2011 Kia Sportage Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 8, 2011

Pros

  • Survey says: Great styling - if you're male
  • Aggressively priced, generously equipped, thoughtfully optioned
  • Good fuel-economy ratings include 30 mpg in highway driving

Cons

  • Survey says: Polarizing styling - if you're female
  • It doesn't drive as sporty as it looks
  • Dashboard reflections and a small rear window compromise driver visibility

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2011 Kia Sportage Buying Advice

The 2011 Kia Sportage is the best compact crossover SUV for you if you want to see how an ugly duckling becomes a swan.

The 2011 Kia Sportage is fully redesigned and discards a stuporously homely body for a handsome new form. The styling, and a come-hither starting price of $22,490 for the nicely equipped most popular configuration, will attract lots of folks who’ve never considered a Kia. They’ll discover a crossover that presses so many right buttons – fuel economy, affordable infotainment --  that the ones it misses – precise steering, cosseting seats -- hardly matter to its target audience.

Should you buy a 2011 Kia Sportage or wait for the 2012 Kia Sportage? Little reason to wait for the 2012 Sportage: it’s not likely to offer any compelling new features. You may, however, wish to delay your decision until a little deeper into the 2011 model year. Come February 2011, Kia plans to unleash a turbocharged Sportage model with an additional 100 horsepower or so over the introductory, non-turbo 2011 Sportage. Called the 2011 Kia Sportage SX and packing some 270 horses, the turbo should boost Sportage’s performance from ho-hum to hold-on.

2011 Kia Sportage Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Kia Sportage launches the second generation of this five-passenger SUV. Like the 2005-2010 original, the 2011 Sportage shares engineering and powertrain basics with the Hyundai Tucson. Hyundai owns roughly 40 percent of Kia and its recently redesigned Tucson deep-sixed its own dumpy styling for daringly reshaped sheetmetal. The 2011 Kia Sportage looks less curvaceous and more conservative than the Tucson. It boasts the Kia-family “tabbed” grille surround, body sides with fashionably high shoulders and husky wheel arches, and a roofline pinched to a sporty finish above the tailgate. Kia says the 2011 Sportage’s styling won the approval of males in consumer clinics, but polarized females. The carmaker says both sexes reacted favorably to the interior design. The 2011 Sportage is marginally larger than the outgoing model but weighs slightly less thanks to a diet of high-strength steel and low-mass components. The 2011 Sportage and the 2011 Tucson share a wheelbase, this distance between front and rear axles that helps define a vehicle’s passenger space. Their 103.9-inch span is fractionally longer than that of such rivals as the 2011 Honda CR-V and 2011 Subaru Forester, but shorter than the 2011 Toyota RAV4’s or 2011 Nissan Rogue’s. Sportage’s body length, however, is several inches shorter every key competitor’s. That pays off in weight savings and in close-quarters maneuverability. It helps styling, too, by minimizing the sheetmetal that “overhangs” the wheels; brief overhangs are a sign of athletic breeding. The downside is a smaller cargo area behind the rear seats compared with most rivals. The 2011 Sportage comes in Base, LX, and EX trim levels. The LX is visually distinguished from the Base by such features as outside mirrors with LED turn-signal indicators. The EX gets chrome exterior trim, a rear spoiler, and 18-inch alloy wheels versus the other models’ standard 16s. The EX also latches onto a styling trend with a beaded string of LED daytime running lights beneath its headlamps. Kia hasn’t released styling details on the 2011 Sportage SX, but it’s likely to have sportier trim to signal the presence of its turbocharged punch.             

Mechanical: The 2005-2010 Kia Sportage was among the very few compact crossovers to offer a V-6 engine. It needed one: its 140-horsepower four-cylinder was a tepid performer and even its V-6 was no stormer, with just 173 horsepower and 178-pound-feet of torque. The 2011 Sportage offers only four-cylinder power and its mainstay engine is a new 2.4-liter developed by Hyundai and shared with the Tucson. Code-named Theta II, this engine is standard in the Sportage Base, LX, and EX and produces 172 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. (Consider torque the force that gets you moving, horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum.) The 2011 Sportage SX borrows a 2.0-liter turbo four from the 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T sedan and should furnish about 274 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. Positioned as a price leader and expected to account for less than 10 percent of 2011 Sportage sales, the Base model comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. All other 2011 Sportages use a six-speed automatic with a center-console shifter that toggles to mimic manual-type gear changes. Both transmissions are fully contemporary and big steps forward from the previous Sportage’s five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. The 2011 Sportage qualifies as a crossover because it possesses SUV attributes – elevated ride height, available all-wheel drive (AWD) – but has car-like integrated unibody construction rather than separate body-on-frame assembly like a pickup truck or conventional SUV. As is virtually every crossover, the 2011 Sportage is based on a front-wheel drive layout that places the weight of the engine over the tires that also propel the vehicle. This helps slippery-surface traction. The Base Sportage comes only with front-wheel drive but the other models offer front- or all-wheel drive. Kia says about 30 percent of 2011 Sportage buyers are expected to order AWD. Like other AWD systems, this one normally operates in front-drive and automatically shuttles power between front and rear wheels to sustain traction. It’s not intended for serious off-roading – there’s no low-range gearing, for example -- and Sportage’s ground clearance is a modest 6.8 inches. But the driver gets a dashboard button to lock in a 50/50 front/rear power split for added grip in really sloppy conditions. Additionally, Kia says the system, which it dubs Dynamax AWD, enhances dry-pavement handling by reapportioning power fore-aft to fight noseplow or fishtailing. Traction and antiskid control for surer starts and turning are standard on all 2011 Sportages, as is hill-descent control to limit speeds on steep downgrades.

Features: South Korean siblings Hyundai and Kia are industry pacesetters for standard features and the 2011 Kia Sportage is a fine example. Every model comes with alloy wheels, air conditioning, and power windows, mirrors, and locks. Cruise control, tilt steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, three 12-volt power outlets, and a 60/40 split/folding rear seat also are included. And while many rival crossover offer Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone connectivity and USB iPod interface only as options -- sometimes only on their higher priced models -- Kia makes them standard on all versions of the 2011 Sportage. It also throws in a digital-audio auxiliary plug and Sirius satellite-radio with three months free subscription. All 2011 Sportage models also have steering-wheel button controls for cruise, audio, and Bluetooth. The wheel is leather-wrapped on the EX model, which also adds a telescopic adjustment that’s optional for the LX. The LX and EX also come with remote keyless entry, and the EX is available with keyless ignition that allows pushbutton starting while the keyfob remains n a purse, pocket, or briefcase. Leather upholstery is optionally exclusive to the EX, as are heated front seats, a cooled driver’s seat, and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof with opening panel over the front seats. Optional for LX and EX is a voice-activated navigation system that includes traffic data, rearview camera, and rear parking sensors. It’s combined with an audio upgrade that, like the base unit, includes six speakers but adds a subwoofer and external amplifier. Kia teamed with Microsoft to develop a hands-free communication and entertainment system it calls UVO, for “Your Voice.” Standard on the EX and optional on the LX, UVO is basically an enhanced Bluetooth experience. It works through a dashboard screen to provide phone and text-message reception and response and can access and store music from a variety of digital sources. UVO’s talents stop just short of the Ford/Microsoft Sync system’s because it doesn’t offer turn by turn navigation instructions.

2011 Kia Sportage Test Drive back to top

From behind the wheel: Kia had not made the turbo SX version available for testing in time for this review, but 2011 Sportages with the 172-horsepower four-cylinder move around town quite nicely and cruise with little fuss. Limber up your right ankle to provide liberal throttle pressure if you want to merge onto a fast-moving freeway, pass quickly on a two-lane, or climb a long grade. Sportage will do any of these without drama given the proper coaxing from you, though credit is also due the automatic transmission’s talent for holding or quickly shifting to the appropriate gear for the occasion.

The 2011 Sportage exhibits much the same steering behavior as most new Kia and Hyundai cars and crossovers. It’s an area in which improvement would be welcome. The electrically assisted system has little sense of “locking on” to the straight-ahead and so demands a bit too much attention on long highway drives. It’s also slow and indecisive as you begin to change direction. Once you’ve begun to turn, though, it accurately follows the path you select.
Steering irritation aside the 2011 Kia Sportage handles with fine overall control. There’s no undue body lean and grip is good in curves. Co-developed by Kia Motors and Magna International, the Dynamax AWD system is a sort of cut-rate version of the handling-enhancing AWD setups found on BMW, Audi, and Acura crossovers. Those more sophisticated systems funnel their vehicles through turns with a feel approaching rear-wheel-drive sportiness. Dynamax doesn’t do that but it does improve upon the handling of front-wheel-drive Sportages by effectively reducing noseplow and helping the tail track true.

Dashboard and controls: As Sportage’s exterior design is less lurid than that of its Tucson cousin, so its dashboard layout is less flamboyant. The principal difference is in the straightforward presentation of the main gauges, here set within a single flat-pane rather than housed in chrome-ringed tunnels. The balance of Sportage’s layout follows this theme with easy-to-reach audio, navigation, and climate controls. Buttons and knobs are clearly marked and while their action is never sloppy, neither does it rise above that found in the latest products from General Motors and Ford, which says a lot about advances made by those domestic brands and a little about Kia’s running in place.

Indeed, Sportage’s cabin materials are built to a price. Nothing feels flimsy, and what you’re likely to contact everyday – steering-wheel rim, shift knob – is nicely padded. But the only other soft-touch surfaces are small inserts in the door panels. Everything else is rigid, hollow, plastic, though thanks to some clever graining, little of it looks budget-grade. Unfortunately, the top of the instrument pod is left ungrained. This glossy surface casts a riot of reflections onto the windshield and disrupts the driver’s view ahead on sunny days. Day or night, the driver’s view aft is constricted by the body’s high beltline and tapered rear roofline, which make for an undersized rear window.      

Sportage’s navigation screen isn’t state-of-the-art large, but it has good definition and the system responds reasonably well to voice commands if you familiarize yourself with its vocabulary. Oddly, the UVO system isn’t available along with the navigation system. And lacking the ability to transmit turn-by-turn directions, it basically acts as a glorified audio-interface. At that it performs admirably, identifying, capturing, and storing music from most any digital source. It also adds an upgraded subwoofer sound system, all for a tempting $395 or so.

Room, comfort, and utility: Low-hanging drivetrain and suspension components limit the 2011 Sportage to less ground clearance than virtually any rival, but its body sills are nonetheless high enough to require a bit of exertion to climb aboard. Once in, only rear-seat passengers will likely experience a shortage of space, and that’s limited to tight toe clearance beneath the front buckets. On the plus side, rear seaters do get a center armrest expensively hinged to provide elbow-high support. And Kia’s justifiably proud of the reverse-slant to the rear roof pillars; it succeeds as a styling touch and enlarges the glass area to make the back seat palpably airier. (Order the panoramic glass roof for the ultimate open feel.)

Sportage isn’t going to filter out many bumps, ruts, or ridges. This is a taut suspension but one Sportage’s urban-achiever audience is more likely to value for control than criticize for compliance. Most everyone will take issue with the front bucket seats, however. Firm and flat, you feel you’re sitting on them not in them. The driver’s cushion has insufficient rake adjustment to correct this, and the passenger cushion has no angle adjustment at all.

With just 26.1 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 54.6 cubic feet with the rear seat folded, the 2011 Sportage is at the thin end of the compact-crossover class for cargo volume. There’s a handy, divided tub beneath the carpeted rear load floor, itself a reassuringly substantial panel. But in-cabin storage is nothing special, with a middling-sized glovebox and center console augmented by few additional cubbies or slots. And a fold-flat front passenger seat and a reclining rear backrest -- little extras found on a growing number of competitors -- are missing in action on the 2011 Sportage.

2011 Kia Sportage Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2011 Kia Sportage is $18,990-$25,490, not including the 2011 Sportage SX model, for which pricing hadn’t been announced in time for this review. All base prices in this review do include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Kia’s fee for the 2011 Sportage is $695. Kia says a 2011 Sportage LX equipped with every available option would have a retail price of about $29,000.

With the Base version priced at $18,990 (it’s not available with any factory options), the 2011 Sportage lineup has the lowest starting price among compact-crossover SUVs. And prices remain extremely competitive even when you exclude that low-demand model. Essentially, the 2011 Kia Sportage midline LX model starts where the entry-level versions of most rivals begin.

The 2011 Kia Sportage LX is priced at $20,990 with front-wheel drive at $22,490 with AWD. It’s expected to account for about 70 percent of 2011 Sportage sales and adds to the Base model rear privacy glass, plus the items covered in the Features section above.

The 2011 Kia Sportage EX is priced from $23,990 with front-wheel drive and from $25,490 with AWD. To the LX it adds the aforementioned features, plus fog lamps, roof rails, automatic climate control, one-touch-up power driver’s window, leather-wrapped shift knob, and a power driver’s seat with power lumbar.

Among key 2011 Sportage options is the $3,000 Premium Package for EX models that includes the leather upholstery, headed and cooled seats, and panoramic sunroof, among other features. The EX also is available with a $2,500 Premium Package that substitutes orange- or blue-accented cloth upholstery for the leather.  

The Navigation Package for LX and EX costs $1,500, but must be ordered in conjunction with other options packages that cost a minimum of $1,300 or as much as $3,000, depending on model. For LX models, these include the $1,500 Convenience Package, which adds the 17-inch alloys, backup warning system, telescopic steering wheel, cooled glovebox, heated mirrors, roof rails, and other items.

Included in any Sportage value equation is Kia’s generous warranty. Coverage is 5-years/60,000-miles bumper-to-bumper and 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain. This coverage is matched by Hyundai, though the parent-company includes roadside assistance for 5-years/unlimited mileage while Kia’s roadside assistance is for 5-years/60,000 miles.

2011 Kia Sportage Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage estimates for 2011 models had not been released in time for this report, but 2011 Kia Sportage fuel-economy ratings should mirror those of its Hyundai Tucson cousin.

That means a 2011 Sportage LX with manual transmission and front-wheel drive will be rated around 23/31 mpg (city/highway). With automatic transmission, expect both the 2011 Sportage LX and EX to be rated 22/30 with front-wheel drive, 22/29 with AWD.

Such ratings would place the 2011 Sportage among the most fuel-efficient compact crossovers. If Kia matches Hyundai’s special fuel-saver Tucson “Blue” edition with a 2.0-liter gas miser of its own, expect ratings around 25/33 mpg (city/highway).

2011 Kia Sportage Safety and Reliability back to top

At the time of this review, the 2011 Kia Sportage had not been tested under the government’s five-star crash-rating program (safercar.gov).  However, Kia says its internal testing makes it confident the 2011 Sportage will earn the maximum five stars for occupant protection in front and side collisions. In addition to the active safety of antilock brakes and the various traction aids, every 2011 Sportage has torso-protecting front-seat side airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags for both seating rows. The curtain bags are designed to deploy in side collisions and when onboard sensors detect an impending rollover.

As a brand-new design, the 2011 Sportage isn’t included in initial quality or long-term dependability studies by J.D. Power and Associates, the leading automotive consumer-survey source (jdpower.com). J.D. Power does give the Kia brand a ranking of average in overall initial quality as measured by problems experienced during the first 90 days of ownership. It also ranks the brand average for dependability, as measured by problems cited during the first three years of ownership. The first-generation Sportage was rated above average for both overall initial quality and dependability.

Like the Tucson, the 2011 Sportage is assembled at a Hyundai/Kia plant in South Korea.

2011 Kia Sportage Release Date back to top

The 2011 Kia Sportage went on sale in July 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Kia Sportage back to top

Kia and Hyundai have parlayed value pricing, great warranty coverage, and savvy marketing into steadily increasing sales. Both brands gained market share during the recession while virtually every other automaker was suffering double-digit sales declines.

Fueling Kia’s momentum are the recently introduced Kia Soul off-beat compact wagon, the Kia Forte, a handsome compact car, and the Kia Sorento midsize crossover SUV. The 2011 Sportage compact SUV gives Kia a striking new entry in a crossover segment expected to outpace industry sales growth well into the 2010s.

Interestingly, the Kia-Hyundai relationship appears to contain just as much competition as coziness. Basically, Kia wants to appeal to a slightly younger, hipper audience than Hyundai. To that end, Sportage gets the turbo SX model while the similar-under-the-skin Tucson gets a special fuel-sipper edition with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

Certainly, chances are good that both model lines could eventually feature turbo and super-economy models. But beyond new colors and maybe some equipment juggling, don’t expect Sportage to change much for several years. And don’t anticipate a gas-electric hybrid model. Hyundai is moving ahead on the hybrid front, and there’s a fair chance for a hybrid Tucson as part of the parent company’s emphasis on technology. Kia, by contrast, is committed to fashioning an image as a provider of affordable, fun-to-drive, high-style vehicles that rely on conventional gas engines for good fuel economy.

2011 Kia Sportage Competition back to top

2011 Hyundai Tucson: We don’t usually include corporate cousins among competitors, but Tucson is sufficiently distinct from Sportage to provide a contrast worth exploring. Built as they are from the same structural and mechanical foundation, the two drive quite similarly, though we favor Kia’s suspension tuning, which provides a slight softer ride. Other differences, at least in the near-term, are the fuel-miser Tucson versus the turbo Sportage. And of course there’s the styling. Looks are a matter of taste but for many people hardly of little consequence when choosing a car. Fuel-economy ratings are a wash, but slight differences in equipment make Tucson more expensive than the Sportage. Base price range is about $19,800-$28,000 for front-drive versions and $24,000-$30,000 with AWD.  

2011 Honda CR-V: Among five-seat compact crossovers that offer only four-cylinder engines, this Honda is tops in sales, resale value, and reliability. CR-V also is solidly built, handles well, is intelligently designed, and surprisingly roomy. But it’s beginning to show its age. The features list is slightly restrictive, refinement suffers a rough edge or two, and the styling is dated. Honda aims to address those issues when it replaces this 2007-vintage design with an all-new 2012 CR-V. Meanwhile, the 2011 CR-V has 180 horsepower and rates 21/28 mpg with front-wheel drive, 21/27 with AWD. Base prices start around $22,500 with front-wheel drive and $23,500 with AWD.

2011 Subaru Forester: OK, it’s slightly condescending to call Forester the thinking-person’s compact-crossover SUV. But think about it: here’s class-leading ride comfort and road manners and more passenger room than any model in this review. Cargo volume is just a few cubic feet shy of the CR-V for the most in this grouping. And Forester comes standard with the most capable AWD system. You can pop for the randy 224-horsepower turbo version at around $27,500 to start, but the 170-horse base-engine Foresters, priced from under $22,000, are more in Sportage’s league. Fuel economy is 20/27 with manual transmission, 20/26 with automatic. This Subaru’s next redesign won’t come before model-year 2014.