2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: What Is It
When Kia started selling vehicles in America, the Sportage SUV was one of the first models to roll onto U.S. soil. It was a fairly unsophisticated body-on-frame model back then, a compact SUV with appealing styling, a low price tag, and genuine off-roading capability. It arrived just before the mid-90s crossover SUV boom began, and proved itself a popular value as people began buying smaller sport-utes.
Today, the 2013 Kia Sportage is one of the most sophisticated crossover SUVs in the compact class, equipped with an upscale appearance, entertaining handling, a terrific warranty, and an appealing price tag. With just 6.7 inches of ground clearance, there are no pretensions to off-roading with the Sportage, unlike with the original model.
For this review, we tested the turbocharged Sportage SX model, equipped with front-wheel drive, the Navigation Package, the SX Premium Package, and Signal Red paint. Our test SUVs price tag was $30,900.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
The 2013 Kia Sportage is sold in four levels of trim: Base, LX, EX and SX. The base model ($19,800) is offered only with a manual gearbox, only with front-wheel drive, and only in black, gray, or silver paint with black cloth upholstery. Standard equipment includes more than you might think: air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power side mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and a trip computer. A set of 16-inch aluminum wheels comes standard, and the 6-speaker stereo features a CD/MP3 player, an auxiliary audio input jack, a USB port, an iPod connection, satellite radio, and Bluetooth with streaming audio capability.
The problem with the base model is that it comes only with a manual transmission, and there are few extras. That’s why the Sportage LX ($22,000) is more popular. It is available in a wider variety of colors, comes only with an automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is optional. The Sportage LX distinguishes itself with remote keyless entry, dark tinted rear privacy glass, turn signal indicators embedded into the side mirrors, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
The LX can be upgraded with a couple of option packages. The Convenience Package adds a touchscreen infotainment system, heated side mirrors, a reversing camera, reversing sensors, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, floor mats, a cargo cover, roof rails, a rear spoiler, and more. The optional Navigation Package supplies the Sportage LX with a navigation system, a reversing camera, and a premium sound system. Additionally, this model is offered with an interior lighting package, roof rack cross bars, and a handful of other extras.
In exchange for $25,000, the Sportage EX includes the LX Convenience Package plus 18-inch alloy wheels, extra chrome trim, automatic headlights, fog lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, stain-resistant fabric, a power driver’s seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Options for this model include the Navigation Package and a Premium Package with leather, heated front seats, a ventilated driver’s seat, a panoramic sunroof, Smart Key entry and push-button ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, power folding side mirrors, and Supervision gauges. A new self-explanatory Blue Interior Package is also offered for the EX model.
The Kia Sportage SX – the model we tested – sits at the top of the lineup, with a sticker price of $27,700. It features unique 18-inch wheels with black-painted pockets, gloss black grille trim, side sill moldings, LED running lights, and dual exhaust outlets. Inside, the Sportage SX is equipped with leather seats, SmartKey entry and push-button ignition, and Supervision gauges. The Navigation Package is optional, along with an SX Premium Package containing heated front seats, a ventilated driver’s seat, a panoramic sunroof, power folding side mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage door opener, and a cargo cover.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: What It's Up Against
Kia has come a long way since it first started selling cars in America nearly 20 years ago. Though the 2013 Kia Sportage is intended to compete against other mainstream compact crossover SUVs, because of the Kia’s design, technology, and overall quality, we would count a handful of the least expensive luxury-branded models as competition, too.
The result is a long list, including the following models: Acura RDX, BMW X1, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Patriot, Mazda CX-5, Mini Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Juke, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Volvo XC60.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2013:
- New Kia badge design
- LED running lights for Sportage SX model
- Available power folding side mirrors
How It Looks
Like other modern Kia models, the Sportage displays design originality, looking taut, athletic, and upscale from every angle. Unlike other SUVs, the Sportage lacks windows between the rear door and the tailgate, but thanks to the SX model’s reversing camera and large side mirrors, visibility is not an issue.
Lighting elements give the Sportage an aggressive personality, and Kia keeps the tail tidy by tucking the touchpad popper under the lip of the liftgate. The Sportage also features Euro-style turn signal indicators that are embedded into the rear bumper, separated from the taillights. You don’t see that every day.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: Interior
What’s New for 2013:
- Blue Interior Package for EX model
How It Looks and Feels
With the Sportage, Kia gets the cabin’s textures and tones right, but a preponderance of hard plastic exists in this SUV. At the very least, the upper portions of the door panels, where some people occasionally rest an elbow, ought to be covered in a soft-touch material.
Otherwise, the Sportage’s interior is quite appealing, thanks to bright Supervision gauge illumination, crisp UVO infotainment screen graphics, responsive touchscreen keys, and separate power/volume and tuning/select knobs that help make life easier.
Comfort is also impressive. The Sportage’s thick tilt/telescopic steering wheel is a pleasure to grip, wrapped in smooth and soft leather on the SX model. Our test SUV’s driver’s seat provided a commanding driving position with excellent forward sightlines, and offered a power lumbar adjustment that put the extra support right where I wanted it.
Kia might want to spend a little bit more money to make sure the front passenger is as well taken care of as the driver. For example, our Sportage SX had seat ventilation for the driver, but not for the passenger. It also offered a seat height adjuster for the driver, but not for the passenger. As a result, my passenger was often unhappy to be riding in the Sportage. Not saying these omissions will lead to couples therapy, but it sure doesn’t help.
On a positive note, the Sportage offers plenty of room in the back seat, even with a taller driver. The rear seat cushion sits high enough off of the floor to provide good thigh support, and there’s plenty of legroom, but the cut of the door frame forces occupants to scrape their pants on the doorjamb when getting out, and the Sportage’s high beltline makes rear occupants feel like they’re sitting a little low.
The Sportage’s cargo floor is on the tall side to help ensure a flat load-space with the rear seats folded, but the cargo area is well shaped and there’s an underfloor storage bin for people who carry stuff and want to keep it organized. Hard front seatback covers protect against damage when carrying longer items, and the Sportage can hold up to 54.6 cu.-ft. of cargo with the rear seats folded down. With the rear seats in use, the SUV hauls up to 26.1 cu.-ft. of your stuff.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: Matters of Safety
What’s New for 2013:
- No changes
Details and Ratings
Though it’s not available with some of the latest safety technologies to trickle down into mainstream models, the 2013 Sportage is equipped with six airbags, a traction and stability control system, hill assist control, downhill brake control, and 4-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist. Options include a reversing camera and reversing sensors.
Despite the fact that for each of the NHTSA’s six individual crash-test evaluation parameters the ratings are identical, the Sportage with front-wheel-drive receives a 4-Star overall crash-test rating while the Sportage AWD gets a 5-Star overall rating. That’s one reason to upgrade to the AWD model.
In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2012 Sportage was called a “Top Safety Pick.” As this review is written, that rating had not yet been carried forward for the structurally identical 2013 model.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2013:
- No changes
How Does It Go
Our Kia Sportage SX included this direct-injected, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment. It is rated to generate 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,850 rpm and 3,000 rpm, which is plenty to motivate the 3,311-pound Sportage SX.
A 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift gate delivers the power to the Sportage’s front wheels. The optional AWD system adds 155 lbs. According to the EPA, our test car should have returned 21 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg in combined driving. We averaged 20.5 mpg over the course of a week, and we kept the Sportage’s Eco Mode engaged nearly the entire time.
Notably, the Sportage Turbo’s overall fuel economy rating is just 1 mpg shy of the standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Not a bad tradeoff for 84 extra horsepower and 101 extra lb.-ft. of torque.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: How It Drives
While driving the Sportage SX, I was reminded of the Infiniti FX and Porsche Cayenne, SUVs that do things on twisty roads that appear to defy the laws of physics.
In many ways, the Sportage SX with the Navigation and Premium packages is a budget version of these performance SUVs. The Kia rides firmly, stiffly, with heavy steering, and impressive grip. Better yet, unlike other Kia models we’ve recently tested, the Sportage suffers few interruptions from the stability control system when sluicing down a twisty road.
Like those two luxury utes, the Sportage SX model’s robust turbocharged engine produced rapid acceleration when you mash your foot down onto the accelerator, enough to cause our test model’s front wheels to regularly break loose, providing another excellent reason to opt for AWD.
However, the Kia’s price relative to the Infiniti and Porsche means certain compromises cannot be avoided. Despite its four-wheel-independent suspension, the Sportage SX exhibited a jittery and harsh ride quality on the sectioned concrete freeways ribboned atop Southern California real estate. Certainly, the SUV’s 235/55 tires and 18-inch wheels combined with sport-tuned underpinnings are the primary reasons for this and, as a result, the Sportage SX prefers smooth blacktop, where it excels. We also noticed unusual vibrations coming up from the suspension, accompanied by barely audible harmonic frequencies.
We also think the Sportage’s electric steering requires additional fine-tuning. It is too light on- and immediately off-center, and effort levels build unnaturally off-center.
All Sportage models are equipped with ventilated front brake discs, and the pedal feels great underfoot, inspiring confidence and proving easy to modulate. We did notice, however, that under duress on a warm testing day that they displayed a touch of fade toward the end of a long downhill run.
The Sportage SX model’s turbocharged engine is fantastic, even if fuel economy is disappointing compared to what the EPA says it should return. This SUV is quick, and ought to prove exceptionally fast in places like Denver, where thinner air tends to strangle a normally aspirated powerplant.
The automatic transmission shifter feels solid in the palm of your right hands, like a piece of quality engineering. It offers a manual shift gate to make the driving even more fun, located to the left of the main gate. The driver intuitively taps up for an upshift and down for a downshift. Yes, this is the opposite of Formula 1, but then you’re not hurtling toward a corner at triple-digit speed, getting hard on the brakes, and getting slammed hard into your seatbelt by g-forces while taking the kids to school, are you? Therefore, F1-style shifting is useless in a crossover SUV. I’m talking to you, Mazda, and BMW, and an increasing number of other misguided automakers.
If we have any recommendation for improvement regarding the transmission, it’s that the SX could benefit from a Sport mode, either as an additional selection in the PRNDL or by moving the stick to the left but without automatically dumping the driver into a manual shift mode. Shifter paddles mounted to the steering wheel would also be nice.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
Though it exhibits a few rough edges, the 2013 Kia Sportage SX is a stylish, functional, and entertaining crossover SUV, one that credibly competes against anything in the class, including entry luxury models. The interior needs a few upgrades, mainly more soft-touch material and greater comfort for the front seat passenger, the suspension and steering could benefit from additional tuning, and Kia might want to offer a Tech Package with features like blind spot warning, rear cross-path detection, and lane departure warning. But really, these are nitpicks about one of the best small crossover SUVs you can buy today.
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Turbocharged engine
- Back-road handling
- Cabin comfort
- The tech you want; nothing you don’t
- Rough ride
- Hard plastic
- Lack of features for front passenger’s seat
- Small cargo volumes
Kia provided the vehicle for this review
2013 Kia Sportage SX Turbo Photos by Christian Wardlaw