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2011 Kia Sportage
Of all the small wagons on the market for 2011, Kia's new offering might just be the one to watch

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Kia SportageKia's original sporty wagon has evolved from its off-road-capable mission into a more stylish all-season-comfortable wagon that can still prove its mettle when driving conditions become dicey.

The all-new third-generation Sportage, now on sale, follows the similarly sized and focused Hyundai Tucson (Kia is part of Hyundai) in receiving a whole new look and a shared purpose in life. Both are focused on becoming the preferred vehicle for younger buyers seeking a mixed-use combination of cool looks, roominess, fuel efficiency and sportiness. Oh, and better add attractive pricing to the formula.

Although the Sportage and Tucson share the same platform, carry a maximum of five passengers and are roughly the same size, Kia's version appears edgier and a bit more squared-off, especially when viewed from the rear. Overall, the sheetmetal is a harmonious blend of curves and corners that tie together neatly, but aren't especially daring or ground breaking.

2011 Kia SportageThe same can likely be said for an interior that should easily pass muster with the majority of new-car shoppers seeking taste and convenience. Overall passenger space has decreased slightly, the casualty of a lower and more steeply raked roofline, but at least cargo volume aft of the split-folding rear seat has been enlarged, albeit only slightly.

Styling aside, the most significant change is what you'll no longer find under the hood and that's an optional V6. For the moment at least, the sole powerplant is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that generates 176 horsepower when hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission (available only on base front-wheel-drive models), or 170 horses with the optional six-speed automatic. Compare the numbers with last season's 140-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder and optional 173-horse V6. As well, there will likely be few complaints concerning the Sportage's fuel-economy rating of 9.5 l/100 km in the city and 6.3 on the highway, which is significantly improved from the previous 10.2/8.0 rating for the four-cylinder.

Those yearning for a bit more thrust shouldn't have to wait long. Later in the model year, Kia will introduce a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that will pump up the volume to the tune of 270-plus horsepower.

2011 Kia SportageFor 2011, Kia's new offering is the beneficiary of a brand new all-wheel-drive system developed in conjunction with out-source specialist Magna International, Inc. Under normal driving conditions, the system directs 100 per cent of the engine's torque to the front wheels. However, once tire slip is detected, the required degree of power is instantly deployed to the rear wheels. Additionally, a manually selected "Lock Mode" allows for a fixed 50:50 torque split at speeds up to 40 km-h for those times when sustained maximum traction is required. That's a feature few vehicles in the Sportage's segment can match.

Also rarely matched is the impressive standard content list. The $23,750 base LX includes air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth short-rage wireless connectivity, heated front seats and Hill Assist Control (that prevents the vehicle from rolling backward down a hill while in gear). Downhill brake control maintains a fixed forward speed without the driver touching the brake pedal, which prevents a runaway situation.

Along with an automatic transmission, the $28,750 EX includes dual-zone climate control, fully adjustable steering column and a backup warning alert, while the top-rung $35,100 EX Luxury with AWD ratchets up the content with a panoramic sunroof, leather seat covers, heated and cooled driver's seat and 18-inch wheels (16- and 17-inch rims are installed on LX and base EX trims, respectively).

A navigation system and a premium audio package can be added to the top-tier EX Luxury package and are the only two significant extras you can add to this fully loaded model.

The Sportage's fulsome degree of content, along with an impressive warranty (five-year or 100,000-kilometre comprehensive coverage plus roadside assistance) gives the Kia stable some of the hottest-selling models around. Dialing in more sophistication simply pours extra coal onto the Sportage's fire.

What you should know: 2011 Kia Sportage

Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive compact sport utility vehicle.
Engines (hp): 2.4-litre DOHC I4 (176/170); 2.0-litre DOHC I4, turbocharged (270, est.)
Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic
Market position: Both the Sportage and its sister-ship Hyundai Tucson are part of the expanding small-and-tall wagon movement that stresses style, comfort and fuel economy.
Points: Contemporary looks, updated interior is a significant improvement; Impressive fuel economy; The V6 is gone, but peak power doesn't suffer with the four-cylinder; Lock Mode on AWD model should allow drivers to tackle most driving situations, including some off-road excursions; Lengthy basic-warranty coverage icing on the cake.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 6.3/9.5 (AT)
Base price (incl. destination): $23,750

By comparison:     

Hyundai Tucson
Base price: $24,800
Same base engine, perhaps a tamer styling alternative to Sportage.

Nissan Rogue
Base price: $25,200
Junior-sized, Altima-based wagon mimics Murano's looks.

Chevrolet Equinox
Base price: $27,350
Neat-looking second-gen model provides plenty of space and comfort.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted February 02, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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