Test Drive: 2015 Kia Sportage

I've never been able to figure out this vehicle's name. Obviously it starts with "sport" and I'm fine with that. But why Kia chose to name its crossover with a portmanteau of "sport" and "portage", a word that means to carry a boat or its cargo between navigable waters, eludes me to this day. Strange name aside, it's actually a pretty cool ride.

It’s the Hyundai Tucson’s platform twin, but the Sportage comes with some exclusive muscularity.

We first saw Kia's third-generation Sportage in 2010 – it’s the Hyundai Tucson’s platform twin, but the Sportage comes with some exclusive muscularity that I’ll tell you about shortly. Penned by the former Audi design guy, Peter Schreyer, the current Sportage broke through a number of design barriers at the time, and in my opinion, it still looks good. It sports clean lines that aren't quite as avant garde five years later, but still set the vehicle apart in a crowd and that's more than I can say for some of its more modern competition. It has gained bright LED driving lights, giving it a new signature as it comes toward you, and it sits on very nice 18-inch rims shod with fat 235/55-sized rubber.

The first thing I noticed after the slight step up into the Sportage's cabin is how spacious it is. There's an open feeling and at 5'10", I had plenty of head room. The next thing I noticed was the driving position - it is definitely high and affords you a commanding view of the road ahead. Is it nice inside? Yeah, in a this-would-have-been-sweet-five-years-ago kind of way. It has aged by now, but gracefully. Things still feel pretty refined, and the materials rate as decent - the dash falls somewhere between soft-touch and hard plastics. The instrumentation and dash are backlit in red - Kia has been doing this for a while now, but I think it still looks great at night.

What else do you get here? Good fabric seats, heated, power adjustable for the driver and comfortable. A nice thick steering wheel with the typical controls on it. And a relatively tiny touchscreen smack dab in the middle of the dash. It's driven by Kia's UVO system and I find that it works pretty well. In this trim, it handles your audio sources and the phone functions, as well as your back-up camera feed. Parking is further assisted by rear parking sensors. Nice touches like the dual-zone automatic climate control, a push-start ignition and power folding mirrors make life a little more pleasant as well.

The Competition: Comparison Test: Compact Crossover SUVs

As one tends to find in smaller crossovers and SUVs, the Sportage doesn't rip you off when it comes to interior storage options. Between the small drop-in bin at the front of the console (just big enough for an iPhone 6 or any other same-size smartphone, complete with USB and 12V plugs), a very deep well with two cupholders in the console and respectable amount of space under the armrest lid, I had plenty of places to drop my things.

The rear seats are quite nice to sit in and they recline for comfort. The size surprise from the front continued on through to the back as there was an excellent amount of headroom and leg room for me. As a matter of fact, I took three buddies for a beer run - two of them are well over 6 feet tall and everyone commented right away on the surprising amount of space throughout the vehicle.

Additionally, while the middle seat is narrower and somewhat raised, it is still a decent size and you could still fit an adult in that space comfortably. That worked well for my family of five and my kids were very happy back there because they fit nicely.

Space in the trunk looks (and is) generous as well, at 740 litres. Add a high trunk floor for easy loading, a 12V plug and rear seats that split 60/40 and can fold nearly flat to give you 1,547 litres and you've got plenty of utility and cargo space to work with.

Kia's mighty turbocharged 2.0L four, which churns out a substantial 260 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque (available at a very low 1,850 RPM) is more than enough to propel the 1,662 kg Sportage around. It is paired with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic (manual shifts can be accessed using the gear selector) and all-wheel drive.

Fuel economy is nothing to write home about at 12.6 L/100 km in the city and 9.7 L/100 km on the highway, but at least we beat the rating, averaging 11.1 L/100 km in mostly city driving - often with a heavy foot.

The heavy foot is justifiable. The turbo engine is tremendously willing and equally able. After only a moment of lag, it pours on the power all the way through the rev range, providing substantial pull at any speed. I never found a situation where it didn't feel very strong, even when passing at highway speeds. It makes some very interesting noises on its way up the rev counter, its snarl tragically turning to a bit of a moan.

There is a an active ECO driving mode designed to help save you fuel - sure, it takes things down a notch in terms of responsiveness but the vehicle remains very drivable.

The Sportage's suspension is firm enough that, even with the vehicle's height, it never feels sloppy - actually, I'd go so far as to say the handling, save for the typically numb Kia steering, is quite good – better than most of its competitors to be sure. It bites into corners aggressively and stays flatter than I expected it to. That suspension does, however, result in a ride that certainly qualifies as firm (though never harsh) and it ends up feeling quite jouncy over any dips or undulations, especially at highway speeds. I also noticed some suspension noise, with bad road surface sounds clunking through to the cabin.

Speaking of noise, one big disappointment was the Sportage's inability to filter out wind noise - it becomes quite noticeable even at freeway speeds (starting around 70 km/h) and up - you'll hear some road noise too. Visibility is good except for passenger side shoulder checking - you have to contend with a massive rear pillar - and those rear headrests take a bite out of the rear view too.

If you need to pull stuff, the Kia has a towing capacity up to 2,000 lb. And hey, it even has hill-descent control for all those times you're going to take your Sportage off-road.

I honestly didn't know what to expect when I heard I was getting a Sportage. While its Hyundai Tucson just had a refresh, the Sportage is an aging model on a chassis that has been with us for a few years now. Still I was pleasantly surprised. It is fun to drive, combining a very willing power plant with an agile-for-its-class suspension, and the interior space (for passengers and cargo alike) is very impressive.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high - she really liked it, indicating that she was impressed with how everything was smooth, easy to use and nice to look at.

It's not the newest kid on the block, but the turbo engine certainly breathes life into the Sportage line-up and it still has plenty of good things going for it. It's definitely worth a look!

Pricing: 2015 Kia Sportage
Base price (2.0T SX trim): $32,695
Options: $200 paint colour upcharge
Freight: $1,665
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $34,660

Warranty:
5 years/100,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 5 years/100,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Escape
GMC Traverse
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Nissan Rogue

10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.4
6 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
6 Interior
6 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy