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2019 Kia Sportage Review

The handsome, capable 2019 Kia Sportage does many things well; gas mileage isn’t one of them.

The 2019 Kia Sportage may lack some of the spunky visual appeal of the related Kia Soul hatchback, but it’s just as well. It sells and performs well based on its crossover-SUV credentials, not on an on-point shape.

The Sportage does more than the Soul with its available turbo-4 drivetrain, too—and it offers all-wheel drive to boot.

We give it a 6.5 out of 10 on our scale.

Kia sells the Sportage in LX, EX, and SX Turbo trim levels. All come with front-wheel drive, and offer all-wheel drive as an option.

The Sportage is unchanged this year, which means buyers must choose between a 181-horsepower inline-4 or a 240-hp turbo-4. Both couple to a 6-speed automatic. In the latter case, the naturally aspirated Sportage puts its best foot forward as a quiet, composed AWD hatchback. In Sportage SX Turbo trim it livens up considerably with precise handling (for a crossover SUV) and friendly, sure-footed cornering moves.

The Sportage stands out for its swoopy but subdued look. It’s bold without being overly detailed or cluttered. Its pronounced grille and kicked-back roof pillars aren’t nearly as arresting as the Soul hatchback, but the calm and clean body undoubtedly has appeal to more drivers. The cabin’s like the Soul, with an uncluttered layout dominated (on most models) by a big, bright touchscreen and swaths of glossy black plastic.

The Sportage doles out fine space to four adult passengers. In front its seats have just enough sculpting, while the back seat’s more of a basic bench. The cargo space balloons to more than 63 cubic feet, in two-passenger mode.

Safety scores have been strong, and all Sportages can be fitted with the latest technology, including automatic emergency braking. All models offer all-wheel drive, and most get Kia’s useful Uvo infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a big, high-resolution touchscreen. Leather, a sunroof, and high-end audio are available.

Despite those assets, Sportage fuel economy cuts the appeal. It’s lower than rivals, particularly when equipped with all-wheel drive.

Styling
The 2019 Kia Sportage wears distinctive athletic gear, inside and out.

The 2019 Kia Sportage has styling virtues that can pale in comparison to the kicky Soul hatchback that sits just across the sales floor. The Sportage works, simply, and plainly, inside and out; in a class of vehicles that tries to draw eyeballs with gimmicky styling tricks, its clarity is refreshing. We think it’s worth a 7 out of 10 here. 

The plucky, planted look of the 2019 Sportage comes from good design instincts. The wheelbase may be short, but so are the overhangs, and both work wheel on a wheelbase that’s a bit longer than some vehicles in its competitive set. A distinct lack of excess marks the body. If there’s an overdone line or an overdrawn detail, we can’t find it in the Sportage’s sleek, sport-shoe body. SX Turbos are the dressiest of the group with their standard 19-inch alloy wheels, but the 18s on EXs aren’t so shabby.

The Sportage’s cabin draws even more favorable impressions. It’s canted toward the driver, clean in its execution, laid out well, without the crammed-in sets of controls common in small cars. 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 2019 Kia Sportage cuts through some crossover clutter with turbo power.

Base Kia Sportage SUVs have ordinary power from an ordinary inline-4 engine. Turbo Sportages cut and thrust on another level entirely, though handling is more utility than sport.

We give the Sportage a 6 for performance, with credit to its uprated engine. 

The Sportage has a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder in its LX and EX editions. The 2.4-liter inline-4 churns out 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. It’s coupled to a 6-speed automatic, and comes in front- or all-wheel-drive form.

Our experience in this base powertrain is limited. After a brief drive, the 181-hp Sportage seemed an adequate, if not inspiring, performer. The engine is quiet and only a distant growl makes its way into the cabin.

Most of our review miles accrued behind the wheel of a Sportage SX Turbo. It ports in a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that belts out 240 hp (or 237 hp with all-wheel drive) and 260 lb-ft of torque.

This Sportage fares better when compared with the scooty editions of the Ford Escape and Subaru Forester. It’s a small percentage of Sportage sales, but acceleration is more than ample. It’s well worth the test drive, though the price of more than $33,000 lends itself to hard scrutiny.

By crossover-SUV standards, the Sportage likes a curvy road. It rides well, without much harshness, especially in LX trim with its soft-sidewalled 17-inch wheels.
The SX Turbo has a much different feel, the result of revised dampers, firmer springs, and slightly modified steering settings. It has a distinct personality, one that’s far removed from the autocross, but confident and predictable without the tall-body slop that’s more common in this niche.

Kia offers all-wheel drive on every Sportage, and its system is a simple one that shifts power rearward when the front wheels slip. For some reason Kia puts a front bumper with more ground clearance on AWD models, but make no mistake, this isn’t a Forester in disguise.

Comfort & Quality
The 2019 Kia Sportage has a roomy interior for its size and a high-quality feel.

Kia fits the Sportage with a tightly assembled interior and good space, though it’s not much larger than the cheaper Soul hatchback. Long-haul front seats and good cargo space add points above average, to bring the Sportage’s comfort rating to 7 out of 10. 

The Sportage sits 176.4 inches long, and rides on a wheelbase of 105.1 inches. From that, Kia carves out plenty of useful space, especially for front-seat passengers. The driver gets a 6-way seat in base models, but they’ll be happier if they spring for the 10-way power seat that’s available on the LX and standard on other models. Most Sportages can be trimmed in leather, and so covered, they have fine support to go with decent head and knee room.

The back seat’s a bench, and it’s more humble in its support. Three passengers might be able to make it work in the short run, but long-haul relationships with the back seat will be easier if just two passengers step inside.

Fold down the Sportage’s back bench, and the 30.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind it turns into 60.1 cubic feet in all behind the front seats. The cargo floor is low, and a power tailgate opens high. Together they give the Sportage an easy, flexible attitude.

Kia prides itself on high-rent, low-priced interiors. The Sportage fits the mold: there’s no plastic here to be ashamed of, and lots of soft-touch surfaces on the doors and dash. The stock cloth on the Sportage LX is fine and durable-looking, the leather on EX and SX Sportages more in line with their $30,000-plus price tags.

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

Safety
The 2019 Kia Sportage has good crash-test scores, and widespread high-tech safety equipment.

The 2019 Kia Sportage racks up safety points on the basis of crash-test data. There’s room for improvement in safety-technology availability and in outward vision, so we give it a 7 here. 

Every Sportage comes with the usual equipment, and all-wheel drive can be fitted to every model. So can automatic emergency braking, a vital new feature that gets unfortunately expensive on the Sportage LX and EX, while other manufacturers make it standard equipment.

The Sportage EX and SX Turbo have blind-spot monitors as well, while the SX is the only version to have emergency braking standard.

The IIHS says the Sportage is a Top Safety Pick, at least for the 2018 calendar year. The NHTSA gives it five stars overall, but docks it a star on subtests for lesser front-impact and rollover protection.

The Sportage has a high belt line and thick roof pillars. Those conspire to cut into the outward vision to the rear, especially when compared to rivals like the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester.

Features
The 2019 Kia Sportage packs on lots of features, but basic versions skimp on infotainment.

Most 2019 Kia Sportage crossovers have plenty of features, good infotainment, and a sterling warranty. Base models omit some key features, though.

We give the Sportage a 7 out of 10 points here, as it leaves points on the table for standard and optional equipment, and infotainment.

The Sportage LX has the stuff of economy cars down pat, mostly. It comes with power features, air conditioning, cruise control, and 17-inch wheels, not to mention a hefty 5-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain coverage.

However, it doesn’t offer automatic emergency braking as standard, and its infotainment display’s a chintzy 5.0-inch touchscreen affair. An available package swaps that out for a 7.0-inch setup with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and adds heated front seats, a power driver seat, and automatic climate control. The LX can be fitted with automatic emergency braking, but by the time two option packages have been specified, a better choice becomes clear.

That’s the Sportage EX, which has all the equipment of the LX with the optional infotainment system. It also gets blind-spot monitors, 18-inch wheels, and an extra USB port. Its options include the same technology package that adds automatic emergency braking as well as cooled front seats, a power tailgate, Harman Kardon audio, and an 8.0-inch infotainment system. That’s a $30,000 Sportage, and it doesn’t stop there.

For just about $35,000, the AWD Sportage SX Turbo adds the turbo-4 drivetrain, and adds all the other gear, leaving only paint color as an option.

Though it’s a spendy option on base models, the Uvo infotainment system has a simple interface, and the bigger touchscreens offer clear, high-resolution output.

Fuel Economy
The 2019 Kia Sportage’s gas mileage suffers with all-wheel drive.

The EPA hasn’t yet published gas mileage ratings for the 2019 Kia Sportage, but since it’s carried over we don’t expect the 2018 figures to change much, if at all.

Based on those scores, we give it a 5 here, weighting its score toward non-turbo versions. 

The Sportage LX has the best fuel economy ratings of its lineup, at 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined. All-wheel drive exacts a big penalty: the numbers slide to 21/25/23 mpg, which compares poorly to the 28 mpg combined posted by a Subaru Forester.

The Sportage EX is rated at 22/29/25 mpg in front-drive form; with all-wheel drive, it’s pegged at 21/25/23 mpg.

Turbo power hits the Sportage SX’s ratings dramatically. Front-drive models check in at 21/26/23 mpg, and AWD versions plummet to 20/23/21 mpg.

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