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2013 Kia Sportage LX AWD - Hip Style Comes At An Unacceptable Cost

The 2013 Kia Sportage LX AWD is a compact 2 row SUV that delivers a lot of value for the $22,700 MSRP.

We logged approximately 800 miles behind the wheel of our Signal Red test vehicle - miles that included highways, frost heaved state roads and even a few snow covered central NH logging roads. The Sportage is solidly constructed, thrifty, rides well (even over marginal road surfaces), handles capably and has low amounts of road noise.  But, there are significant issues with the Sportage that prevent us from recommending it.  Read on.

Like many low-end Korean vehicles, the front seats are hard, flat and with minimal lateral support. There is no lumbar adjustment.  After 3-4 hours behind the wheel, your back and thighs will be hurting.

Interior is decent, but exterior style exacts a big price.

We really liked the interior design however.  We’re no fans of overly complex dash controls – and the Kia’s was refreshingly honest and clear.  In particular we liked the heater controls which are simple and easy to operate.  The dash cluster has legible oversized analog speedo, tach, fuel and temperature gauges.  We wish more manufacturers would follow Kia’s lead with respect to dash design – as we also liked the simple, functional layouts in the Optima and Sorento.

We really liked the clean, functional interior design!

The base Sportage comes with a 2.4 litre I-4 engine with variable valve timing. It generates 176 horsepower and 168 lb/feet of torque.  It is smooth, fairly frugal (we experienced about 28.5 MPG on a 290 mile highway trip – 1.5 MPG higher than the EPA rating) but not particularly exciting.  Acceleration is tepid at best, and the I-4 gets a bit thrashy when driven hard.

Smooth and frugal, but not terribly exciting

The Sportage handles very well indeed, and the ride is solid and secure on even the worst pavement conditions.  However steering feel is poor with zero communication from the wheel.  As is the case with the Optima, the steering rack in the Sportage feels like there's a tiny troll living inside and randomly changing the gear ratio.  Very peculiar.

A six-speed manual is standard on FWD models, but a six-speed automatic is the only available transmission with AWD.  The automatic shifts smoothly, but is always eager to upshift to the highest gear, presumably to help achieve CAFE objectives.  In hard acceleration, the transmission is reluctant to downshift and when it does, it can be abrupt.

Sportage AWD models come standard with an electronic center differential lock, and hill descent control.  These are features typically found only on high-end SUVs.  There are other nice touches, such as; turn signals with a lane change tap, height adjustable seats, Bluetooth and steering wheel audio controls.  The bluetooth pairing was a simple one-step process and the hands free phone works well with good sound quality.  We continue to be annoyed that Hyundai and Kia vehicles use a "proprietary USB" (oxymoron, we realize) cable for iPhone.  The Kia did not recognize the Apple USB cable, and we understand Kia charges a shocking price for their own USB cable.  This is ridiculous in a era of increasing IT standardization.

Outward visibility in the Sportage is dismal.   The large windshield provides a good view straight ahead, but the high cowl and hood limits views of low obstructions.  The thick A-pillar and side mirrors create a massive blind spot in the front ¾ view. This blind spot is big enough to hide Vince Wilfork. While he's riding on a Kubota tractor - wearing a Sombrero.

The biggest issue is terrible rear visibility.  The massive D pillar, tiny rear glass, short greenhouse and outsized headrests conspire to create a blindspot large enough to conceal the entire Alabama O-Line.

How to hide 3/4 of a Ford Escape..Some of the worst blindspots we've seen!

These significant visibility issues are indicative of a product design philosophy that places whimsical style over functionality.  More evidence of this is found in the windshield design.  Viewed from outside, the glass has really neat cutouts at the upper corners that creates the look of a Dan Gurney helmet bubble. 

Looks cool, but serves zero function. Why?

However these cutouts are purely cosmetic.  Inside, the glass is as rectangular as Colorado. Very disappointing, as I really looked forward to how these cutouts would translate into a novel interior experience.  Naturally this begs the question - why did Kia spend development dollars in this fashion?

Overall Scores:

2013 Kia Sportage

Better / Worse Than Overall Average

Driver Attribute Score

80.26

-5.73

Family Attribute Score

76.13

-3.10

We give the Sportage a C grade.  We did not like the way the design translates into horrendous outward visibility.  We also didn't care for the vague, uncommunicative steering or the rock hard, unsupportive seats.  Over snowy, choppy central NH roads the Kia proved very solid, rattle free, stable and secure.  We liked the confident handling and strong brakes.  The Kia drivetrain was smooth and frugal on gas, but the penalty is performance that is merely adequate.  If you are willing to spend the cash, an SX Turbo may be a better choice for performance junkies - however at a base price of $28,400 the SX Turbo falls into a price point where there are far better SUV alternatives, including Kia's own Sorento V6 AWD

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