2017 Kia Sportage

Ted LaturnusIt happens every couple of years. Car manufacturers bring out a newer version of an existing model and re-invent it to extol its virtues and reinforce how good a vehicle it is. They re-emphasize things like – oh – a better interior layout, fresher exterior styling, a more efficient/more powerful drivetrain, superior fuel economy, enhanced NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) and, my personal favourite, increased torsion rigidity. This version, we are assured, is much better than the one before it….makes you wonder sometimes how the original model managed to stay on the road without falling to pieces or disintegrating beneath you.

Anyway, Kia is no different, and recently introduced the 2017 edition of its Sportage compact SUV. But here’s the thing: they may be right…..the new Sportage seems to be superior in every way to its predecessor.

Kia’s longest running nameplate in Canada, this, the fourth generation version of the Sportage, seems to have found its stride. Certainly, it’s light years ahead of the original, which debuted in Canada in 1999. Plagued with reliability issues, this model is best forgotten, and each successive version has thankfully shown an improvement.

A few particulars. Offered in three  basic trim levels – LX, EX, and SX – with myriad options and extras, the Sportage can be had with either front or all-wheel-drive, and is powered by your choice of either a normally-aspirated, 2.4 litre or turbocharged 2.0 litre four cylinder engine. Horsepower outputs are 181 and 237, respectively, and there is but one transmission: a six-speed automatic.

Unsurprisingly, standard equipment level is high, which has always been one of this company’s strengths. Even the base front-drive LX comes with heated front seats (take note, Toyota), air conditioning, cruise control, rear view camera, hill start assist, and, interestingly, hill descent control. This last item automatically stops the vehicle from picking up speed without having to use the brakes, when descending a steep incline. Normally this is found on rough and ready off-road rigs and it’s kinda cool to see it here.

Now about the styling. Unsurprisingly, this Sportage is bigger than before, with what Kia calls a “bold and rebellious” front end treatment….but not at the expense of recognition. Kia stylists have made sure this version looks generically similar to its predecessor…..keeping what they call the “character lines” while “breaking the monotony” of similar design trends in this segment. I love it when designers talk dirty. In other words, you’ll still know it’s a Sportage at first glance.

Inside, you can, depending on the model, choose from a wide range of extras, including various hues of leather upholstery, an “enlarged” panoramic sunroof,  power front seats, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, air-cooled front seats, and, of course a plethora of electronic goodies from Google and Android.

But what struck me most about the new Sportage is that this little spud can handle. Unsurprisingly, the suspension has been re-done, and during the launch, I drove both drivetrain choices with a pretty heavy foot and through the twisties, it hung in there like you know what to a baby blanket. Stable, predictable, tenacious, and tossable, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the new 2017 Sportage may be the best handling compact SUV on the market. The only other models I can think of that could possibly match it are the VW Tiguan and Mazda CX5. Other rivals include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson,and new Jeep Cherokee.

It’s also not half-bad when the pavement ends, even though this is not really it’s primary market. We had the chance to run it through a reasonably challenging off-road course, and there were no issues at all….it can handle mud, deep water, and reasonably steep inclines, no problem, thanks to a system that will deliver a 50/50 torque split to the driving wheels, going up to almost a 95 per cent power diversion if the situation requires.

As for pricing, you can get behind the wheel of a base front-drive LX for $24,795 before taxes and extras, and this will get you a fully-equipped, all-you-really-need SUV with one of the highest standard equipment levels in the industry. Move on up the line, and you can pay up to just under forty large for a fully-loaded EX Tech, which will have all-wheel-drive, the aforementioned ventilated front seats, an “integrated” navi system, power-smart rear liftgate, heated rear seats and so on. All very lovely, but the base LX is the model that sets the Sportage apart in terms of value for money.

Manufacturer’s Site: Kia

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist Of The Year twice and is past president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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