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2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD Review: One Seriously Fun Crossover

The 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD offers all of the amenities and capabilities that you would expect from a modern compact sport utility vehicle but unlike the majority of SUVs large and small – the Sportage SX is a total blast to drive.

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Now, I imagine that a great many of my regular readers who know my love of big horsepower are questioning the thought of the 2013 Kia Sportage being fun to drive and I can understand the skepticism.  The small SUV (some may prefer the term crossover) segment is generally not a group of vehicles that gets much consideration when people are looking for a vehicle that is fun to drive.  Most small SUVs tend to focus all of their energy into offering as much content for as little money while also offering the best fuel economy possible – often at the expense of engine power.  The Sportage is most certainly not most small SUVs as while it offers lots of space for both passengers and storage along with plenty of high tech gadgetry, it also packs a powerful turbocharged engine that makes the Sportage one of the most engaging small SUVs Ive ever driven.

Our test vehicle for this review was a 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD with the Navigation Package and the SX Premium Package.  In other words, this is just about as loaded as it gets when it comes to configuring a 2013 Sportage and when you add in a few other features including the rear cargo area tray and all weather floormats, the price as test comes to $32,645.  This might seem like a big chunk of change to some small SUV buyers but when you consider how loaded this vehicle is – it’s not hard to see what you are paying for.

The Exterior
Kia is a Korean automaker who went from having fairly bland styling in their early days to very distinct, striking styling now and the 2013 Sportage SX is a fine example of that transformation.  Some people don’t like the design language that is used across pretty much the entire Kia lineup but I respect the company for being so bold in their design and I like the way the Sportage looks.

The most familiar portion of the current Kia design language is the front end and while the shape of the vehicle is very different, the look of the Sportage is very much like the popular Optima sedan.  This includes a headlight and grille design that blend together as one, with a downward angle that makes the Sportage look angry and aggressive.  The headlights utilize LED trim along the bottom edge with HID projection headlights above, features which both bolster the sporty feel and give the Sportage an upscale look with the help of some chrome trim within the headlight housings.  Youll find more chrome around the angular grille and above the fog lights that are mounted on either side of the slim lower fascia opening and matte black housings.  The front end is finished off along the bottom edge with a matte black molding the runs around the entire vehicle – continuing the sporty look.

Along the sides, the Sportage has a very aggressive stance thanks to the fact that the front and rear wheels are so near the corners of the vehicle.  For a vehicle of this size, the Sportage looks like it has a very long wheelbase with a body that sits fairly low over the brushed 18 inch aluminum wheels.  The short hood area flows into the sharply angled windshield before meeting the roof that gradually slopes back to the rear hatch.  From the side profile, we really get a great look at the black trim that runs along the bottom edge of the vehicle and in terms of the sporty, contrasting design – I really like that they didn’t make this piece body colored.  Adding just a touch of higher end feel is a smattering of chrome on the door handles and on the rear pillar for the back doors while the LED turn signal indicators in the mirrors nicely accent the high tech front and rear lighting.

Out back, the Sportage has a wide rear end that is much boxier than the rest of the interior but this allows for a nice, big opening for the rear hatch and it does so without doing any harm to the sporty design theme.   The taillights look super high tech with LEDs throughout and an integrated backup indicator right in the middle of the red housings.  To emphasize the aggressive nature of the Sportage SX, this package includes a gloss black spoiler mounted high on the rear liftgate and big dual exhaust tips that are eased up into the matte black lower portion of the rear fascia.  The shape of the rear lower fascia also seems to give you a better look at the rear tires, giving the Sportage a wide, sporty stance when looking at it from behind.

The exterior design of the 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD is distinct and while some might not like it – I love the design language at work on this, as most other current Kia models.  This is not an SUV that will blend in as just another face in the crowd – instead featuring a look from front to back that gives some foreshadowing to the sporty drive qualities of this compact SUV.

The Interior

The 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD is the top of the line package and that is very apparent as soon as you climb into the cabin.  The front and rear seats are both clad in black perforated leather and where full leather interiors in some less expensive models looks cheap; the interior of the Sportage looks very upscale.  Joining the leather seats are padded leather panels on the doors, a leather wrapped shifter and a leather wrapped steering wheel that also has controls for the sound system, the cruise control and the hands free phone system.  The interior is predominantly black below the shoulder line with a contrasting light beige headliner helping to brighten up the space and bolster the upscale look.  Also, the gorgeous dual panel sunroof is one of my favorite features as it helps to give a more open feel to the interior while also allowing front and rear riders to decide whether or not they want it open as each has its own sliding sun shade.  Many companies have gone to the one piece, all glass panoramic roof that looks great but is very costly.  Kia’s alternative (notice, it is still called a panoramic roof) with two separate panels is a great touch that doesn’t add a grand to the final price.  In fact, this is standard on the Sportage SX and the less expensive EX.

While the loaded up interior of the Sportage is impressive, the most vital aspect of the cabin of this small SUV is the amount of space for passengers and cargo.  Whether you (as the driver) are 4’10” or 6’5”, there is plenty of space in every dimension with the help of the power adjustable driver’s seat and the front passenger enjoys the same amount of space – although he or she will have to make the seat adjustments manually. 

What is more impressive is the amount of rear passenger space with leg room that will allow rear riders well over 6 feet tall to sit comfortably without having their knees smashed against the back of the front seats.  This is one area where the Sportage really stands apart from many of its competitors as rear leg room of this quantity is tough to come by in the small SUV segment.  Also, the Sportage has a massive rear cargo area that will comfortably fit large boxes but when you are transporting a bunch of smaller items, the floor of the rear cargo area flips up to reveal a large organizer built into the underfloor area.  This is a feature that I really like as it makes great use of an otherwise unused space and it allows you to put a bunch of items that would slide around during transportation (like bags of groceries) and keep them right where you want them.

The crown jewel of the 2013 Kia Sportage SX interior is the center stack that plays home to the advanced infotainment system and the dual zone climate control.  The big, bright touch screen that is mounted high in the dash offers controls the sound system, the navigation system, the built in phone system and the backup camera display but for those who don’t like touch screen controls, the Sportage has a small collection of knobs and buttons that, when used in conjunction with the steering wheel controls, allow the driver to handle the radio or navigation without the use of the touch screen.  On the other hand, for those who enjoy the functionality of a touch screen system, Kia’s setup is easy to use with no real learning curve.  There is no over-complication with this system so those who are novices with this type of technology shouldn’t have a hard time getting a hang of how everything works.  Just below that big touch screen is the gloss black HVAC panel that allows for simple dual zone adjustment of the heating and air conditioning systems with the push button start located just to the left and the heated/cooled (driver only) seat controls mounted down a bit on either side of the shifter.

There really isn’t much to want for inside of the 2013 Kia Sportage SX.  It has tons of space for passengers and cargo, plush leather seats, a gorgeous sunroof setup and an easy to use infotainment system – all of which make this a great daily driver but also a perfect vehicle for a long family trip across the country.

The Drive
The 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD is powered by a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0L engine that sends 260 horsepower and 269lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission and an advanced all wheel drive system.  This drivetrain carries an EPA expectation of 20 miles per gallon around town, 25mpg on the highway and 23 combined and in my time with the Sportage, my numbers fell a bit short with an average of 21.1mpg over the course of a week of driving.  I will say that when I drove the Sportage gently, the on board fuel economy readout indicated that I was easily getting the prescribed MPGs.  One of the advantages to turbocharged engines is that they can be small and efficient yet offer quality fuel economy when you arent hard into the boost all of the time.  However, I will admit that I had a very difficult time staying out of the boost…not because it needs to be driven hard but because it is just so much fun to put the hammer down in this spunky little SUV.

The 2013 Sportage SX AWD weighs a bit over 3,400lbs and has 260 turbocharged horsepower.  The 2004 Mustang GT also had 260 horsepower and weighed a touch over 3,300lbs, for comparison.  While I certainly wouldn’t put the Sportage head to head with the 04 Mustang GT, that simple comparison should offer an idea as to what kind of performance is offered by the compact Kia SUV.  When you put the pedal to the floor, the 2.0L engine is quick to respond with only a touch of the dreaded turbo lag and honestly, someone who isn’t well versed in the world of turbocharged engines will very likely not notice - especially when you consider the fact that this is an SUV and not a sports car.  However, the Sportage offers “shove you back in the seat” acceleration that is reminiscent of a sports car and very uncommon for a smaller SUV.  This forward thrust kicks in just after launch and continues throughout the gear shifts with what seems like very little effort from the engine.  You can “launch hard” in any vehicle and run it hard through the gears but many vehicles will feel strained – almost uncomfortable.  The Sportage is not one of those vehicles as whether you are leaving a stop light hard or flooring it to pass slower traffic on the highway, the sporty little Kia SUV is happy to accelerate well into the triple digits.  This was one of those vehicles that I talked up to passengers before taking them for a ride (with some skepticism on their part) and every one of them agreed that the Sportage pulls much harder than they expected.  That pure, powerful acceleration makes the Sportage far more entertaining to drive than almost any SUV I’ve driven…especially in the smaller SUV segment. 

Helping the Sportage make the most of that turbocharged power is an advanced all wheel drive system that distributes power to the wheels depending on the nee recognized by the system’s sensors.  This allows you to launch the Sportage as hard as you can without any concern of traction issues whether you are in wet or dry conditions.  I didn’t have a chance to drive the Sportage in wintery conditions but based on how well it used the AWD system to get traction on wet surfaces, I would expect that it would flourish in the snow as well.

While the acceleration of the 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD is comparable to many sports cars on today’s market, the handling is hampered by the simple fact that this is an SUV.  However, it isn’t hampered all that much as the Sportage is a small ute that you can drive hard into corners with confidence.  There is some body roll but I would consider it to be very minimal for the SUV and the steering system allows for quick response when you get too deep into a turn.  I wouldn’t expect the Sportage to be setting any new lap records at the local road course but as SUVs go, I found this to be one of the most comfortable in pushing hard through the turns.  More importantly (to the average SUV buyer), the Sportage offers a pleasantly smooth ride even when clipping down the rough Michigan highways at 70mph.  The driver is able to “feel the road” through both the chassis the steering wheel but it is subtle enough that passengers are unlikely to notice even moderate imperfections in the road surface.

My sole criticism of the Sportage when driving it is that there are no steering wheel mounted shift paddles.  While it might seem absurd to complain that a smaller SUV doesn’t have something as race car inspired as shift paddles, this feels very much like a vehicle that should have them.  Kia has a great paddle shift system in their arsenal that I loved in the Optima Turbo and I think that they would add that little special something to the sporty drive quality of the Sportage.  Other than that – this is a vehicle that I looked forward to driving and for me, that is unusual in the small SUV segment.

The Final Word

If you are looking for a roomy compact SUV that offers some true fun to drive factor, the 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD should be at the top of your short list.  If you are skeptical of the power of the Sportage, drive a handful of other vehicles in the segment and then drive this Kia.  Between the loaded up interior and the sports car like driving feel, I expect that the Sportage sells itself to a great many test drivers.

I am not, by any means, someone who really likes smaller SUVs.  I have always felt that they arent as functional as a larger SUV or pickup and they don’t offer the fun to drive factor of the smaller vehicles that I like.  Im not opposed to small vehicles but if something is going to be small, it might as well be sporty and fun to drive but most small vehicles fall short of that.  On the other hand, the 2013 Sportage SX AWD delivers performance that is sure to impress while maintaining all of the positive attributes that make the small SUV segment so popular.  This is one of the very few small “crossovers” that I would consider owning as it is the most entertaining model in the segment that I’ve experienced and it has a beautifully equipped interior – with a price that won’t break the bank.lick here for a closer look at the images of our Sportage test vehicle!

Patrick Rall is a professional writer and photographer with a passion for all things automotive. Having grown up in his father’s performance shop, he spent extensive time at the oval track and drag strip – both driving and wrenching on various types of vehicles. In addition to working as a writer, Patrick previously worked as an automotive technician before moving on to a business office position with a chain of dealerships, and this broad spectrum of experience in the industry allows him to offer a unique look on the automotive world. Follow Patrick on TwitterFacebook and on Youtube.

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