by Roger Biermann
The 2018 Kia Sportage is a compact crossover SUV that has evolved from a budget-friendly choice to a direct rival of the more established players in its class. It comes in the LX, EX, and SE trims with all trims available in either front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive. The LX and EX come with a 2.4 liter, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated gasoline engine which makes 181 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. The SE comes with a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine which makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. All trims are equipped with the same six-speed automatic transmission. The Kia Sportage has built a good reputation over the years for being a reliable, affordable SUV with decent features. That tradition continues with the 2018 model, and this time it's taking on rivals like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Hyundai Tucson - stiff competition, but the Sportage is up to the challenge.
The Kia Sportage had a complete redesign in 2017 so there aren't any radical changes, just some tweaks here and there. The Popular Package gets updated with a seven-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; the LX gets stain-resistant upholstery as well as more optional safety features such as blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, and rear cross traffic alert systems; while the EX sees the addition of more driver aids such as rear cross traffic alert and blind-spot detection. An electronic parking brake has also been added to the SX Turbo model.
The front of the Sportage is dominated by Kia's "Tiger Nose" grille, available in matte black on the LX and gloss black on the upper two trims, flanked on either side by projector headlights with bi-xenons on the SX Turbo. The SX Turbo also boasts standard satin chrome door handles, grille, and window surrounds, chrome dual exhaust outlets, and a panoramic sunroof and LED foglights, optional on the mid-spec EX, while all models boast LED daytime running lights. Depending on the trim selected, the Sportage comes with either 17-, 18-, or 19-inch rims, with an optional chrome gray finish on the EX's 18-inch alloys. LED fog light-equipped models boast a unique quad-light design, optional on the EX as part of the Sport Appearance package, along with extra chrome exterior trimming.
Although classified as a compact crossover, the Sportage has a fairly hefty curb weight starting at 3,305 lbs on the LX and ending at 3,898 lbs on the SX Turbo. All trims have a width of 73 inches and a length of 176.4 inches while riding on a wheelbase of 105.1 inches. The height of the Kia Sportage ranges from 64.4 inches on the LX to 65.2 inches on the AWD-equipped SX Turbo, while the ground clearance ranges between 6.4 inches to 6.8 inches, with the extra 0.4 inches accounted for by the addition of all-wheel-drive. Despite being a softroader, the Sportage boasts fairly decent off-road-appropriate figures, particularly when equipped with AWD, with approach and departure angles of 28- and 24.6-degrees respectively. FWD models boast an approach angle of only 16.7-degrees.
There are a total of eight color options for the Sportage, available almost entirely on all three trims, with the exception of Clear White - which is only available on the LX - while EX and SX Turbo Trims get Snow White Pearl. Sedate colors include the likes of Sparkling Silver and Black Cherry, while more vivid hues range from Pacific Blue and Burnished Copper to the aggressive Hyper Red. Ultimately, the color palette is unchanged from last year's palette.
All the three trim levels are available with either front-wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, with the all-wheel-drive models costing an additional $1,500. The LX and EX come standard with a 2.4 liter, four-cylinder engine while the top-of-the-range SX is powered by a 2.0 liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine which makes 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and is also connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. The EX and LX have a decent 0-60 mph of 8.8 seconds, but the SX Turbo is simply one of the quickest crossovers on sale, managing the same sprint in just 6.7 seconds.
One of the drawbacks of the Sportage is its low towing capacity. All the models have a maximum towing capacity of only 2,000 lbs, regardless of the engine or drivetrain choice. In comparison, the Honda CR-V only has a towing capacity of up to 1,500 lbs, but the Toyota RAV4 can go up to 3,500 lbs depending on the model.
Kia offers the 2018 Sportage with two engine derivatives and two drivetrains, but only one transmission. The EX and LX come in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and are both powered by the same 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 181 hp and 175 lb-ft. The SX Turbo, meanwhile, boasts a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which as the name suggests has a turbocharger fitted, driving outputs to 240 hp and 260 lb-ft. They both use a six-speed automatic transmission, with no manual gearbox available.
The 2.4-liter engine is more than enough for driving around town; matched with the efficient six-speed transmission, the engine is always kept in an ideal speed range to provide ample acceleration when needed while the automatic gearbox smoothly shifts between gears and manages to select the right gear on throttle inputs. Although great on short distances, the 2.4-liter engine becomes average on the freeway. The performance is passable in most instances, but it just lacks that extra power that would be great for overtaking. The SX Turbo, in contrast, feels nimble for its size by virtue of always having the extra power to call on. It's lively from a standstill and at highway speeds, only feeling slightly asthmatic at the top of the tachometer's readout.
The Kia Sportage is one of the better handling crossover SUVs out there and performs admirably whether on small city roads or the freeway. The steering is responsive and direct, launching the Sportage around bends with ease and making the car feel light. Kia seems to have found the elusive sweet spot between the ride being too soft and too firm. The result is that while occupants are cushioned from the bumps on the road, there is still little body roll compared to other SUVs, and when cornering at speed the Sportage maintains its composure. There's the option of Normal, Sport and Eco modes to tweak the driving experience with the Sport mode particularly useful on the LX and EX trims to sharpen throttle programming and shift patterns to maximize the lack of power.
The brakes on the Sportage are firm and provide the same consistent response at all the speeds tested. With comfortable, supportive seats, and a distinct lack of road noise, the Kia Sportage provides a very relaxed and easy driving experience, but one that's more than capable of handling whatever most users might throw at it.
Unfortunately the gasoline-powered Kia Sportage isn't one of the most economical crossovers about, especially compared to some of the competition like the ultra-frugal Honda CR-V. The LX front-wheel-drive achieves EPA estimates of 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined, while the all-wheel-drive model gets 21/25/23 mpg. The EX is marginally less economical in FWD format, achieving 22/29/25 mpg estimates, but manages to match the LX in AWD form. The SX Turbo is the most powerful by some margin but manages to almost match the non-turbo motor's figures, achieving estimates of 21/26/23 mpg and 20/23/21 mpg for front- and all-wheel-drive models respectively. All the models in the range share the same 16.4-gallon gas tank, and based on in a mixture of driving scenarios, the LX front-wheel drive has the greatest potential range of 426 miles.
These figures are somewhat average, though, as the Honda CR-V is capable of achieving 28/34/31 mpg in its most economical guise.
The Kia Sportage has a classy interior with clean lines and a practical feel to it. The ubiquitous matte black soft-touch plastic with faux chrome accents adorns the dashboard but in the Sportage, it somehow works and feels solid as well as classy. A welcome delight in the Sportage is the abundance of headroom and legroom on both the front and the rear seats, although some of the cargo space had to be sacrificed for the sake of rear occupants. The seats are comfortable and supportive and come with the options of being heated or ventilated. With grey, beige and black available in either cloth or leather depending on the trim, the Sportage can be customized to the buyer's individual taste.
The Kia Sportage is a five-seater crossover, but can comfortably accommodate four large adults with enough headroom and legroom for tall occupants in the front and the rear. The seats are available in leather or cloth depending on the trim and are available with heating, as well as ventilation. The seats on the EX and LX are six-way adjustable with those on the SX Turbo being eight-way power adjustable. All the trims share the same interior dimensions with front headroom of 39.3 inches and front legroom of 41.5 inches. In the rear, there are 39.1 inches of headroom and 38.2 inches of legroom. In comparison, the Honda CR-V has front headroom of 38 inches and front legroom of 41.3 inches with the rear passengers getting 39.1 inches of headroom and 40.4 inches of legroom.
The Kia Sportage comes with an option of three interior colors: beige, black, and grey. The LX is available in either black or grey cloth, while the EX is available in black or grey leather. The top of the range SX is available in black, grey, or beige leather. Although all these colors are available, they can only be chosen with certain exterior colors. The dashboard gets the usual matte black soft-touch adornments with faux chrome accents that are found on most vehicles in this class. Unlike most competitors, however, Kia has done an excellent job of doing it tastefully while ensuring that it has a solid look and feel about it.
Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where the Kia Sportage is lacking. To achieve the impressive passenger space, cargo bay has been sacrificed. The rear cargo area has 30.7 cubic feet of space with the seats up and 60.1 cubic feet of space with the rear seats down. However, the Sportage also has a hidden storage compartment underneath the main cargo area, making things somewhat more practical, while an available power tailgate on higher trims adds a layer of convenience to the loading of cargo. The Honda CR-V is the benchmark for this segment, with 39.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 75.8 cubes with the rear seats down.
Aside from the cargo bay, the Kia Sportage has reasonable in-car storage for small items. In addition to the glove box, there's an overhead console with storage for sunglasses, front and rear cupholders, front and rear door pockets, front seatback storage, as well as front and rear door pockets. The center console armrest hosts a fairly large storage bin, too, but it lacks the multi-layer tray found in some rival vehicles.
The Kia Sportage has great features that are enough to keep up with rivals in this very competitive class and surpasses many of them. Even the bottom LX trim comes standard with a rearview camera, manual air conditioning, cruise control, and remote keyless entry. Options include dual zone climate control, eight-way power seats, heated front seats, and a range of assistance features like blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning. Higher trims get all this and more, with a heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, hands-free liftgate, and front and rear park sensors.
The Sportage is impressive in the infotainment arena as well, despite the base model LX featuring a five-inch touchscreen with a USB port, CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, six speakers and satellite radio. It still functions well, though, and can be optioned up to a seven-inch touchscreen. It's the same system in the EX, which also includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Kia's UVO system which allows certain features of the car to be controlled remotely. The SX Turbo gets an eight-inch touchscreen, onboard navigation, as well as a Harmon Kardon premium audio system with eight speakers, and standard SiriusXM and HD Radio.
The Kia Sportage has had numerous complaints about engine failure and other engine issues earlier on in its lifespan, but these seem to have been rectified. There is also a single recall for 2018, with a high-pressure pipe that can leak, thereby increasing the risk of fire. As with all Kia vehicles, it comes with a basic warranty of five-years/60,000 miles and a powertrain warranty of ten-years/100,000 miles. Roadside assistance is standard with a plan covering five-years/60,000 miles.
The Kia Sportage is highly appraised when it comes to safety ratings. Both the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive variants of the Sportage have a best possible five-star overall rating from the NHTSA. The IIHS agrees, scoring the Sportage top marks and the title of 2018 Top Safety Pick.
The Kia Sportage performed admirably in its safety tests due to its comprehensive suite of safety features. All trims come standard with four-wheel ABS brakes, LATCH child seat anchors, dual front airbags, front-side airbags, side curtain airbags, emergency brake assist, stability control, tire pressure monitor, and traction control. The SX trim comes with a post-collision safety system and blind-spot detection system. However, the reason for the TSP rating from the IIHS is the standard suite of driver aids on the EX, optional on the LX. These include blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning.
The Kia Sportage has slowly evolved from being a budget option to being a real contender in its class due to continuous improvement. There are a few downsides to the Sportage such as mediocre fuel economy, and of course, having less cargo space than key competitors. It's also not the best for towing, but as a crossover, it'll seldom be called in for heavy duty work.
But the positives far outweigh the negatives, giving buyers a fine balance between ride comfort and composure, as well as outright capability. The turbo engine is a boon for usable performance, without sacrificing much in the way of gas mileage, while all-wheel-drive is available on all trims. The interior is also immensely classy, high quality, and feels like it's been built solidly. Standard features are impressive, and safety is top of the line.
The Sportage stands halfway between the practicality of the Honda CR-V and the premium-feel and performance of the Mazda CX-5, making it an ideal middle-option for buyers not wishing to compromise in either area.
The cheapest trim in the Sportage range is the LX, which come in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive. The FWD version starts at an MSRP of $23,600 with the AWD model costing $25,100. Above the LX is the EX, which starts at $26,400 for the FWD model and $27,900 for the AWD model. The top of the range model is the SX, at $32,900 for the FWD model and $34,400 for the AWD model. There's also a destination fee of $995 on all the models. These prices exclude tax, licensing and registration fees.
The Kia Sportage range comprises three trims: LX, ES, and SX Turbo. All the trims are available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The LX and EX come with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and the SX comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine. All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The base model LX comes standard with 17-inch rims, a rearview camera, five-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, six speakers and a USB port. It also has air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, and remote keyless entry.
Above the LX is the EX which has similar features, but adds 18-inch wheels, fog lights, heated mirrors, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, leather upholstery, dual zone climate control, keyless ignition and entry, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane change assist. It also has a seven-inch touchscreen with Kia's UVO system, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
The top of the range SX Turbo has the features of the LX but adds 19-inch rims, a sport-tuned suspension, panoramic sunroof with power sunshade, bi-xenon headlights, high beam assist, front LED fog lights, dual exhausts, eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seats. It also has a Harmon Kardon premium audio system with eight speakers and keeps the UVO, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay from the EX.
2.4-liter Inline-4 Gas
2.4-liter Inline-4 Gas
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
The Sportage has a number of optional packages on offer to suit the buyer's needs.
On the base model, there's the $1,200 LX Popular Package, which includes a windscreen wiper de-icer, UVO entertainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, ten-way power-adjustable seats with lumbar support, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, roof rails, and dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors.
The LX technology package requires the LX technology package and adds blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and high-beam assist, and carries a cost of $1,300.
The EX Premium Package adds a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and LED interior lighting for a price of $1,700, while the EX Technology Package includes an eight-inch infotainment system with voice command navigation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also has autonomous braking, lane departure warning, front and rear park assist, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system with eight speakers, as well as ventilated seats, eight-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, smart-power liftgate, high-beam assist, a compact spare tire, and heated rear outboard seats on the all-wheel-drive model. The EX Technology Package is priced at $2,900.
The EX is also available with a Sports Appearance Package for $990 that adds Cool Gray Leather seat trim, 18-inch alloys with chrome gray finish, LED exterior lighting, and aggressive skid plates and satin chrome exterior trimming.
In the Sportage range, the best combination of value for money and features is the EX, preferably in the all-wheel-drive format. The LX lacks some of the features of the EX, such as fog lights, keyless ignition, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane change assist. It also lacks the seven-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It may miss out on the turbocharged engine of the SX Turbo, but it can be equipped with a comparable level of equipment through various options packages while offering ample performance and improved gas mileage estimates. It's a happy medium that still offers more than most rivals.
The Honda CR-V is renowned as the class leader because of its brilliant all-rounder attributes, but the Kia Sportage is a worthy challenger. The 2.4-liter on the LX and EX model Sportages only makes 181 hp with fuel economy figures of 23/30/26. In comparison, the equivalent CR-V 2.4-liter engine makes 184 hp with much better fuel economy numbers of 26/32/29 mpg. Of course, both offer turbo motors but the Sportage offers the more potent force-fed motor. The Honda also has substantially more cargo and passenger space than the Sportage, and both boast premium-feel cabins. The CR-V has better safety equipment, but Kia's infotainment system is definitely the more intuitive of the two. Ultimately, practicality necessitates the CR-V, while if you can sacrifice cargo volume, the Sportage is sportier and slightly more premium.
Unlike the Kia Sportage, the Mazda CX-5 has stunning looks and fantastic driving dynamics. When it comes to performance, the base Mazda offers a 2.5-liter engine which makes 187 hp, only six more than the base Sportage and without a range-topping turbo alternative. The Mazda's fuel economy is a combined 28 mpg compared to the Sportage's 26 mpg and it's a better engine to drive, too. Cargo space is comparable on both models, but the CX-5 lacks the rear passenger space of the Sportage and is one of the most cramped models in the segment. But the interior feels opulent, and the levels of technology are exceptional. Both cars deliver a great ride compared to many of the competitors in their class, but the CX-5 is the most dynamically talented. If you're after a driver's SUV, the CX-5 can't be beaten, but the Sportage gives you turbo power and more cabin space, compromising just a little handling ability for the sake of greater practicality.