Kia Sportage

The 2018 Kia Sportage is available in one of three different trims. LX and EX models feature a 2.4L 4-cylinder making 181-hp, while the top of the line SX Turbo uses a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder rated at 240 hp in FWD trim. All three trim levels are available with all-wheel drive as a $1,500 option, though opting for AWD on the SX Turbo does decrease power slightly (it's rated at 237 hp) and costs only a couple of miles per gallons. Generally though, the Sportage is pretty miserly with its fuel, with up to 30 mpg achievable on the highway when configured correctly. The only transmission choice is a 6-speed automatic.

Even base Kia models tend to be pretty well equipped and the Sportage LX is no exception. Some surprising standard features are available on the under-$24,000 vehicle. 17-inch alloy wheels come as standard equipment as do daytime running lights, power adjustable outside mirrors, a rear spoiler, body colored door handles, SiriusXM Satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, a backup camera and steering wheel mounted audio and cruise controls.

Mid-level EX models build on the LX by adding additional chrome work to the exterior, roof rails, heated exterior mirrors and 18-inch wheels. Inside, EX-trimmed Sportages include a 7" touchscreen display, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and leather seating surfaces.

The top of the line SX Turbo comes with everything on the EX, while jazzing up the interior with a bigger touchscreen in the center console, a Harman-Kardon sound system, a built-in navigation system, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a built in garage door opener and LED interior lighting. The SX Turbo also comes with a full sensor suite, including a blind spot warning system, a lane departure warning system, an emergency autonomous braking system and rear cross traffic alert. These sensors also make a very handy, self-parking mode possible on the SX Turbo, again included as standard equipment. The SX turbo looks upscale too, with bigger, 19-inch wheels, a unique gloss-black grill, power-folding mirrors with integrated turn signals, a big, panoramic sunroof, a powered liftgate and bi-xenon HID headlights.

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Editors' First Take

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If you look at the compact crossover SUVs on the market today, it's difficult to find many that pack a visual punch. Vehicles like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Escape are all styled rather conservatively and can look overly similar. But as I approach the 2017 Kia Sportage parked in front of San Diego's Hard Rock Hotel, any notions of another me-too, soft-appearing CUV quickly disappear. Kia's Tiger-Nose grille continues to be a distinct visual hallmark for the Korean brand, while the high-set, swept-back headlights evoke the Porsche Macan. The ice-cube LED fog lights, which we've already seen on the larger Sorento, also appear on high-spec versions of the Sportage. All of this results in a compact crossover that isn't just another drab face in today's crowded compact crossover segment. Whether it's attractive or otherwise is, of course, down to personal preference, but I find it attractive.

The best part about the fourth-generation Sportage is that its beauty isn't just skin deep. Kia's newest also features a more premium feel and better handling reflexes. While the previous Sportage suffered from a loud cabin and a suspension that crashed over bumps, the 2017 model is quiet and comfortable rolling down the highway, yet it also does well tackling winding California roads. Steering feels responsive, with good weighting tuned into the wheel, which also is an improvement over the vague-feeling system in the outgoing model.

All those dynamic upgrades begin with the new Sportage's structure that's now built from 51 percent high-strength steel compared to the 18 percent in the old model and results in better torsional rigidity by 39 percent. Hot-stamped steel in the pillars, side sills, roof and wheel arches further improve body stiffness, while more liberal application of structural adhesives also reinforce the body, and bring down noise, vibration and harshness levels. A redone suspension adds stronger wheel bearings, new bushings and revised rear suspension mounting points to the equation, while my SX's tester also gets firmer shocks to sharpen handling further. To tighten up steering, engineers mounted the steering box further forward and upgraded the electromechanical system's ECU to a 32-bit unit from 16-bit.

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