A week spent in the all new small crossover from Kia


Exterior styling
Tasteful interior
Smooth switchgear
Supportive front seats


Stiff ride evident over rough surfaces
Steering short on feedback

The 2012 Kia Sportage SX

Although the nameplate, itself, has been around since 1994 - about the time Honda came out with the CR-V and Toyota began marketing its RAV4  sales of the Kia Sportage didn’t really get off the ground until Kia began marketing the second-generation model of its small crossover utility vehicle in 2004.

That model shared its Elantra-based platform with the Hyundai Tucson. But even with a facelift in 2008, its appliance-like styling was still quite forgettable. But by 2009 the Sportage had gained a reputation for reliability, giving customers quite a bit of bang for the buck. But there was still quite a bit holding it back from competing with the big boys in the small crossover segment.

Moving forward

Things were about to change, however, as a result of the hiring of Peter Schreyer in 2006 as Kia’s new chief design officer.

By the time the Geneva Motor Show rolled around in March of 2010, Kia was ready to unveil the third-generation Sportage, the first to be designed by Schreyer.

Basing much of its styling on the Kia Kue concept vehicle, the 2011 Sportage was conceived at the company’s design studio in Irvine, California.

Taking a cue from the Detroit iron of the fifties and sixties, the new Sportage is 4.5 inches longer, 2 inches wider, a half inch longer in wheelbase and nearly 2.5 inches lower than the previous generation. But through the greater use of high-strength steels and other lightweight materials as well as the elimination of the V-6 engine in favor of higher-performance four-cylinder engines, comparative model curb weight has been reduced by as much as 172 pounds.


Outside, the Sportage exudes a style that’s as bold and modern as anything in its class, featuring a high prominent beltline with sweeping angles that accentuate prominent and aggressive wheel flares.

The Sportage SX’s styling theme begins in front with starting with a sculpted hood and a bold interpretation of Kia’s signature tabbed grille (a feature repeated at the top of the windshield), which is flanked by two narrow headlamp enclosures housing twin projector-beam headlamps and lower LED running lights. A narrow black trim piece splits the lower fascia in half, becoming progressively larger as it wraps around the front and ending just before the front wheels where it houses the fog lamps.

Beginning at the swept-back headlamp enclosures, a spearing shoulder line extends the length of the vehicle, visually connecting them to the tail lights. The thick C-pillar is accentuated by a wide vertical chrome strip, while the body sides are deeply sculpted between the wheel wells.

The windshield is steeply raked and the roofline descends as it flows rearward, ending in a nicely-detailed rear window flanked by LED-equipped wraparound tail lights.


Inside you’ll find a slickly-designed interior notable for its liberal use of soft-touch surfaces and a dashboard that mimics the “Schreyer line” of the grille. Our SX model came equipped with the optional Premium Package that includes a leather-trimmed interior with heated front seats (the driver’s is also cooled), push-button start, a panoramic sunroof, power driver’s seat along with heated outside mirrors and a back-up warning system.

Our SX was also equipped with the Sportage’s navigation and Premium Audio package that substitutes the standard UVO infotainment system with a nav system featuring Sirius Traffic, a rear camera display, plus an audio system with external amplifier and subwoofer.

Despite its compact size, the Sportage offers plenty of room up front, with more than adequate rear passenger room and a generous amount of room behind the rear seats. All controls are within easy reach of the driver, backlit and clearly labeled, with switchgear operation being world class.


Our Signal Red SX model came with a plethora of standard equipment including dual-zone climate control, power windows, locks and mirrors, keyless entry with pushbutton start, Sirius satellite radio with USB and aux inputs, Bluetooth iPhone connectivity with streaming audio, a cooling glove box and a leather-wrapped steering wheel that also contained controls for Bluetooth, audio and cruise control functions.

Outside, all SX models are treated to the aforementioned LED daytime running lamps plus fog lamps, automatic head lamps, privacy glass and 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/55 18 Hankook Optimo H426 tires.

Safety equipment includes a full complement of 6 airbags, ABS, traction control, electronic stability control and downhill brake/hill-start assist control.

On the road

The Sportage SX is powered by Kia’s 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected Theta II  engine – which it shares with the Optima Turbo - that produces a satisfying 256 horsepower and 264 lb.-ft. of peak torque.

The turbo’s twin-scroll design features two valve-operated exhaust gas inlets that are responsible for feeding exhaust flow through separate paths into the turbine.  Utilizing a divided manifold, the exhaust gasses from separate cylinders travel more efficiently into the turbocharger's turbine, avoiding possible interference.

Both around town and on the highway, the suspension does a decent job of soaking up large road imperfections, although the sport-tuned suspension unique to the SX that features firmer shock and strut rates doesn’t isolate pavement strips and potholes as well as the Sportage’s standard setup.

And although feedback from the steering wheel is generally good, Kia still has some work to do with on-center feel (generally dead) and steering weight (a bit high in my opinion).


2012 Sportage new car dealer prices start at $19,103 for a manually-equipped base model. Our SX with a six-speed automatic (the only tranny available) had a base price of $27,295. Adding the audio/navigation package ($1,500) premium package ($3,000) and cargo mat ($75) brought the total, including freight ($695) to $32,565.

The Bottom Line

With the 2012 Kia Sportage, Kia brings to the table a true contender in the compact crossover segment – giving up nothing in terms of style, quality or performance to the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V or Ford Escape. Kia also puts to rest its former image as the read-headed stepchild in this market segment. And while my own combined observed fuel economy, at 20.8, fell a bit short of its EPA-estimated 22/31 city/highway mpg, that’s still very good for a vehicle that weighs near 3,500 pounds that’s as efficient hauling people as it is cargo.

So here is the bottom line: The new Sportage brings a welcome some needed style to the compact crossover class and appears more than ready to challenge both Toyota and Honda for market share across the entire segment.