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2011 Kia Sportage (photos)

As part of a complete model overhaul, Kia gave its Sportage small SUV a serious makeover, changing the engine, suspension, and design. CNET Car Tech took a preview drive to see how it handles.

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Wayne Cunningham
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The third generation of Kia's small SUV reflects the company's new energy with its modern design language. Kia said it is differentiating itself from other brands with technology, both in the cabin and power train.
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The grille, with its up and down tabs, is an element of Kia's new design language, and will show up on all models. We like the band-style headlight casings sitting between hood and fender. Note the LED parking lights in the headlight casings, an upscale element in an inexpensive car.
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Kia has also used these wheels on the Forte and Koup. Glossy black paint covers the insides of the spokes, and the geometrical cut-outs create a singular identity.
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The high beltline and thick rear pillar are elements becoming common in small SUVs, so Kia isn't breaking new ground here. Aggressive styling is supposed to appeal to male buyers in their 20s to early 30s.
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Smoothly contoured sides are another element of Kia's new design language. The Sportage uses an independent suspension with stabilizer bars front and rear, giving it a comfortable ride and decent handling.
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As a small SUV, the Sportage has ample cargo room. Split fold-down rear seats provide further cargo flexibility.
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This top trim model has leather seats. The driver seat gets heating and cooling, and six-way power adjustment.
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We like the look of the cabin, but not the feel, as hard plastics line the top of the dashboard and interior door panels. Kia used soft materials in high-touch areas, which gives the car a better look.
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Phone controls on the lower spokes of the steering wheel include a voice command button. Voice command lets you call a person from a paired phone's contact list just by saying the person's name.
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All-wheel-drive controls include descent control and a diff lock, which sets torque at a 50/50 ratio between front and back wheels.
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This flash-based navigation system is very responsive and includes traffic through Sirius. But the maps are only 2D.
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The Sirius Satellite Radio interface in the car, like the other onscreen interfaces, uses an attractive and practical design, with big buttons that are easy to find while driving.
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iPod connectivity is standard. With the navigation option present, the music library is easily browsed on the touch screen.
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UVO is a new, Microsoft-powered music and phone system that will become available as an option after the Sportage hits showrooms. It includes 1GB of onboard music storage, and lets you use voice commands to choose music from MP3 players.

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