2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD

The thing about the 2011 Kia Sportage: Spend the extra four grand.

The thing about the 2011 Kia Sportage: Spend the extra four grand.

Although options are often the things that you think about after the primary choices are made (we’ll assume that you’ve decided on a compact crossover utility vehicle (CUV) with all-wheel-drive capability and that you’ve checked the appropriate box regarding the trim level). But when you’re behind the wheel of the Techno Orange and Black Sportage and you’ve opted for the Color Pack and the navigation and premium audio ($1,500) and the Premium Package ($2,500) that adds in such things as pushbutton starting, rear sonar, heated front seats, you’ll survey an interior that is unlike others in the category, an interior that was actually styled with more than a modicum of panache.

For example, while door trim panel inserts are usually nondescript at most, there are bold orange inserts on the Sportage doors. The leather trimmed seats have orange stitching. And a sign that someone really thought about the interior design—make that REALLY THOUGHT—is that on the little plastic piece that you use to adjust the louvers on the HVAC outlet there is a bit of orange plastic—a hint, a touch, but something that speaks volumes about detail. Obviously, if you don’t like orange this is not the approach you’d want to take. But it really is worth taking a look at because it shows a boldness in style and execution that certainly sets it apart from other vehicles.

(The MSRP for this trim level in $24,795, so the additional $4,000 for the options are value.)

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The exterior design is not lacking, either, having a high belt line, broad shoulders and tight surfaces. It has a sporty, aggressive look, not the sort of smoothed rectangular styling that is indicative of compact CUVs. It features LED daytime running lights that bring to mind Audi, and this may not be a complete coincidence, given that its chief design officer is Peter Schreyer, who went to the Korean company from the German builder.

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It is worth noting that Kia received top honors in the 2011 iF product design awards in the “Transportation Design” category for the Sportage (and the Optima). This international award goes to products in 16 categories. This year there were 2,756 entries from 1,121 participants hailing from 43 countries. Presumably, Kia wasn’t the only car company vying for the Transportation Design awards.

Of course, you don’t get a car just to look at it. So know that the 176-hp, 2.4-liter four that’s attached to a six-speed automatic transmission provides sufficient pep. There is a clever all-wheel-drive system that is said to be anticipatory, not reactive, for better handling (something that I didn’t have the opportunity to experience). And there are antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, downhill brake/hill-start assist, and a rollover protection system.

As Driven, there is pretty much nothing that the Sportage didn’t have.

And it really looks cool.

Selected Specs

Engine: 2.4-liter, DOHC, 16-valve I4

Material: Iron block, aluminum head

Horsepower: 170 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 168 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Sportmatic

Drive type: All-wheel-drive

Overall length: 174.8 in.

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Width: 73 in.

Height: 64.4 in.

Passenger volume: 100 cu. ft.

Cargo volume (rear seat down): 54.6 cu. ft.

Curb weight: 3,355 lb.

Fuel economy: 21/28 mpg