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2011 Kia Sportage: 'Cute ute' redo has the goods

Posted by Bill Griffith  March 31, 2011 05:33 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith/ Click photo for larger version.

We've a 2011 Kia Sportage backed up to a storage unit in Lynnfield. The second-row seats are folded flat to maximize cargo-carrying capacity. In goes a pole lamp followed by a good-sized rocking chair, a desk chair, several faux plants, a couple of milk crates, fishing pole, a plumbing snake, magazine rack, and assorted odds 'n ends.

Pretty impressive, all things considered. This trip was intended to empty my storage area, a task that always results in more "stuff" to be loaded than anticipated. The goods are headed to a Somerville apartment.

Unfortunately, after we're packed up, there is still a bicycle, several rolled up rugs, and a stack of folding chairs left over.

"Uh, we'll get those on the next trip and drop them at my old condo's storage area," says my son, the beneficiary of this cargo-carrying expedition. "Uh, I don't think so," I say. "That's too much driving. Let's drop them off first."

So out comes the cargo and in goes the other load of leftovers, heading for the secondary storage area, only a few miles away. That's accomplished in a quick roundtrip. Then the original cargo is re-loaded and taken to Somerville. There, we park half atop a snowbank — thanks to an 18-inch snowfall — and unload.

The point being is that this Sportage, called a CUV by Kia, is a flexible vehicle in a week that included a major snowstorm, messy roads, and the final stage of a family move. We came to appreciate the all-wheel-drive system, which performed admirably in the many days before our neighborhood roads got down to bare pavement. It's a setup that feeds power to the front wheels under normal conditions and adds drive to the rear wheels when needed.

One question is: What is a CUV? A compact utility vehicle? A crossover utility vehicle? A cute utility vehicle, the so-called Cute Ute? It's a fair question, and any of the descriptions could apply to this Sportage, which is totally redesigned for 2011.


Click photo for larger version.

You can get into a decently equipped base version for $18,295 (including destination). All three versions — base, LX, EX — come with the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 176 horsepower and 168 lb.-ft. of torque. A turbocharged SX version is expected out later this year. Our test version, a top-of-the-line EX with all-wheel-drive, premium package, and navigation, pushed the bottom line to $29,990.

The relatively small engine had plenty of oomph for Greater Boston driving, including on-ramps, highway passing, and accelerating from traffic lights. Loading the cargo area to capacity didn't seem to have any adverse affects.

Fuel economy was an acceptable 24.3 miles per gallon given snow, traffic, and cold weather. It was in the middle of the Sportage's 21 city to 28 highway EPA range. We credit two factors for this: the up-to-contemporary-standards six-speed automatic transmission and the AWD system that doesn't seem to drain power.

Kia has made a high level of standard equipment a company trademark. The LX level has keyless entry, side-mirror mounted LED turn signal indicators, and tinted glass. The EX adds 18-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, and chrome trim.

2011-Kia Sportage-interior.jpg

Click photo for larger version.

Our test car also had a $1,500 navigation system with rearview camera display and a $3,000 premium audio package that added heated leather seats, push-button start, panoramic sunroof, rear sonar, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, and a retractable cargo cover.

Kia touts the Sportage as having a sporty, tight suspension that enhances the driving experience. We found that to be true. However, we also found the ride noisy, a trait we've noticed in many of the Hyundai-Kia family of vehicles, especially on bumpy roads in cold weather. It's hard to determine whether the rumbling is an NVH (noise-vibration-harshness) failing such as a lack of noise-deadening insulation or part of the suspension workings. As Mrs. G says, "Turn up the radio and stop worrying about it. It's not that loud."

On the outside, we thought the Sportage had a passing resemblance to the Lexus RX 350 with a high beltline that connects the headlights and taillights, both with LED enhancements. Naturally, the new Sportage is longer, lower, and wider than its predecessors.

Bluetooth phone connections were easy to establish and there were USB and auxiliary plugs along with a dedicated Apple adaptor wire for iPhones and iPods. Instruments and controls were intuitive for the most part and feature a three-segment instrument pod. A "trip" button cycles a digital display showing mileage information, outside temperature, and an EcoMinder light that indicates fuel-efficient driving.


Click photo for larger version.

Under the rear cargo floor was a hidden storage tray made from a Styrofoam-like material that's divided into a bunch of compartments for keeping small items or tools out of sight.

If you're a fan of these smaller CUVs, be assured that the Sportage fits nicely in this niche with the likes of the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4. We found it more than held its own — along with a lot of ours.

2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $24,795 / $29,990.
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 21 city / 28 highway.
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 24.3 mpg.
Drivetrain: 2.4-liter I-4, six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive.
Body: 5 passenger, 5-door unibody CUV.


Horsepower: 176 @ 6,000 rpm.
Torque: 168 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm.
Overall length: 174.8 in.
Wheelbase: 103.9 in.
Height: 64.4 in.
Width: 73 in.
Curb weight: 3,355 pounds.

THE GOOD: Well equipped. Telescoping wheel helps find a comfortable driving position. Sharp styling, comfortable interior, intuitive controls.

THE BAD: Noisy suspension.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Redesign turned a decent car into an excellent choice.

Dodge Journey, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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