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2011 Kia Sportage EX: Introduction
Even though this particular market segment known as the compact family SUV didn’t exist before the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V were hatched just a little over a decade ago, in that very short period of time it has now one of if not the most important type of family vehicle around. Why? Well, they are roomy enough for most people’s blood relations/friends, are relatively inexpensive to buy and get decent gas mileage when compared with your average OPEC nation supporting Cadillac Escalade. But has a compact SUV crossover ever been sexy? To be blunt—no.
Now don’t get confused here and assume that there is something exotic, sexy and Isabella Rossellini-like about the way the 2011 Kia Sportage EX drives, even if it does come a lot closer to the mechanical refinement of a 2011 Honda CR-V than its sister SUV the 2011 Hyundai Tucson. The Sportage’s interior not only felt more upscale but interior noise and vibration levels were kept in much better check.
At the very least however, you can take heart knowing that Kia and Hyundai don’t resort to badge engineering their vehicles like GM in the 1970’s even if in this case it might improve one of their models. Each vehicle in this world, even one used primarily as a family workhorse like a 2011 Kia Sportage EX, should have an individual identity, style and have an instantly recognizable automotive DNA matrix that separates it from all the rest.
The inherent “Kia-ness” (daring exterior style, high quality interiors, affordable prices, more features for your dollar) is why the 2011 Sportage is such a successful SUV crossover. But even all of those many words of praise and adulation can’t touch the biggest magic trick that the Sportage has up its sleeve.
The real “Hail Mary Pass” in the last three seconds of the compact SUV football game is the fact that the Sportage which preceded the newly redesigned model in 2011 was without question the worst compact SUV on the market. The interior was swathed in scratch prone plastic, the engines were geriatric, guzzled gas and to make matters worse weren’t very fast and made loud, unpleasant moaning noises. Honestly, there was nowhere to go but up.
So, if you are going out shopping for a new compact SUV the Sportage absolutely must be on your short list of vehicles to test drive. Usually we recommend you try out the three best in whatever class of vehicle you are cross shopping—the 2011 Kia Sportage EX we tested here for a starting price of $23,295 sits among the compact SUV elite known as the 2011 Honda CR-V and 2011 Chevy Equinox/GMC Terrain twins.
Also, considering the fact that we have now driven every affordable family compact SUV on the market including the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-7, Toyota Highlander Mitsubishi Outlander, VW Tiguan, Jeep Liberty and a few more than we can hope to mention, it is easy to see what a big accomplishment it is for Kia to have a class leader in a market segment that can only best be described as savagely competitive.
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2011 Kia Sportage EX: Exterior and Safety
With sales skyrocketing, it’s no wonder that Kia has been on a home run streak thanks to its latest car and SUV designs in the United States such as the 2011 Optima, Soul, Forte, Forte Koup, Sorento and now the absolutely stunning Sportage. You don’t usually use language like “stunning” or “beautiful” to describe an SUV but in the case of the Sportage both monikers actually do apply without catapulting you into hyperbole.
From the smiling chrome grille up front to the oddly upswept headlamps all the way back to the squared off back rear pillar, there is no angle where you can gaze upon the Sportage and not see one of the most creative SUV design statements ever. The 2011 Kia Sportage EX is handsome, muscular yet also has elements of grace and whimsy mixed in which is no doubt why it has become such a favorite with buyers.
As most compact SUVs are used to carry around your most precious family cargo (even when they are being annoying), checking with the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) is always a wise bet as they can tell you about crash test rankings. Thankfully, the 2011 Kia Sportage got perfect scores from the IIHS and was named a 2011 “Top Safety Pick.” This means it got top scores of “Good” in front, side, rear impact, rollover and whiplash protection testing.
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2011 Kia Sportage EX: Interior
Just because the Sportage’s interior and exterior styling is currently our favorite in the compact SUV class, don’t get the wrong idea of it being all style and no substance because it can be just as utilitarian as the next ugly duckling of the” cute-ute” realm. It was not just the “vision” of some espresso sipping, turtleneck wearing, self-important car designer. No, the 2011 Kia Sportage EX is also a master of hauling human passengers in comfort (rear leg and hip room are ample for four, can accommodate five in a pinch) and also features an interior clearly designed to be practical enough to carry the detritus of our everyday daily lives (cell phone, wallet, purse, laptop, chapstick, iPod).
All knobs are within easy reach for the climate control/ stereo and the secondary controls on the steering wheel are very handy and easy to decipher which is not always the case. Our only niggle (besides the use of a bit too much hard touch plastic on the doors where you rest your arm) is the fact that the standard USB/iPod jack is in an uncovered bin in front of the automatic transmission shift lever. The 2011 Elantra has a neat closed bin for your iPod as to keep such a theft-worthy item out of the sight of the less trustworthy.
Although it isn’t a huge jump up into the 2011 Kia Sportage, you do get an excellent view of the road ahead and this helped during parking lot maneuvers and in kamikaze passing scenarios on Southern California freeways. Measurements in the cargo area are decent for an SUV of this class and perfectly adequate for any small family who needs to make routine Costco runs with 26.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats and growing to 54.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.
Our test 2011 Kia Sportage EX model came standard with dual zone automatic climate control, power everything, AM/FM/CD with 6-speakers, USB-iPod integration, Bluetooth, Sirius, stylish 18 inch alloy wheels and much more for a starting price of just $23,295. But it’s hard to resist Kia’s optional $1,500 in-dash navigation system with premium audio package which includes their excellent and very user-friendly set-up with Sirius traffic, a back-up camera and an audio system upgrade with external amp and subwoofer.
Although the2011 Sportage SUV really does major on style and utility now as its main selling points, it’s hard to not think of Kia as a bargain brand. In that mindset, we might skip the $2,500 Premium Package with Color Pack which includes a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, push button start, back-up sensors, a cargo cover, auto dimming side mirrors, Homelink and blue seat fabric and interior accents. You can also order the interior of your 2011 Sportage with orange as the interior accent color so on those counts you have to give Kia credit for never shying away from bold interior treatments. We just wonder how much you’ll still love orange in ten years.
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2011 Kia Sportage EX: Driving Impressions
The 2011 Kia Sportage EX comes standard with a capable, willing and refined 2.4 liter 176 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque that works in tandem with Kia’s very smooth six-speed automatic which is good at keeping this engine in its power band. As said earlier, this engine sounded a bit thrashy in a 2011 Hyundai Tucson tested last year but the Sportage suffered no such maladies. Even under full throttle it maintained a level of composure that may not have screamed “sporty” but at least it didn’t scream.
If you do need to feel the need, the need for speed then there is another option for you in the 2011 Kia Sportage lineup. In addition to the naturally aspirated 2.4 liter engine, there is also a turbocharged 2.0 liter 260 horsepower/269 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder as well. EPA fuel economy ratings for the non-turbo Sportage stand at an impressive 22 city/31 highway and over the course of our week we averaged about 24 miles per gallon. We wonder what the turbo must do to your fuel economy and would actually love to find out if that makes the Sportage a potential Acura RDX or Audi Q5 2.0T beater. Stranger things have happened.
Interior noise levels are nicely muted with only a bit of tire roar making it into the cabin on rutted freeways and the ride is usually good at soaking up bumps but its diminutive size means large potholes can set the Sportage crashing. Cornering ability is above average for the class but the mere laws of physics relating to a motorized vehicle with a high center of gravity dictate that you’d have more fun in a Forte.
Although steering feel and handling have not usually been Kia strong suits, with every new model they release you can see steady improvement. The 2011 Kia Sportage’s steering set-up impressed us more than anything with a nice, quick ratio without making the SUV feel darty or nervous at freeway speeds. Kia also hasn’t decided to hop on board the new school of thought that for some reason dictates steering weight must be extra-heavy will make people think a vehicle is “sporty.” No, that just means it’s a pain in ass in a mall parking lot. To sum up, the 2011 Kia Sportage is just a giddy, zippy SUV that actually manages to convey a bit of fun into the equation. Imagine that.
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2011 Kia Sportage EX: Concusion
This Kia SUV has so much style, utility and such a novel appearance inside and out that we can’t help but wonder if by spending a bit more on higher quality material in the interior (like with the Optima), that this South Korean automaker wouldn’t find itself selling more and more top of the line Sportage models.
But this is clearly a very minute point when you see the low basic MSRP, the generous equipment levels and the fact that these “hard plastics” in our 2011 Kia Sportage EX also seemed very “hard wearing” even when it came to there being destructive 70 pound dogs in the back seat. Yes, the Sportage is ready for families, kids, dogs and even trips to Home Depot to pick up a washing machine.
So while we prefer the 2011 Kia Sportage over the Tucson from a style perspective, they are essentially the same SUV so consider both of them highly recommended. If you are shopping for a compact SUV a 2011 Sportage or Tucson definitely belongs on your Top 3 shopping list.
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