Kia Sportage styling is unconstrained by cliche or convention. From nose to tail, from footprint to luggage rack, Sportage shares almost nothing outside of its overall proportions with more conventionally styled crossovers and mini-SUVs.
The upper grille is a bigger, bolder rendering of the Kia-signature tiger nose. Underlined by a free-flowing, vaguely bow-tie-shaped black insert in the bumper fascia, the overall effect is an I'm-about-to-eat-you grin. Compact headlight housings with slightly protruding clear lenses curve around the front fenders, adding their own contribution to that menacing smile.
Fog lights on the Sportage EX and SX nestle comfortably at the outboard ends of the bow tie, assuming their vertical-oblong shape from the surrounding trim. The SX sports its own, subtly different grille, which replaces the delicate horizontal-over-vertical mesh of lesser models with a more rugged chain-link texture; and the bright-chrome surround with chrome of a darker tone.
The concaved hood flows smoothly back into the decently raked windshield. Viewed head on, it's a more planted look than you'd expect from a crossover, a direct consequence of a wide, 63.5-inch track (distance between the tires side to side), and a roofline that peaks just 64.4 inches from the road.
Highlighting the side aspect is a beltline (generally, the bottom edge of the side windows) that arcs dramatically from the trailing corner of the headlights to the leading edge of the taillights, giving the Sportage a wedgy but still soft profile. The high beltline reduces the real estate available for side windows, making for almost a chopped look, like street rods of the mid-20th century. A creased depression in the lower portion of the door panels breaks up the expanse of sheet metal, thereby lowering the impression of mass. The flat black trim from the front lower fascia continues around the sides, outlining the wheelwells, which the tires fill quite nicely, and underscoring the rocker panels.
Most of the styling lines on the backside pinch inward, toward, again, the trademark oval parked in the middle of the liftgate. The backlight is about the same proportion to the bodywork as the side windows, i.e., smallish. Taillights narrow as they look toward the centerline. Turn indicators are slotted into the rear bumper, an interesting location that at first blush appears to favor a closely following driver at the expense of one two or three cars back. A creased lip marks the bottom edge of the liftgate, above a license plate space that occupies the middle of the rear bumper where a continuation of the flat black trim panel completes its circumnavigation of the Sportage's lower body. Dual exhausts with bold oval openings distinguish the SX.
The Kia Sportage interior displays as much bold imagination as the exterior, while remaining ergonomically friendly and eye-pleasing. Nothing too fancy or gimmicky, just well crafted and eminently usable.
Essential instrumentation is easy-to-read analog, with a large, circular dial for the speedometer bracketed by a half-circle tachometer and inversely stacked temperature and fuel level gauges. A small, rectangular, LED display inset into the speedometer face shows gear selection and trip data. The center stack is properly organized, placing the audio/navigation interface at the top, the climate control panel midlevel and power points and USB and auxiliary inputs tucked into the lower section, which also contains a smallish storage bin. Controls for the optional seat heaters fit in side notches forward of the shift gate. Climate and audio/touch-screen navigation controls are logically arrayed, finger-friendly knobs and virtual and real buttons.
A satin-finish, smoothly sculpted panel that hosts the instruments and the audio/nav panel seems to pop out of the pod-like dash, itself topped in industry-standard, glare-suppressing, grainy-textured, but not cheap looking, plastic material. The shift lever perches on the forward end of the center console, in which sit two cup holders (which need inserts for anything smaller than a Big Gulp) between curiously placed grab handles. The storage bin beneath the center armrest holds the charger for the transmitter for the optional keyless start/stop system, a less than optimal, and likely more easily forgotten, location compared with other systems' placement in the lower dash on either side of the steering column.
Visibility to the front is good, aided by the high seating position and the sloping hood. To the side and the rear, the smallish side and rear windows and an expansive C-pillar (the rearmost support between the body and the roof) make working heavy traffic a chore. On the bright side, the two-pane panoramic sunroof optional on the EX lets rear-seat passengers assist in keeping a watchful eye out for state trooper spies in the sky.
Front seats are comfortable, with sufficient thigh support and adequate bolstering. The front seat passenger is shortchanged when it comes to seat adjustability, relegated to a four-way manual setup. The perforations in the optional leather in the Sportage we tested kept the seats from being clammy or overly slick.
Measured against the expected competition, the Honda CR-V, the Subaru Forester and the Toyota RAV4, people-room in the Sportage is disappointing. In most interior dimensions the Kia is the smallest of the group, albeit in most cases by only an inch, give or take. The Forester, however, tops the Sportage in front seat headroom by more than two inches, and in rear seat headroom by almost the same amount. And the CR-V, which leads the group in rear seat hiproom, betters the Sportage by a full four inches. The Sportage's cargo space also trails all of the competition, surrendering a significant 12 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 19 cubic feet with the rear seat down to the class-leading Toyota.