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2021 Kia Sportage Test Drive Review

A surprisingly sporty crossover sized right for city streets.

7.5 /10
Overall Score

The 2021 Kia Sportage continues on the scene as a compact crossover competent enough to stand up against a bevy of competitors, particularly when equipped with is turbocharged four-cylinder. But with a new, redesigned Sportage coming in 2023, is the 2021 model still worth consideration?

Look and Feel

7/ 10

Kia’s tiger-nose grille and bulbous headlights might be described as frog-like by some. Kia, on the other hand, chooses to describe the 2021 Sportage’s design and styling as “Euro-focused.” Regardless, the two-row crossover SUV boasts a relatively short wheelbase and short overhangs, making it ideal for city-living drivers.

The headlights carry over from 2020, and the Sportage can be equipped with 17-, 18-, or 19-inch wheels. Inside, an 8-inch touchscreen display acts as a stylish centerpiece, flanked on either side by air vents. Physical buttons and knobs for tuning and volume line up below the screen. Two cupholders are positioned between the front seats, and Kia’s now-old logo rests on the steering wheel.

While it’s not the tech- and fashion-forward cabin we’ve started to expect from Kia, the 2021 Sportage’s interior is still a pleasant place to sit.

Performance

8/ 10

Shoppers can purchase a 2021 Sportage in LX, EX, or SX Turbo trim with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).

A 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine powers the LX and EX trim levels to the tune of 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Shoppers willing to spend their money on an SX turbo trim enjoy Kia’s 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI four-cylinder engine, making 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Regardless of the powerplant under the hood, all Sportages have their powertrains managed by a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Sportage’s McPherson-strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension provide a smooth ride without too much body roll. The steering leaves a bit to be desired, and the tires don’t want to grip as far as the engine wants to go. But, overall, the Sportage is a rewarding crossover to drive at a hustle, particularly in SX Turbo trim. Shoppers prioritizing a sporty drive should consider the Sportage alongside the Mazda CX-5.

Form and Function

7/ 10

Without a doubt, the Kia Sportage resides on the smaller side of the compact crossover segment. However, it offers good interior space for the driver and passengers.

The SX Turbo trim models provide a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and 8-way power adjustment for the passenger. Heated and ventilated seats are also included on the top-tier SX Turbo.

In the rear, legroom and headroom is good, but cargo space comes up a bit short. 30.7 cubic feet behind the second row is decent, but the Sportage provides only 60.1 cubic feet of total cargo space when the rear seat is folded. That number simply isn’t competitive with other compact crossovers.

Tech Level

6/ 10

The 8-inch touchscreen interface managing Kia’s infotainment system isn’t massive, but it works well. Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and USB ports all arrive as standard equipment. Most trims also benefit from Kia’s UVO Link connected services.

The SX Turbo trims also provide wireless charging and an eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.

Overall, the Sportage’s technology is easy to use, thanks in large part to logical menus, physical buttons, and handy knobs. Although it’s not the most groundbreaking or cutting-edge tech, it’s not likely to frustrate owners or leave them wanting more.

Safety

9/ 10

Safety is truly a strong selling point for the 2021 Kia Sportage. Among the list of standard advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are forward-collision warning and pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, automatic high beams, and a driver-monitoring system. That’s a lot of content to be included on a base-level trim.

Ride the trim ladder all the way up to the SX Turbo, and you’ll also enjoy Kia’s adaptive cruise control system. Adaptive cruise is becoming commonplace in the market, but we’ve long been impressed with how smoothly the Kia system operates.

Further, the SX Turbo trims enjoy Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), thanks to their upgraded headlights. All trim levels do well in crash tests administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

With prices starting at $24,090, the Kia Sportage is a competively priced crossover—even if that price jumps to $25,590 when you add all-wheel drive to the base LX trim level.

The top-tier SX Turbo AWD costs significantly more, at $35, 250. However, it also provides significantly more impressive performance than trims equipped with Kia’s naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, and its list of standard features is impressive.

Interestingly, the Sportage’s stiffest competition comes from another vehicle within the Hyundai Motor Group. The 2022 Hyundai Tucson is fully redesigned and looks better, drives better, and is better—at roughly the same price point as the Sportage.

Finally, shoppers considering a 2021 Sportage should remember that Kia is set to redesign the vehicle for 2023. And the upcoming 2023 Sportage will certainly bring plenty of improvements at only a slightly higher price tag.

Updated by Matt Smith

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