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2018 Kia Sportage Review

2018 Kia Sportage Review

There’s a lot to like about the sharp-handling, attractive 2018 Kia Sportage, even if its fuel economy doesn’t impress.

The 2018 Kia Sportage is a compact crossover that's truth in advertising. Its base version isn't much better than average, but zesty powertrains, good handling, and smart interiors elevate it to "sporty" by our book—and a 7.0 overall.



The 2018 Sportage is available in LX, EX, and SX Turbo trim levels, with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. This year, it’s largely unchanged after a redesign last year. Minor updates include wider availability of important safety tech such as automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors as well as a few minor options shuffled around.

With the Sportage, Kia offers consumers a choice of 4-cylinder engines: a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated unit rated at 181 horsepower and, in the SX Turbo, a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that checks in with 240 hp (237 hp with all-wheel drive). Either way, the Sportage sends its power to the wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission and both engines are designed to run on regular unleaded fuel. Sportage LX and EX trims prioritize a quiet, comfortable ride above all else, while SX Turbos have their own rear dampers and revised steering tuning designed to stiffen things up.

The Sportage’s swoopy styling makes it stand out, even if we think there’s a little too much overt, sci-fi kitschiness to it. Bold, yes. Overwrought, perhaps. Curiously, all-wheel drive models have a slightly different front end with more ground clearance—an odd touch considering the Sportage is certainly not an off-roader.

We’re more enamored with the Sportage’s classy interior that combines soft-touch plastics with good ergonomics from a dash that’s canted slightly toward the driver.

All trims are well-equipped for the money, as is Kia tradition. This year, we welcome the addition of automatic emergency braking as an option on LX and EXs; it’s still standard on the SX Turbo. LXs feature a 5.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard and offer a 7.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as an option. EXs come standard with that larger screen and can be further upgraded with the 8.0-inch unit with baked-in navigation that’s standard on SX Turbos. In other words, plenty of choice—but the CarPlay and Android Auto systems are worth the coin in our eyes.

That’s one of the few decisions you’ll need to make other than selecting a color when it comes to the 2018 Sportage. SX Turbos are fully equipped from the get-go, and there are just a couple of option packages available to dress up an EX or LX.

Despite those assets, however, the 2018 Kia Sportage’s fuel economy comes up short against rivals—especially with all-wheel drive.

Styling
The 2018 Kia Sportage’s distinctive exterior pairs well with its driver-oriented dashboard.

The 2018 Kia Sportage is a standout, both inside and out, even if we don’t all agree on its virtues. We’ve awarded it a point for its exterior and another for its interior, although some of us would go even further. Still, we’ll stick with a 7 out of 10 here and call it a day.

The Sportage boasts short overhangs thanks to a long-for-the-class wheelbase that provide it with a planted, plucky look. Squint and there’s some Porsche Cayenne to its curviness, even if that’s not entirely a compliment. SX Turbos are the dressiest of the group with their standard 19-inch alloy wheels, but the 18s on EXs aren’t so shabby.

At the rear, the Sportage’s skinny taillights are connected with a delicate strip of chrome on SX Turbos that helps tone down the bulgy butt look of its predecessor. Interestingly, LX and EX trims have a red taillight-looking panel there instead, which looks different if not better or worse.

We’re universally in favor of the Sportage’s clean, driver-oriented dashboard design. It puts controls within easy reach of the driver yet doesn’t have the clinical look of some rivals with similarly good ergonomics.

Here, Kia splits the Sportage’s dash into an upper half to keep the driver focused on the gauges and one of three available infotainment screens while grouping ancillary controls lower but still within grasp.

Performance
The 2018 Kia Sportage lives up to its name with a more athletic feel than most of its rivals.

The 2018 Kia Sportage comes in two basic flavors, both of which fare above average when it comes to performance. We give it a 6 out of 10 for performance. 

Sportage LX and EX trims are fitted with a 2.4-liter inline-4 rated at 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque; Sportage SX Turbos use a 2.0-liter inline-4 with—you guessed it—a turbocharger that’s rated at 240 hp (237 hp with all-wheel drive) and 260 lb-ft.

A 6-speed automatic is the only gearbox on offer, although buyers can pick between sunny state front-wheel drive and winter-ready all-wheel drive.

We’ve only briefly driven 2.4-liter Sportages and have found them to be adequate, but certainly not inspiring, performers. The engine is quiet and only a distant growl makes its way into the cabin. Better yet is the Sportage SX Turbo, which furnishes ample acceleration and compares well with similarly powerful optional turbo-4s in the Ford Escape and Subaru Forester. Admittedly, the turbo engine only accounts for a small slice of Sportage sales, but it’s a key aspect that sets this five-seat crossover apart from most of its rivals.

The Sportage relishes carving through corners, at least by compact crossover standards. Sure, the bar isn’t especially high, but we applaud Kia for giving the Sportage more heft to its tiller and a ride that’s planted without being too firm on LX and EX trims. LXs ride the softest with their standard 17-inch alloy wheels, but EXs are only slightly stiffer. The SX Turbo’s differences are in the details, with firmer springs, revised dampers, and slightly modified steering settings that give the range-topping Sportage its own personality. It’s not the ticket for the autocross, but the Sportage handles confidently and predictably with little of the sloppiness so often seen in compact crossovers.

All-wheel drive is optional across the line. It’s a simple, front-biased system that requires no driver input but reacts quickly on a slippery road to provide extra grip at the rear wheels when needed. Notably, all-wheel-drive Sportages have a unique front bumper that provides them with a little more ground clearance for snow-covered terrain, but these are definitely not off-roaders.

Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Kia Sportage has a high-quality feel and a fairly roomy interior, although visibility isn’t terrific.

A high-buck feel and long-haul front seats are the 2018 Kia Sportage’s biggest assets when it comes to quality and comfort. 

Kia deserves credit for not making a low-rent Sportage. Even an LX with no options has a classy feel inside and out with soft-touch surfaces on its dashboard and front doors and good assembly. EX and SX Turbo trims have standard leather upholstery that feels appropriate; the fabric on Sportage LXs is fine but nothing special.

Base Sportages have a six-way adjustable driver’s seat; a 10-way power seat is optional on those and standard otherwise. We’ve spent far more time in Sportages with leather trim and have found them to have good, supportive thrones up front and decent knee and head room in both the front and rear outboard seats. A third passenger in the Sportage’s back seat is tolerable for shorter distances.

The Sportage delivers nearly 31 cubic feet of space behind the second row; fold both rows and that space almost doubles to 60.1 cubes. Combined with a low liftover height and an optional power liftgate, the Sportage makes luggage loading easy.

Extensive sound deadening and acoustic glass work together to make the Sportage’s cabin remarkably quiet for a crossover.

On the other hand, the Sportage’s high belt line and thick roof pillars conspire to make the view out compromised compared to rivals like the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester.

Safety
We welcome the addition of more standard and optional safety equipment this year on the 2018 Kia Sportage.

There’s more safety tech both standard and optional on the 2018 Kia Sportage and its safety scores are mostly terrific.

Despite that good news, however, the Sportage misses out on two points and scores an 8 out of 10 for its safety.

All 2018 Sportages leave the factory with six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and a rearview camera. Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts are standard on Sportage EX and SX Turbo. Automatic emergency braking and lane departure warnings are optional on Sportage LX and EX and standard on the SX Turbo.

All that tech works together to earn the Sportage a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS—at least when the crossover is fitted with automatic emergency braking. However, the IIHS says that the Sportage’s headlights rate as “Poor,” so there’s certainly room for improvement.

The federal government rates the Sportage at five stars overall, but just four stars for frontal collision and rollover crash protection.  

Features
You get a lot for your money with the 2018 Kia Sportage, even if there’s not much customizability.

The 2018 Kia Sportage may only be available in a handful of configurations, but all are well-equipped for the money, boast above-average infotainment, and include a hefty standard warranty. Those assets earn the Sportage 8 out of 10 points on our scale. 

The Sportage LX serves as the entry into the lineup and it comes standard with a simple 5.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a rearview camera, 17-inch alloy wheels, power windows and locks, and air conditioning. Hardly decadent, but more than most rivals at a base price of around $24,500.

Two option packages dress up the Sportage LX. The Popular Package subs in a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, roof rails, and a few other goodies for a reasonable $1,200. Once you’ve selected that package, another $1,300 adds automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings, automatic high-beam headlights, rear cross-traffic alerts, and power-folding side mirrors as part of the Technology Package.

The $27,590 Sportage EX basically starts with the Sportage LX’s Popular Package and also adds 18-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot monitors, rear-cross traffic alerts, leather upholstery, and an extra USB port. The $1,700 Premium Package includes a panoramic moonroof, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and LED interior lights, and it’s a requirement for the $2,900 Technology Package that adds Harman Kardon audio, automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beams, cooled front seats, an 8.0-inch infotainment system with built-in navigation, a power liftgate, and a compact spare tire.

Topping the lineup is the Sportage SX Turbo. As its name implies, it adds the turbo-4 engine to a fully loaded Sportage EX. At $33,695, it’s fully equipped as-is, so you’ll only need to pick from one of seven paint colors.  

All-wheel drive is available on every Sportage configuration for $1,500, which brings the priciest example to a reasonable $35,195.

Every version of the Sportage includes a hefty 5-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain coverage.

Kia’s Uvo infotainment system remains one of our favorites. It’s easy to navigate and both the 7.0- and 8.0-inch touchscreens have a crystal clear, high-resolution display that doesn’t wash out in bright light. 

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Kia Sportage’s fuel economy doesn’t exactly impress.

The 2018 Kia Sportage delivers fuel economy that’s a bit behind class leaders and each trim level is rated differently by the EPA. That makes the Sportage hard to compare to some of its direct rivals.

The thriftiest way into a 2018 Sportage is with the LX trim level and front-wheel drive: 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined. Adding all-wheel drive drops that to an unimpressive 21/25/23 mpg.

By comparison, the Subaru Forester is rated at 28 mpg combined with standard all-wheel drive and even the Toyota RAV4 rates 25 mpg combined.

Slightly larger wheels dent the Sportage EX’s figures to 22/29/25 mpg with front-wheel drive and 21/25/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Sportage SX Turbos guzzle the most: 21/26/23 mpg with front-wheel drive and just 20/23/21 with all-wheel drive, although they run on less costly regular unleaded.

Comparatively, the Forester XT nets 25 mpg combined (on premium unleaded) and the all-wheel drive Ford Escape with the optional 2.0-liter turbo-4 scores 23 mpg combined (using regular unleaded).

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