, and a starting price of $24,795. With navigation system and Sirius satellite radio ($1,500), and a $3,000 premium package that included a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, air-cooled driver's seat, rear camera, push-button start and other features, the sticker price came $10 shy of $30,000.

The base Sportage starts at just $18,295; it has front-wheel drive, a 6-speed manual transmission and the same engine as our EX. The V-6, rated at just 173 horsepower in the 2010 model, is no longer offered or needed; we were impressed with the peppy, 2.4-liter four-banger's ability to handle all driving situations with a minimum of lugging or downshifting.

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2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD: Improved looks and handling

Written by Steven Macoy Thursday, 02 December 2010 13:03

As with the 2008 model we test-drove, some drivers might wish for more leg room. Exacerbating this character flaw is an unusually upright accelerator pedal, which made forced downshifts easy but caused some discomfort among taller drivers on long drives.

Rear leg room and head room are more than adequate even for tall passengers, as long as those in front are willing to slide forward an inch or two. The leather seats were comfortable and supportive.

We were disappointed by the Sportage's fuel economy. EPA rated at 21 mpg city, 28 highway, our test car stayed around 24 mpg even during extended highway drives. General Motors' midsize SUVs such as the GMC Acadia, significantly bigger and roomier than the Sportage, claim 24 mpg on the highway, though we've never reached that level with these models in the real world.

Previous Sportages have been reliable, and the 2011 model is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick.

High value, long warranties and low prices have moved Sportages out of the showroom in the past. Now their comfort, drivability and style are competitive with Japanese and American compact SUVs.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel., Conn.

Price: $29,990

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2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD: Improved looks and handling

Written by Steven Macoy Thursday, 02 December 2010 13:03

Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 176 horsepower, 168 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic with descent control

Drive: All-wheel

Weight: 3,355 lb.

Suspension: Four-wheel independent, MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18-inch alloy

Tires: P235/55R18 all season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 26.1 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 55 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 2,000 lb.

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2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD: Improved looks and handling

Written by Steven Macoy Thursday, 02 December 2010 13:03

Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons

Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular

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