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The Good

Decent mileage numbers, compact maneuvering capabilities, an inviting and feature-laden cabin, some sharp styling and a surprisingly engaging drive keep the 2012 Kia Sportage on the radar for those looking into a new crossover.

The Bad

A somewhat underwhelming base engine and a less-than-comfy ride, especially in the flagship SX trim, as well as some seriously compromised visibility, rigid seats and a noisy interior won’t endear the Korean-made 2012 Sportage crossover to the pickier consumer.

The CarGurus View

Though not quite as refined as many of its rivals, the 2012 Kia Sportage is a model of composure and driving fun, especially in comparison to its tinny forebears. Some surprising agility and a plethora of high-end standard features and options ought to satisfy those looking for the right blend of practicality and style in their cute ute. And the SX trim’s turbocharged 4-banger is just right for those with a respectable need for speed.

At a Glance

Often not the first compact crossover that comes to mind, the 2012 Kia Sportage nevertheless offers a touch more panache, a tad more style and a bit more value than did its downright dowdy forebears. With room for 5 passengers, an available turbocharged four-banger, some surprisingly nifty moves and the option of all-wheel drive (AWD), this mini-ute goes its own way unencumbered by pricy options, V6 mileage woes and faded glory.

Available in 4 trims—the Base, the lower midlevel LX, the value-laden EX and the turbocharged SX—this smallish crossover boasts a barely adequate 26.1 cubic feet of cargo area behind the rear seats. Meanwhile, its minimalist 54.6 cubic feet of total cargo area is only fulfilled with a rear seat that folds flatter than most. All trims except the Base are available with a full-time AWD system that intuitively directs torque from the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip.

New for 2012, all 4 trims benefit from improved sound insulation and a retuned suspension system for even better handling. Further tweaks this year include 17-inch alloy wheels mounting low-rolling-resistance tires on the LX, while EX and SX versions get Kia’s UVO voice-activated audio and communications voice-command interface.

Alas, these improvements do little to alleviate issues that many reviewers have with side and rearward visibility, an unforgiving ride, butt-challenging seats and an underwhelming base engine.

The crossover market overflows with offerings from nearly every carmaker on the face of the planet. Many, like Honda’s pricy but larger and more refined CR-V, Mazda’s loveable CX-7 and Chevy’s staid, yet roomy and practical Equinox offer enough bells, whistles and performance to please anyone in the market for a utilitarian family automobile. Value-wise, however, Kia’s Sportage lineup has them all beat, and it’s a good bet that this nimble ute will make the daily commute or a trip to the mall more than just a trudge.


Standard aboard the Sportage Base, LX and EX is a variable-valve-timed (VVT) 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) powerplant that puts out 176 hp at 6,000 rpm and 168 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The Base Sportage offers only a 6-speed manual transmission, while the LX and EX trims come with a standard 6-speed shiftable automatic. Look for 2,000 pounds of properly equipped towing capacity from this barely adequate four-banger, with estimated mileage running 20 mpg city/27 highway in the front-wheel-drive-only (FWD), stick-shift-equipped Base. In those Sportage trims equipped with the shiftable 6-speed automatic, meantime, FWD editions are estimated at 21/30 and trims sporting AWD remain estimated at 20/27.

Kia’s 2012 Sportage SX, meantime, comes with a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 engine, again with VVT. This peppy turbo combines with the 6-speed shiftable automatic for 260 hp at 6,000 rpm and 269 lb-ft of torque at 1,850 rpm. This bulked-up four-banger still tows only 2,000 pounds, again with the proper equipment, while mileage figures drop to 21/28 in FWD versions and 20/25 in AWD-configured trims.

One test has the standard 2.4-liter I4 trundled from 0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, which is okay for a value-priced crossover, but not nearly as impressive as the 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds from the turbocharged SX.

In any case, according to the majority of reviewers, acceleration from the I4 is tolerable, though merging and passing on the highway require a little planning. The 6-speed shiftable automatic, however, handles downshifting alertly in either full automatic or auto-manual mode, while the stick shift is described as smooth enough for normal driving, with a compact throw and a glitch-free clutch.

Virtually all reviewers note that the SX trim’s I4 turbo is a far more potent powerplant, but more than a few are turned off by what they describe as some hefty torque steer and, on wet pavement, some disturbing wheel spin in FWD trims. This is not, as most reviewers are quick to point out, a problem in AWD Sportage trims, though with either drivetrain, some slight but noticeable turbo lag is apparent. Finally, reviewers agree that the 6-speed automatic performs flawlessly with this blown four-banger, and generally concede that both engines remain well-modulated and decently refined, even when accelerating.

Ride & Handling

Look for all 2012 Sportage trims to carry a 4-wheel independent suspension boasting MacPherson front struts, a multi-link rear end and stabilizer bars front and rear. Some tweaks to this year’s Sportage suspension system have resulted in the nimble handling characteristics that Kia loves to boast about. However, this improved handling capability comes at the expense of what had been at least acceptable ride comfort.

According to nearly all reviews of Kia’s cute crossover, bumps both large and small are easily felt, especially with the SX trim’s sport-tuned suspension. Furthermore, according to most reviews, the 18-inch wheels common to the EX and SX are even worse, and further complicated by the low-profile tires carried on SX trims, worsening an already jarring ride. Alas, in the opinion of all reviewers, the standard 16-inch wheels on the Base and those new 17-inch wheels and tires on the LX, though noticeably better, still have difficulty soothing angry roads.

On the other hand, reviewers generally find that for pure driving enjoyment, the Sportage stands head and shoulders above the rest. Body lean is well-controlled in even the tightest turns, while maneuvering in traffic is more chortle than chore. There’s a difference of opinion among reviewers regarding this crafty crossover’s steering feel in the non-SX trims, with some finding the steering a bit too feathery for their taste, and others noting a most accomodating feel to the wheel. Of course the racy SX adds that much more fun to the sporty commuter’s daily drive, with none of those fancied steering woes. Most reviewers agree, however that the disastrous ride qualities inherent in the Sportage SX might not be worth its heady handling attributes.

Anyhow, it took 124 feet to bring the Sportage EX to a complete stop from 60 mph, according to one test, which is pretty impressive for this class of vehicle. The sport-oriented SX, meantime, came to a stop from 60-0 in 117 feet, nearly unheard of for a midsize crossover.

Cabin & Comfort

The folks at Kia, in their tradition of trying harder, have endowed their Sportage Base and automatic-equipped LX trims with many of the standard bells and whistles found in crossovers costing far more. Starting with 17-inch alloy wheels, this entry-level trim also sports cloth upholstery, remote power door locks, power windows and outside mirrors, a dashboard-mounted display, cruise control, tilt-wheel steering, air conditioning, and simulated alloy cabin trim accents. Tunes, meanwhile, are pumped through an MP3-capable single-CD player with 6 speakers, complemented by satellite radio and a USB connection, with standard Bluetooth technology helping out hands-free communications.

The upper-midlevel EX adds a roof rack, a rear spoiler and 18-inch alloy wheels outside, while premium cloth upholstery, a power adjustable driver’s seat and telescoping tilt-wheel steering endow the cabin. Added techno-goodies include Kia’s UVO audio and communications voice-activated interface, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors and, entertainment-wise, a premium audio system with 7 speakers, including a subwoofer. A leather steering wheel and shifter knob spiff up this midlevel trim’s interior, with at least front seat occupants wafted by automatic dual-zone climate control.

The top-shelf SX, as befits its elevated status, brings upgraded gauges and controls, leather upholstery, power-folding outside mirrors, a cooled storage compartment and front and rear floor mats to the table.

The Base Sportage can be delivered with added cargo-management gear as its only available add-on, while the LX remains eligible for a Convenience Package that boasts a number of items carried standard on higher trims, as well as roof rails, heated outside mirrors and a rear spoiler.

A Navigation Package w/Premium Audio sporting a 6.1-inch screen, as well as premium audio components and SiriusXM Traffic is available to the LX and higher trims, as are remote engine start and/or a Class II trailer hitch. The navigation suite can additionally be ordered without the premium audio components but keeping the SiriusXM Traffic alerts, while the LX can additionally be delivered with UVO voice-command technology. Again, in keeping with its lofty status, the Sportage SX remains eligible for the popular air conditioned driver’s seat.

An auto-diming rear-view mirror hosting the Homelink universal remote garage door opener is a standalone option for the three higher trims, while the EX and SX can be delivered with the Premium package, sporting heated front seats and push-button start, along with a panoramic power sunroof that also remains available as a standalone option.

Reviewers find the Sportage to have a surplus of hard plastics in the cabin, though many concede that the overall effect isn’t bad considering the price of this value-heavy crossover. A few gauges and controls, however, are found by a number of reviewers to be inconveniently placed, with buttons that are a bit small for easy identification and use. The available navigation system, meanwhile, is noted in a number of reviews to be less intuitive than most, though the standard dash-mounted display with or without the navigation option is thought a refined touch by the majority of reviewers.

Visibility is described by all reviewers as challenging at best in this cute ute, with its swooping roof and thick pillars making sightlines to the sides and rear shamefully difficult to fathom. Front seats, meantime, are described in most reviews as tolerably roomy, if a bit too firm, while rear seat room, cramped to begin with for average-size adults, is further hindered by the available sunroof.


All 2012 Sportage trims carry standard 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS), with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist. Of course traction and stability control remain standard, as do front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags and front head restraint whiplash protection. The LX and higher trims additionally sport standard turn-signal-integrated mirrors and a remote antitheft alarm, while the EX and SX boast daytime running lights, front fog/driving lights and dusk-sensing headlights.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives FWD Sportage trims its best 5-star safety award overall, with 5 stars awarded for front and side impact tests and its second-best 4 stars awarded in rollover testing. Sportage trims equipped with AWD are given 4 stars in overall safety by the NHTSA, with 5 stars given in front and side impact protection and, again, 4 stars awarded for rollover protection.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meanwhile, gives Kia’s Sportage lineup a Top Safety Pick nod for 2012, citing the Institute’s highest score of Good for this comely crossover in all testing criteria.

What Owners Think

Some bumpy rides from a somewhat too-stiff suspension system and a dearth of needed seat padding, along with issues with build quality, are among the more noteworthy gripes that owners have with the 2012 Sportage lineup. Poor rear visibility also remains a challenge for many owners, as does the unabated wind and road noise that creeps into the cabin. Finally, a few owners find this compact crossover to be a bit less frugal with gas than expected, while others find fault with its low-rent cabin materials.

In a more positive vein, most owners laud this mini-ute’s available AWD traction, its compact maneuverability and, of course, its turbo-assisted power. Passenger room, an available ventilated driver’s seat and an unexpected wealth of standard creature comforts and appearance amenities also bring praises to Kia’s classy Sportage offerings.


Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.

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