Review and photos by
Grant Yoxon, CanadianDriver.com
You might be surprised by the title of this article – 2011 Kia Sportage EX Luxury – and the moniker given to this top-of-the-line trim level for the all-new 2011 compact sport utility vehicle.
Luxury? Surely they jest. You might not think to use the words “luxury” and “Kia” in the same sentence, but Kia has with this compact SUV, and after a week with the car, I have to agree. The 2011 Kia Sportage EX Luxury is, well, pretty darned luxurious.
For a less-than-luxurious $33,145, my nearly-loaded 2011 Kia Sportage tester came with such luxury features as a power panoramic sun roof that fills the passenger compartment with light; 18-inch alloy wheels with P235/55R18 inch all-season tires; LED daytime running lights, fog lights and projector beam head lights; integrated turn signals in the side mirrors; chrome door handles; leather seating surfaces, heated up front and power adjustable for the driver; dual-zone automatic climate control; six-speaker audio system with auxiliary and USB input and iPod cable, and Sirius satellite radio-ready; tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio controls; auto-dimming rear-view mirror with Homelink garage door opener and rear view back-up camera; cargo area lighting, cargo cover and luggage net; and “smart key” pushbutton ignition. All-wheel drive is standard equipment at this level.
It sounds impressive. What is even more impressive is that everything on that list is standard equipment on the everyday EX except the leather seating, panoramic sun roof and pushbutton ignition. So if you don’t really need leather and a monstrous glass roof, you can always opt for the less-expensive but certainly no less luxurious EX model, priced at $26,995 with front-wheel drive, or $29,495 with all-wheel drive.
And if you still feel that’s a lot of change to come up with if all you really want is a heated front seat and Bluetooth connectivity, well, those are standard equipment on all Sportage models.
In fact, the base Kia Sportage LX, priced at just $21,995 with six-speed manual transmission, could really be named the Kia Sportage LX Luxury Sport, because this compact SUV comes with a ton of competition-challenging standard equipment that other manufacturers would certainly charge extra for, not to mention a rarely-found manual transmission. Add automatic and AWD and the price comes to $26,795.
How about alloy wheels? No steel wheels with plastic covers available on this car. You also get the same audio system, with the same number of speakers and the same modern device connectivity and steering wheel-mounted controls as the EX Luxury buyer. And Bluetooth is standard as it should be in every vehicle sold in a country that bans the use of handheld devices. Power door locks, power windows, remote keyless entry, cruise control, power heated side mirrors, air conditioning, and automatic light control are all standard.
But as if that wasn’t enough, every Kia Sportage includes features that are often found only on luxury nameplates or top trim lines of its competitors – fog lights, heated front seats and windshield wiper deicer. Now those will be nice to have this winter!
No matter what your price point is, you don’t have to go away feeling like you gave up something to get an affordable vehicle. You don’t have to opt for leather seating to get heated front seats. You don’t have to go for the upgraded audio system to get USB connectivity and Bluetooth. You don’t have to get a power sunroof to get fog lights. You don’t have to settle for steel wheels to get a manual transmission. It is impressive packaging and a bold move for Kia.
Even at the far end of the spectrum, the navigation system is, thankfully, optional, letting you get all the luxury features you want without navigation if you don’t really need it. Navigation and the upgraded seven-speaker audio system packaged with it is the only optional package that is layered. If you want navigation and upgraded audio, you have to buy the EX Luxury trim to get it.
Even without the navigation system, as my tester was equipped, the interior of the Sportage is well-appointed, well put together, comfortable and quiet. The leather seats are wide and soft and the seat provides good support for long trips. After having driven a luxury sport coupe costing twice as much money the same distance the week before, I came to the conclusion that the Sportage seats were better and because they provided substantial cushioning and support, I was able to drive from Whitby to Ottawa, about 400 kilometres, without stopping. Seats that save you time.
The gauges are easy-to-read white on a black background with illuminated red indicators. But the audio system, trip computer and heating and ventilation system displays are red on black. I’m not particularly fond of this combination as I find red hard to read – old eyes, perhaps. The cupholder is well placed to not interfere with the leather-covered shifter or the natural resting position of your forearm. And the phone buttons are right where you want them, on the steering wheel.
Rear seat leg room is more than sufficient and the seats fold nearly flat in a 60/40 fashion. Unlike the previous generation of Sportage, the seatbacks do not clip into place to provide a completely flat loading surface. This will be missed.
Behind the rear seats, there is 740 litres of cargo space, plenty of room for your gear. And below the floor is a storage tray with six compartments to keep stuff separate. The floor – or tray cover as it may be – can be held up with a convenient hook while you get things from the tray.
As is the trend these days, the latest Sportage strays further from the classic definition of the SUV as a rugged go-anywhere vehicle. The first-generation Sportage, despite its many faults, was certainly rugged and capable off-road. That changed with the second-generation Sportage, which became more of an urban sport utility. This latest version takes the Sportage even further from its roots, being more of a crossover than a sport utility, and way closer to a car than a truck.
But the Sportage hasn’t been totally citified. All-wheel drive models have an AWD system that features a centre-differential lock. Just push the button and both front and rear axles are locked into a 50/50 torque split that is useful when slogging at low speed through steep snow or mud.
Normally, the system directs torque to the front wheels, but an “intelligent” control unit continuously monitors driving conditions and directs torque as needed to the rear wheels. The intelligent part is that the system anticipates the need to shift torque to the rear wheels rather than reacting to front wheel slip.
Whether you select AWD or not, the 2011 Kia Sportage comes equipped with a variety of standard safety features. While it is now expected that utility vehicles will have four-wheel anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control, the Kia Sportage also includes Hill Assist Control, Downhill Brake Control and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM). This latter system is worth noting as it is usually only found on much more expensive vehicles. ESC automatically adjusts brake pressure at the appropriate wheel or wheels and regulates engine torque to help you stay on your path, while VSM monitors traction, steering and g-forces to ensure the vehicle is responding appropriately to driver inputs, and will provide mild steering assist as required.
Standard passive safety features include dual front airbags, dual front seat-mounted airbags, dual curtain side-impact airbags with rollover sensor, active front head restraints, child safety rear door locks and LATCH system for securing child seats.
During my week with the Sportage, I had mostly good weather and dry roads – nothing that could really test out the ESC and VSM systems. That’s unfortunate, but hopefully I’ll have another go with it this winter.
However, I did find the Sportage to be a comfortable and quiet vehicle to drive, both around town and on the highway. With the 2011 model, a V6 engine is no longer available, but I doubt many will miss it. The 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder engine makes plenty of power – 176 hp and 168 lb.-ft. of torque – for everyday requirements like accelerating off freeway ramps, passing on two-lane roads and to get going in the stop and go of city traffic. For the most part, it is a quiet engine that rarely makes you aware of its presence except under hard acceleration.
I did find the intrusion of noticeable road noise within the cabin. I suspect it could be the tires, relatively low profile P235/55R18 all-seasons, and I also wondered if these tires also contributed to a bit of a bumpy ride. It could be that more damping might help, but the Sportage is also very light – just 1,432 kg (3,157 lb.) in LX manual trim and 1,582 kg (3,488 lb.) fully dressed. Hefty weights contribute to the solid ride found in many luxury SUVs, but that ride comfort comes with a price – bigger engines and higher fuel consumption.
I also found the power steering, no longer driven by a hydraulic pump but by an electric motor, to be very light. Although the Sportage was nimble and making lane changes point-and-go easy, it also felt a bit skittish, requiring hands on the wheel (of course) and frequent corrections. But one person’s skittish is another person’s nimble.
Visibility to the rear is somewhat affected by the Sportage’s wide C-pillars and small rear window. But I didn’t find it compromising with proper use of the side-view mirror. My EX Luxury model was equipped with a rear-view camera displayed in the rear-view mirror. Sonar assistance for backing up is standard with the EX trim.
While Energuide rates the Sportage at 7.1 L/100 km on the highway and 10.0 L/100 km in the city with automatic transmission and AWD, I recorded a respectable 8.1 L/100 km at freeway speeds and overall consumption of 10.8 L/100 km for the week.
The new Sportage is slightly lower and longer than the outgoing model and its sheet metal has been completely redesigned. It captured considerable attention from passing motorists during my week behind the wheel, something that is not common when testing a compact utility. Judging by the smiles and nods, I don’t think those looks were disapproving.
My guess is that the Sportage’s good looks will bring consumers into Kia showrooms and, once they see how well designed it is both outside and in and how well equipped it is for the price, they won’t want to leave without one.
Pricing: 2011 Kia Sportage EX Luxury Automatic AWD
Base price: $32,895
Options: $150 (Colour charge)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $34,795
Crash test results
Grant Yoxon is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist and Managing Editor of CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).