The Bottom Line
Traditionally, compact CUVs like the Kia Sportage offer two engines: A fuel-efficient four-cylinder and a powerful V6. But times are a-changin', and Kia has decided to go a different route: Instead of a V6, the Sportage SX gets a 256 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder that is actually smaller than the base engine. The goal is to produce V6 power with four-cylinder fuel economy. Does it work? Let's drive the 2011 Kia Sportage SX and find out.
- Turbo engine provides great blend of power and fuel economy
- Car-like ride and handling
- Handsome styling inside and out
- Top-of-the-line prices rival Honda and Toyota
- Base price (Sportage SX): $26,490
- Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder with direct gas injection
- Horsepower: 256 @ 6,000 RPM
- Torque: 264 @ 1,850 - 3,000 RPM
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic with front- or all-wheel-drive
- Fuel economy: 22 MPG city/27 MPG highway (FWD), 21/25 (AWD)
- Wheelbase: 103.9" Vehicle length: 175.2" Width: 73.0" Height: 64.4"
- Curb weight: 3,466 lbs
- Cargo: 26.1 cubic feet (rear seat up), 54.6 (rear seat down)
- Warranty: 5 year/60,000 miles basic, 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain
Guide Review - 2011 Kia Sportage SX
The theory behind the Sportage's 2.0-liter turbo engine is as follows: A small-displacement turbo engine -- which uses an exhaust-driven turbine to pump more air into the engine, allowing it to burn more fuel and produce more power -- can pack just as big a punch as a V6 at mid- to full-throttle. But when power demands are light, the turbo remains dormant and the engine requires less gasoline to maintain cruising speed. It's almost like having two engines in one. Does it work in the real world? Holy crow, does it ever -- and I've got the speeding ticket to prove it.
To be fair, the Sportage SX's engine doesn't feel exactly like a V6. Turbo engines develop power at higher RPMs, so if you simply floor the accelerator when the stoplight turns green, you will be sadly disappointed. There isn't enough exhaust pressure to drive the turbocharger at idle, so there's a delay -- "turbo lag" -- before the Sportage SX really starts to boogie.
But if you need a sudden burst of power when on the move, that's when the turbo engine shines. Punch the throttle and the Sportage SX leaps ahead with a frantic urgency that makes many V6-powered CUVs feel fat and lazy by comparison. That's the beauty of turbocharging: Power when you need it most, like merging on a short onramp, passing a slow-moving truck, or just zipping past slower traffic. Which, by the way, is how I got the aforementioned speeding ticket -- the Sportage SX picks up speed with amazing rapidity, and even I was surprised when the officer told me he clocked me at 75 in a 55.
When you don't need power -- for example, when you've just received a speeding ticket and have decided that driving the speed limit isn't such a bad idea -- the engine sips fuel like the small-displacement four-cylinder that it is. The Sportage SX uses direct fuel injection, which squeezes maximum power from each drop of gas. Even with my point-and-shoot passing activity and ten minutes of idling as I chatted with Officer Friendly, I still averaged 27.1 MPG, slightly bettering the SX's EPA highway estimate. Best of all, the Sportage runs on cheap 87-octane gasoline; other turbocharged CUVs, including the Volkswagen Tiguan, Audi Q5, and Acura RDX, require premium.
Along with the turbo engine, the Sportage SX gets unique wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. Our press preview took us through gently-winding roads in Arizona, so I didn't have much opportunity to push the handling -- getting pulled over once was enough for me -- but I really liked the taut, car-like ride and responsive steering.
And I like nearly everything else about the Sportage. I'm captivated by the styling, both outside and in; I love the way the shape of the dash mimics the wasp-waisted grille. The fabrics and plastics that make up the cabin are as nice as anything you'll find in a Toyota, although the front seats are a bit lacking in thigh support, a problem I find with most Kias. But both back seat and cargo bay are quite roomy.
Pricing starts at $26,490 for the front-drive Sportage SX, which includes an automatic transmission, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth and an iPod-compatible stereo. All-wheel-drive runs $1,500 more, and with all the options -- including navigation, dual-pane sunroof, heated leather seats, push-button ignition, upgraded stereo and auto-dimming mirrors -- the Sportage tops out at $31,990.
That puts the Sportage in the same ballpark as a fully-loaded Toyota RAV4 Limited, which comes with seven seats, two years of free maintenance, and Toyota's legendary reliability, although its V6 engine can't match the Sportage SX turbo's fuel economy. Likewise, a top-of-the-line Honda CR-V with leather and navigation tops out at $30,675, but it doesn't offer a more-powerful engine option. Regardless, this is lofty territory in which to compete. Considering Kia's reputation among buyers -- or lack thereof -- going with a lower price might not have been the worst idea. That said, if it were my money, I'd spend it on the Kia -- between the styling, the space, the power and the fuel economy, I think the Sportage SX is the hot-rod CUV to have. -- Aaron Gold