THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Base model very well equipped for the price.
- What’s Worst:Base model cries out for a backup camera. Steeping raked windshield makes it harder for tall people to get into the front seats.
- What’s Interesting: How Kia’s decision to embrace styling has transformed the brand.
2015 Kia Sportage marries style and function.
Pulling into a local eatery in a 2015 Kia Sportage, my friend and I noticed that, of the 40 plus vehicles in the parking lot, seven or eight were sedans, one was a pickup and the rest where all compact CUVs.
The migration to the compact CUV has become a full-blown stampede with basic CUVs, entry-level luxury CUVs, premium CUVs – you name it.
The Japanese had what we now consider a CUV for years until someone at Toyota had the bright idea to bring one to North America, which resulted at the 1995 RAV4 followed swiftly by the Honda CR-V, the Subaru Forester and you know the rest.
In Korea, Kia had been building a very basic CUV based on the Mazda Bongo from 1993-2004 followed by a second generation that went on until 2010 selling in small numbers and was largely ignored.
But by then Kia had entered the Peter Schreyer era and a lot of things began to change very quickly.
And one of those changes was styling. Schreyer and his team’s work on the Sportage transformed it from wallflower to a belle of the ball almost overnight.
On the base LX as tested here, the signature Tiger Mouth grille is very prominent with a sweptback windshield and Schreyer-easque character line high on the shoulder.
The 2015 Sportage is differentiated by two engines, front- or all-wheel-drive and trim.
The entry LX and mid-trim models come with a twin cam, 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder engine with 182 hp and 177 lb/ft of torque with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel rating for the 2.4-litre front drive (manual only) is 9.2/12.9L/100 km city/highway. For the FWD automatic, it is 8.3/11.4L/100 km and 9.1/12.0L/00 km for the AWD automatic as tested.
The automatic is equipped with an Eco mode that changes engine mapping for better economy and is engaged by a button on the dashboard to the left of the steering wheel. When you want added power, simply turn it off.
The other engine on the SX trim is a 2.0-litre direct injection turbo inline four-cylinder with AWD and the automatic with NRCAN fuel numbers of 9.7/12.6K/100 km.
The automatic transmission has a sequential mode that electronically allows for manual shifting with the bonus of being clutch free.
I was glad to have it after an overnight storm left 15 cm of snow and dodgy driving conditions.
Edging back out of my driveway over the mound of snow left by the plow earlier in the day, it was just a matter of reversing with the AWD kicking in. Next, select second to leave my street and then across the shift gate into the Drive position as simple as that.
Sportage is considered a compact CUV, but it approaches mid-size in real life with 740 litres (26.1 cu ft) of rear cargo behind the rear seat and 1,547 (54.6 cu ft) with rear seat folded. Towing is 445 kg (1,000 lb) that doubles to 907 km (2,000 lb) with a proper trailer brake.
Tested here is the base LX with the addition of AWD priced at $27,495, not including a $1,665 shipping fee.
I also wanted the LX because it comes with a regular ignition key, not a fob and push button like the EX and SX. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve parked a car and left the fob in another coat, or in one instance, almost in another country. No fob – No start. Call me a Luddite, but a key on a ring with my other keys is my way to go.
Another reason is, being a Kia, it comes with a lot of standard features such as air conditioning (manual), alloy wheels, remote entry, heated front seats and steering wheel voice, audio and cruise controls. For those who like being connected, there is standard Bluetooth with AUX and USB ports and two front power points.
In Canada, safety systems such as ABS, traction control, electronic brake force distribution and electronic stability control are standard.
But the Sportage also is equipped with standard hill hold assist and downhill descent control.
A rarity on an entry CUV, Kia calls the latter Downhill Brake Control. On a steep incline, punch the button to the left of steering wheel and computers take over and allow the Sportage to go down at a steady 8 km/h without the driver touching the brakes or gas pedals.
Now that this premium feature has trickled down to a basic CUV, it shows to me how far the Koreans have come in anticipating what consumers want, and some times, don’t think they need until a situation arises.
A back road, earth, rock or snow clogged cottage country lane may seem like a challenge unless you have confidence your vehicle will get you to where you are going.
Now the LX Sportage does not come with a lot of frills.
There is no backup camera, unless you move up the trim ladder. There is no sonar reversing obstacle warning. And there is no sunroof or navigation system, but cellphones do that now.
But it feels solid and the build quality is about as good as it gets.
For the Canadian driver I like the big rockers on the centre stack for HVAC flow distribution and the large rotary knobs for fan/temperature, all of which can be worked with winter gloves on.
For the price, the base Sportage offers a lot and lives up to the brand’s motto: The Power to Surprise.