2012 Kia Sportage SUV - FROM $18,500
Thanks to a fun-to-drive nature, the 2012 Kia Sportage is a realistic alternative to other top small crossover SUVs on the market.
What's New for 2012
For 2012, every Kia Sportage gets revised suspension tuning for improved handing. Kia has also added more sound insulation to reduce noise. LX models get standard 17-inch alloy wheels and low-rolling-resistance tires. EX and SX models now come standard with Kia's Uvo hands-free interface for cell phones and portable music players.
Just like people, vehicles have personalities ranging from bland and boring to stylish and entertaining. If you accept that premise, it's safe to say the 2012 Kia Sportage comes down on the "cool kid" end of the continuum.
Part of the appeal of this small crossover SUV is simply that it's such a dramatic departure from earlier versions, all of which were largely forgettable. This time around, the third-generation Sportage offers a near-ideal balance of style and substance, with an eye-catching look and a lively driving character that many of its competitors can't match.
Truth be told, the Sportage's 176-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder base engine is merely adequate. But this is outweighed by firm suspension tuning that makes for nimble handling. If that's not enough, though, the 260-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter engine in the SX model -- not to mention its sport-tuned suspension -- makes the Sportage one of the quickest models in its segment.
Every personality has its character flaws, though. In this case, it's a ride quality that might be too harsh for some people's tastes -- especially in SX form. The interior's relative lack of cargo and passenger room compared to competitors like the Chevy Equinox, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 may also be an issue for many buyers. Kia's own Sorento is also worth considering for those with a need for greater space.
If you don't have such a need, the 2012 Kia Sportage is a strong choice compared to SUVs with similar interior volume like the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-7 and Volkswagen Tiguan. While all have their strong points, the 2012 Kia Sportage has a unique personality that may very well just win you over.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Kia Sportage is a compact crossover SUV with seating for five. There are now a total of four trim levels available, including Base, LX, EX and SX.
Standard features on the base model include 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, air-conditioning, a tilt-only steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, full power accessories, a trip computer, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a four-speaker sound system with satellite radio, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
Stepping up to the Sportage LX adds 17-inch alloy wheels, turn signals integrated into the exterior mirrors, tinted rear windows and keyless entry. The Convenience package adds rear parking sensors, a rear spoiler, roof rails, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and floor mats.
The Sportage EX includes the Convenience package along with 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights, LED daytime running lights, foglights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat, upgraded cloth upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an easier-folding rear seat, a rearview camera, the Uvo voice-activated cell phone and audio interface, and an upgraded sound system with HD radio, digital music storage and a small touchscreen interface. The EX Premium package adds a panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, the SX's upgraded gauges, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a cooled driver seat and an auto-dimming mirror.
The SX model adds to the EX's standard equipment a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition/entry, upgraded gauges, leather upholstery and distinctive exterior and interior styling details. The SX Premium package is similar to the EX version.
A navigation system with a touchscreen interface and real-time traffic is optional on all but the base Sportage. On the LX, the nav system includes an upgraded audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
Most versions of the 2012 Kia Sportage are powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4-cylinder engine that produces 176 hp and 168 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered on base models, while all other versions come with a six-speed automatic with manual shift feature.
Front-wheel drive is standard on all Sportage models and all-wheel drive is offered as an option on all but the base model. In Edmunds performance tests, a front-wheel-drive Sportage with the 2.4-liter engine and automatic accelerated to 60 mph from a standstill in 9.5 seconds, an average time for this class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined with the automatic and front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive drops those to 20/27/23.
The SX model gets a more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out an impressive 260 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds testing, it went from zero to 60 mph in a very quick 6.5 seconds. EPA estimated fuel economy is 21/28/24 with front-wheel drive and 20/25/22 with AWD, although we've found the Sportage SX struggles to match these numbers in real-world driving.
Standard safety features on all 2012 Kia Sportage models include front-seat side airbags, full-length side-curtain airbags, active front head restraints, antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control, as well as hill descent and hill start control.
In Edmunds brake testing, an EX came to a stop from 60 mph in 124 feet -- a solid performance for this type of vehicle. The sport-oriented SX was better at 117 feet. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the Sportage received the highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2012 Kia Sportage's interior features a pleasing mix of complex and organic shapes to create a more interesting look than most competitors manage. There is quite a bit of hard plastic throughout the cabin, but for the most part, it's well textured and adequately padded where passengers generally make contact.
The front seats are nicely contoured and offer good comfort, with adequate headroom and legroom. The 60/40-split rear seat is set up for three passengers, but it's tight enough that it's just passable for a couple of adults. The fact that this seat lacks the ability to recline and slide fore and aft as they do in many competitors is a weak point.
The interior's other major shortcoming is its relative lack of cargo space compared to some other small crossover SUVs. Behind the rear seats are just 26.1 cubic feet of space, which grows to 54.6 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks laid flat. To put that last number in perspective, that makes it about 15 cubic feet smaller than the cargo holds of both the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
While the 2012 Kia Sportage is by no means a tall four-door sports car, it's still relatively fun to drive. The 2.4-liter engine gives it enough get-up-and-go to be interesting and the six-speed automatic transmission works well in both fully automatic and manual shift modes. The turbocharged engine is energetic, though its impressive fuel economy numbers are predicated on your being conservative with the throttle.
Handling is better than average thanks to the Sportage's stiffer suspension. The downside is a firm ride quality that, when coupled with the available 18-inch alloy wheels, transmits even small pavement irregularities directly to your backside.