Weidel on Wheels: New redesign makes this Kia sportier than ever

By: Jeffrey Weidel
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Toss out the impressive gas mileage and a sticker price that appeals to many, and there wasn’t a whole lot else that was convincing car shoppers that they should be driving off the lot with a new Kia Sportage. That is not a huge knock on the Kia, which overall has been very competitive among most of its compact crossover rivals. But the Sportage needed something more and this year it finally has it, thanks to a solid redesign. It might not be time for either the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 to get overly concerned, but the Sportage has Kia definitely gaining some ground. A mere glance at the 2011 Sportage and one recognizes a difference — it’s longer, wider and lower to the ground than earlier models. Previously very average in the looks department, the Sportage now has an attractive black front grille, angular headlights, a modest crease in the side doors and a curved roofline. It also has a sleek interior design and comes with a nice list of standard features. Looks alone don’t solely define the changes in the Sportage, which shares a platform with the Hyundai Tucson. One feels a difference now when getting behind the wheel and pushing the Sportage a bit. And it responds positively, providing more engaged handling that makes it much more fun to drive than in the past. Yet it’s not like the Sportage is top of the line in handling among its classmates. It doesn’t do well on uneven surfaces and rough pavement, which can be blamed on its stiff suspension. However, it does muffle wind and road noise fairly well for a vehicle that features a starting price of $18,295 for the base model. Test driven here was the Sportage EX, an upgrade model that came with all-wheel drive, a peppy 2.4-liter, inline-4 engine that produces 176 horsepower. Most Sportages won’t get you there in a hurry, judging by it traveling 0 to 60 mph in a not-so-brisk 9.5 seconds. If getting the fastest Sportage available is the desire, go with the turbocharged version that has a 2.0-liter engine and plenty of zip in passing situations. Although the interior has its plusses, Kia still put far too much hard plastic throughout the cabin, cheapening the overall product. Because of the curved roofline, visibility is a bit limiting for Sportage drivers. In the comfort department, the Sportage offers considerable head and legroom for front seat passengers. The heated/cool seating button is a nice touch among the standard features. There’s also more than enough room in the back for taller individuals, and three people won’t be too big of a squeeze. The cargo area rates very high for storage capability. __________ 2011 Kia Sportage EX Price: $24,795 Power: 2.4-liter, inline-4 engine with 176 horsepower Mileage estimate: 21 mpg city; 28 mpg highway Standard features include: All-wheel drive; leather-wrapped, tilt steering wheel with audio and phone controls; cloth upholstery; six-speaker, CD/MP3 player with satellite radio, USB/auxiliary input jacks and Bluetooth; daytime running lights; fog lights; roof rails; dual-zone automatic climate control; brake assist; traction and stability control; hill descent and hill start control