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.