Not perfect, but well balanced
THE GOOD
  • Fun-to-drive handling
  • Comfortable seats
  • Long warranty
THE BAD
  • Fuel economy
  • Dated-looking interior
  • A bit underpowered


The Kia Sportage was introduced to Canada more than two decades ago and it’s still going strong, especially as more Canadians move to the compact sport utility side of the market.

There was a mild facelift last year, and the 2021 Kia Sportage continues forward with few changes. The Sportage starts as the LX, in front-wheel drive, for $25,795 before freight and taxes, and in all-wheel at $29,295. All other trims are all-wheel-drive only. My EX Premium S tester, second from the top trim level, started at $35,595 and then added $250 for its coat of Snow White Pearl paint, bringing it to $35,845 before freight and taxes. The final step is the more-powerful turbocharged SX, which rounds out the lineup at $39,995.

Styling: 7.5/10

The Sportage is a cute little thing, with nice proportions for its size, and a quirky but interesting nose even if the oddball headlights still haven’t entirely grown on me. Kia has gotten into the annoying habit of labelling many colours as “premium” paint, and black is the only one included in the price. If you want your Sportage in white, red, blue, or even grey, you’ll pay that additional $250 charge.

The interior isn’t quite as intriguing as the exterior. It’s handsome enough, and I like its simplicity; but there’s an awful lot of flat, pebbled black plastic surfaces, fingerprint-attracting hard plastic around the centre stack buttons, and a very plain display on the infotainment screen. It looks dated, and much cheaper than my Sportage’s almost-$36,000 price tag.

Safety: 8/10

The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Sportage its highest five-star overall rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) names it a Top Safety Pick, although it gets only an “Acceptable” rating for how easy it is to use its child-seat tether anchors.

I’d have bumped my score up a point, except that you have to move up the trim ladder to get higher-tech safety features. The base LX, at $25,795, just gives you safety features that are federally required, such as electronic stability control, airbags, and a back-up camera. In comparison, a Chevrolet Spark gives you emergency braking and lane-departure warning, while even the cheapest Toyota Corolla then further adds adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights, and both vehicles are less than $20,000. You must move up to at least the Sportage LX AWD S to get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. EX trim levels, including my tester, further add emergency front braking and lane-keep assist, but adaptive cruise control comes only on the turbocharged SX.

Features: 8/10

The base Sportage comes with such items as heated seats, automatic headlights, a cargo floor that can be lowered for additional vertical room, an eight-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, an acoustically-laminated windshield, 17-inch alloy wheels, and driver’s auto-up–down window.

Going up the trim ladder adds 18-inch wheels, power-folding mirrors, a power driver’s seat, heated steering wheel, wiper de-icer, panoramic sunroof, roof rails, push-button start, and a wireless charger. Then, exclusive to my EX Premium S tester, you also get a hands-free power tailgate, LED head- and taillights, rear parking sensors, faux-leather upholstery, and dual-zone automatic climate control with automatic defogger.

User Friendliness: 9/10

The interior may look dated, but its simplicity also makes it easier to use. A row of buttons brings up menus on the infotainment screen, along with radio volume and tuning dials, while rows below handle the climate functions. There are also buttons for the heated seats and steering wheel, and for the drive modes.

The Sportage further follows through with wide-opening doors that make it easy to get in and out, and a low liftover when you’re filling the cargo compartment.

Practicality: 8/10

The Sportage offers the practicality of a sport-utility with upright seating positions and cargo capacity but it’s small enough that it’s easy to park and manoeuvre. It’s also rated at 907 kg (2,000 lb) towing capacity.

The cargo compartment features a dual-level cargo floor, which can be put in the top position should you want to hide small items under it, or lowered for extra space. The rear seats fold almost-but-not-quite-flat for carrying longer items. [Lowering the cargo floor also means it won't align with the seatbacks when the back row is folded.—Ed.] The Sportage’s overall cargo volume is smaller than with some competitors, such as the Toyota RAV4 or Nissan Rogue, but there’s some give with the take – the Sportage has more passenger volume than the RAV4, and while its rear legroom is almost the same as the Rogue's, the Sportage has more front-seat legroom.

Comfort: 8/10

That generous passenger volume adds to the Sportage’s comfort, letting occupants stretch out in both the front and rear chairs. The front seats are supportive and nicely bolstered, and stayed comfortable on a trip of an hour and a half. The seat heating function also comes with three levels of warmth.

The ride is firm but it’s still comfortable, and overall, the Sportage’s cabin is quiet, even over bumps. It feels solid and never sounds tinny, as can sometimes happen with a compact sport-ute.



Power: 8/10

Most trim levels, including mine, are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.4L four-cylinder that makes 181 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It has a gruff sound, and acceleration isn’t spectacular, but it gets up to speed smoothly, and there’s enough in reserve to get you around traffic on the highway.

The top-level SX trim exclusively uses a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder, making 237 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, and also with that six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. It’ll be the choice for those who want more performance, but I’ve always been drawn to the simplicity of non-turbo engines, especially if I plan to hang onto a vehicle for a long time.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The Sportage is a fun little driver, and more so than you might think. The steering is quick and responsive, the turning radius is tight, and while you won’t mistake it for a low-slung sports car around curves, it can take twisty curves quite well.

Its all-wheel drive system primarily drives the front wheels, but if its sensors detect slippage, it diverts some of its power to the rear wheels. The four-wheel lock button doesn’t turn it into a rock-crawler, but instead, locks the differential so power goes to all four wheels. This is strictly for low-speed traction, such as getting through a snowy driveway, and it comes out of all-wheel lock if your speed gets too high.

Fuel Economy: 6/10

The Sportage’s weakest point is its fuel economy, officially rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 10.7 L/100 km in the city, 9.0 on the highway, and 10.0 combined. In my week with it, I averaged 11.1 L/100 km.

Most vehicles in this segment are within a fraction of each other, but the Sportage’s combined 10.0 L/100 km stands out against all-wheel-drive vehicles like the Honda CR-V at 8.1, the Nissan Rogue at 8.3, the Toyota RAV4 at 8.4, the Chevrolet Equinox at 8.8, and the Ford Escape at 9.1 L/100 km.

Value: 8/10

At a range of $25,795 to $39,995, the Sportage is intelligently priced in relation to its competition. For example, the all-new Nissan Rogue starts at $28,498 and goes to $39,998, while the RAV4 runs from $28,590 to $41,690. None of those prices include the non-negotiable freight charge automakers tack onto the asking price, nor taxes.

In addition to a lot of features, Kia also throws in a long warranty, providing almost bumper-to-bumper coverage for five years or 100,000 km (consumables such as wiper blades, brake pads, and lightbulbs are covered for one year/20,000 km), while roadside assistance runs for five years with unlimited mileage.

The Verdict

It’s a benefit to consumers when a segment is popular, because automakers work extra hard to make their vehicles competitive. The 2021 Kia Sportage isn’t perfect, but it has a lot going for it, including its price, driving performance, and comfortable interior. When you’re shopping, it’s worth putting on the test-drive list.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.4L   Model Tested 2021 Kia Sportage EX Premium S
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $35,595
Peak Horsepower 181 hp @ 6,000 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 175 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm   Destination Fee $1,795
Fuel Economy 10.7 / 9.0 / 10.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $37,740
Cargo Space 798 / 868 L floor raised/lowered; 1,565 / 1,703 L floor raised/lowered w/ seats down  
Optional Equipment
$250 – Snow White Pearl paint, $250