There’s room in every market class for an unremarkable but splendidly inexpensive vehicle, offering something that’s roughly competitive with the pricier class leaders at a much lower price.
The 2010 Kia Sportage, in its final months before a fully redesigned 2011 model – which will be mechanically identical to the new Hyundai Tucson, just as this Sportage is related to the older version of the Hyundai – comes close to that in many ways.
Even as it has seen only cosmetic changes since 2005, the Sportage drives pleasantly and has a comfortable and well-designed interior, and it lives up to the value quotient with low sticker prices that dealers are willing to discount from. Kia of Silver Spring offered this test car for $20,000 even. The fact that you need to step up to a slow but comparatively fuel-swilling V6 to get an automatic transmission with four-wheel-drive doesn’t even knock it down from the standard of a good value vehicle.
Its safety ratings do.
Though the Sportage earned top five-star marks from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it was much less impressive in crash tests run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which ranks it at the bottom of its class. It rated just Acceptable in the IIHS’s frontal crash test, which nearly every car has aced for years, and earned the lowest rating of Poor for the strength of its roof in a rollover accident.
Its best-in-comparison pricing, plus Kia’s long warranty, give the Sportage a unique draw that the vehicles it outranks – the Volkswagen Tiguan and Ford Escape – lack. But too many flaws knock down what is overall a fairly pleasant and excellently priced package.
Inside, the Sportage is attractive but built from low-grade plastics. Assembly quality at least is solid, and the instrument layout is simple. An odd handle on the passenger side of the dash detracts from an otherwise clean interior design.
- Introduction to this comparison
- Comparison review: 2009 compact SUVs
- Kia unveils redesigned 2011 Sportage
- Review: 2008 Kia Rondo
- Review: 2009 Kia Borrego
- Review: 2010 Kia Soul Sport
- Review: 2010 Kia Forte SX
- Review: 2011 Kia Sorento
The front seats are a bit narrow but offer plenty of leg and head room on comfortable cushions. Drivers have a good forward view and a clear view straight rearward, but thick roof pillars crowd out the rearmost side windows.
The rear seat isn’t overly roomy, but it’s high enough to be comfortable. A surprisingly rare feature: the rear seat easily drops perfectly flat, a feat not mimicked in the 2010 Hyundai Tucson or, presumably, the related 2011 Sportage. The redesign also eliminates a rear windshield that opens separately of the rest of the back hatch, a feature it shares with only the Ford Escape among these eight SUVs.
Compact exterior dimensions – among the class’s tightest – cut into cargo space, however. The Sportage ranks last in this comparison for cargo space behind the rear seat, at just 23.6 cubic feet. Folding the rear seat opens up a more class-competitive total of 66.7 cubic feet, on a flat and plastic-lined floor.
Unlike the other vehicles in this comparison, the tested Sportage was equipped with its optional V6, which is not only the only engine offered with 4WD and an automatic transmission but also makes less power than several four-cylinder competitors – so there’s hardly an unfair advantage. But even as the V6 Sportage offers underwhelming acceleration, it also returns mediocre gas mileage even by six-cylinder standards at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway. It’s at least a bit smoother than some competing four-cylinders, but the gap has narrowed in recent years. The next Sportage, like the Tucson, will come only with a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine.
Other aspects of the Sportage’s driving dynamics are more impressive than its engine, but by no huge margin. The ride is pleasant on smooth surfaces but too stiff over bumps. The steering is quick and reasonably well-weighted, but the Sportage loses the agile feel inherent in its small size after slow speeds, with excessive body roll and an almost clumsy feel. Road noise is a bit excessive, too. The Sportage nonetheless avoids feeling downright unpleasant, merely unexceptional.
But even a car that’s just okay by its class standards is still typically a fairly nice vehicle, boosting the strength of a price-focused package. The Sportage, while indeed a fairly nice vehicle to be in and to drive, loses key points for its fuel consumption and crash test ratings – two things a test drive would not expose.
Even more significantly, the Sportage’s low price is nearly matched by a superior competitor, a vehicle that handily beats its gas mileage, cargo space, and safety ratings.
Keep the Sportage in mind if you like a bargain, but for its flaws and for its tough competition, it shouldn’t start out at the top of your list even if price is number one.
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Vehicle tested: 2010 Kia Sportage
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $16,695
Version tested: LX V6 4WD
Version base price (MSRP): $22,495
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $23,485
Estimated transaction price as comparable*: $20,000
Test vehicle provided by: Kia of Silver Spring of Silver Spring, Md.
Length: 171.3 inches
Width: 70.9 inches
Height: 66.7 inches
Wheelbase: 103.5 inches
Weight: 3,527 pounds
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 23.6 cubic feet
Cargo volume behind front seats: 66.6 cubic feet
Turning radius: 17.7 feet
Engine (as tested): 2.7-liter V6 with 173 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 4-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 18 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 23 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 20 miles per gallon
For more information: Kia website