When the Kia Sportage made its U.S. debut almost 20 years ago, it tried to take on traditional sport-utility vehicles head-to-head with its serious four-wheel-drive capability. Before long, however, Kia realized that the growing number of buyers was really looking for more than just physically smaller versions of familiar full-size SUVs. They wanted a car that combines the practicality of the sport-utility body style with the more civilized drive and handling qualities of a passenger car.
The 2015 Kia Sportage goes a little beyond that, even. More than just giving you carlike abilities, it effectively backs up what its name implies by offering nimble handling and strong engines. The turbocharged 4-cylinder engine on the SX trim level, in particular, is a standout, thanks to its 260 horsepower. You won’t find much else out there that’s quicker. The Sportage also gives you sleek styling, an extensive list of standard features and options and a price tag that typically undercuts the compact crossover competition.
The 2015 Sportage does have a few shortcomings, however, starting with an interior that’s a little short on both passenger room and cargo space compared with some of its rivals. It’s something to keep in mind if you routinely chauffeur older kids around town or load up bulky gear for weekend camping trips. The same suspension that makes the Sportage fun to drive also creates a drive quality that may be a little too firm for some folks’ tastes, while both of the available engines return EPA fuel economy estimates that are just so-so.
With all that in mind, buyers looking for a small crossover with a larger interior should check out the 2015 Honda CR-V and the 2015 Toyota RAV4. There’s also the Sportage’s bigger brother, the Kia Sorento, to consider. If a lively on-road driving experience is important to you, the 2015 Ford Escape, 2015 Mazda CX-5 or the smaller but sportier Mini Countryman are smart picks. The mechanically related Hyundai Tucson is also worth checking out. In the final measure, the SUVS.com "B"-rated 2015 Kia Sportage is most alluring as an alternative to these crossover mainstays. But if small and sporty are your priorities, it should work out well.
Generally, you won’t find the words "sporty" and "crossover" used in the same sentence. What we can say, however, is that the 2015 Kia Sportage has a more responsive and fun-to-drive character than you might expect. Credit for this lively feel goes to a suspension that’s tuned to favor sharper handling. The tradeoff, of course, is a drive quality that some buyers may find a little too harsh for their taste.
You won’t go wrong with either engine. The standard 2.4-liter engine that powers LX and EX models has more than enough power to feel zippy in daily driving. But it might be hard to resist the charms of the SX, as its 260-hp turbocharged mill delivers impressively quick acceleration.
The 2015 Kia Sportage is a small crossover SUV with seating for five passengers. It’s offered in three trim levels: LX, EX and SX.
The entry-level LX model’s list of standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, 60/40-split folding and reclining rear seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, full power accessories, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary sound input jack and an iPod/USB sound interface.
Options on the LX include the Popular package (requires UVO eServices package) that adds side mirrors with built-in turn signals, roof rails, a rear spoiler, a trip computer and rear-seat center armrest. The UVO eServices package includes automatic headlights, a rearview camera and Kia’s UVO telematics system.
The Sportage EX gets all of the above and adds 18-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors, foglights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a cooled glovebox, upgraded cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an upgraded Infinity sound system with HD radio.
Adding the EX Premium package gets you power-folding mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a 7-inch touchscreen display and a navigation system.
The sportier SX model is equipped much like the EX, but tacks on a turbocharged engine, xenon headlights, daytime running lights and LED taillights, power-folding mirrors, keyless entry and ignition and the navigation system to its list of standard equipment. The SX Luxury option package includes a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The interior of the 2015 Kia Sportage is a handsome space with styling that gives it a somewhat bolder look than some of its more traditional competitors. Gauges, knobs, controls and other controls are thoughtfully laid out and easy to use, especially the navigation system functions accessed via the 7-inch touchscreen. The one aesthetic downside here — the extensive use of hard plastic throughout the cabin — is offset by the fact that it’s nicely textured and accented by well-placed padding in places it’s needed most, like the armrest atop the center-console storage bin.
The front seats offer good comfort and support, but the three-place rear bench is a different story. Legroom is in short supply in the second row and, though the reclining seatbacks are a plus, it would be nice to be able to slide the bench seat forward and back like those in competitive models.
Cargo space also is in short supply compared with other compact crossovers, with just 26.1 cubic feet behind the 60/40-split folding rear seats and only 54.6 cubic feet with both of those sections folded down. A handy divided organizer beneath the cargo floor is good for keeping the inevitable odds-and-ends like jumper cables handy but out of sight, but it can’t make up for the cargo hold’s overall space deficit, which can be as much as 15 cubic feet less than what’s offered by rivals.
Standard safety features on all 2015 Kia Sportage models include antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
Kia’s latest version of its UVO telematics system, which is offered as an option on the base LX model and is standard on the rest of the lineup, includes emergency and roadside assistance, stolen car tracking, geo-fencing and speed tracking (allowing parents to set limits for teen drivers) and other smartphone-enabled features accessed via the UVO app.
In SUVS brake testing, a Sportage EX came to a stop from 60 miles per hour in 120 feet — a couple of feet shorter than the average for this type of vehicle. The sport-oriented SX did even better at 117 feet.
In government crash tests, the all-wheel-drive Sportage earned a top overall rating of five stars, along with five star ratings for both frontal- and side-impact protection. The front-drive Sportage received a four-star overall rating, but still managed to earn five stars in the frontal- and side-impact tests.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the Sportage received the highest rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. Its head restraints and seats also earned a "Good" rating for whiplash protection in rear impacts. In the IIHS’s demanding small-overlap frontal-offset crash test, however, the Sportage received the lowest score of "Poor."
The 2015 Kia Sportage is available with two different 4-cylinder engines. The LX and EX models come with a 2.4-liter version that produces 182 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque. The SX model gets a more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that cranks out 260 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come mated to a 6-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available as an option. In SUVS testing, a front-drive SX sprinted from zero to 60 miles per hour in a quick 6.5 seconds.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the front-drive LX and EX are 24 miles per gallon combined (21 city/28 highway). Adding all-wheel drive drops this number to 22 miles per gallon combined (19/26). The turbocharged SX model returns EPA estimates of 23 miles per gallon combined (20/26) with front-wheel drive and 21 miles per gallon combined (19/24) with all-wheel drive. To put those ratings in perspective, most competitors in the compact crossover category best the Sportage’s combined fuel economy numbers by 2 to 3 mpg.
Eye-catching styling; powerful engines, particularly the turbo engine in the SX trim; sporty handling; good value; generous warranty.
Thanks to a fun-to-drive nature, the 2015 Kia Sportage is an entertaining alternative to other small crossover SUVs on the market.