Driver's Seat: Properly equipped Kia Sportage not bad

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2013 Kia Sportage EX AWD

: nimble and fun -- when properly equipped.

Price: $30,800. The EX base price starts at $25,700, but gets pushed up by a navigation system for $1,200, and an EX Premium package for $3,100 that adds leather seat trim, heated front seats, push-button start and a panoramic sunroof.

Marketer's pitch: "Designed for the next level."

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports likes the "nimble handling" and "civilized powertrain."

Reality: Not a bad crossover, but the base 2.4-liter four I tested was a little rough, in my estimation.

You're welcome, Pittsburgh: I'm following last week's review of the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with this other Korean crossover. I mentioned how the reviews were perfectly timed for the chance of April snow showers, and suddenly it's been in the 60s and sunny.

What's the difference? My experience in the 2013 Kia Sportage has taught me just how big an impact engine choices and suspension tweaks can have. Long ago in a newspaper far, far away (Philadelphia), I tested a 2011 Sportage SX front-wheel drive with a 2.0-liter turbo that I called one of my favorite crossovers at the time. But when I drove this 2.4-liter base four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive version, I thought maybe two-years-ago Mr. Driver's Seat had been too easily impressed.

Then I tried the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and found the 2.0-liter turbo to be better in the performance category. Still, the Sportage with the 2.0 seems to be the best of all worlds.

Under the hood: The aforementioned 2.4 four-cylinder is not exactly sluggish, but it's not as fast a burner as the smaller turbo.

Downshift: The six-speed automatic really aims to sap the power with some of the gear choices. It often felt jerky and balky as well. The shifter has a + and -- setting, but that's not for driving excitement, simply for adjusting gears on hills and whatnot.

Tough cruising: The cruise control on this vehicle was really difficult to adjust. Setting it was fine, but adjusting speeds -- and especially raising it -- required several tries before it finally caught. And the lever itself seemed loose.

Inside: The sunroof comes as part of a $3,100 package -- I've purchased entire cars that cost less than that -- but it sure is a nice panoramic sunroof. The package also offers some pretty nice leather seats to cradle your behind. And I've often complained about how some Kia's driver's seats are misaligned with the steering wheel -- I'm looking at you, Sorento -- but the Sportage is thoughtfully positioned.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat is adequate, like most crossovers. Storage behind the rear seat is not terribly ample because the floor sits high. But the armrest holds several CDs.

Looking backward: Whatever it costs, buy the rear camera. This cute, swooptastic design with the tiny rear window makes seeing while backing up almost impossible. You'll even wish it had a passing camera thanks to the giant rear pillars on either side.

Keeping warm: The heater controls are fairly easy to operate -- two knobs, one for each side. The fan setting is on a button, though, and that makes it hard to adjust by feel.

Glaring problem: Like its cousin the Santa Fe, the LCD interface is angled and can catch glare. And Kia makes it very hard to figure out what time it is. The clock moves positions depending on whether you're looking at the satellite menu or the map -- and in the map, it's extremely hard to find.

Dirty deeds: The rear hatch opener sits down by the bumper, so your hands will get a covering of dirt and road salt from this vehicle. Be sure to spring for the remote unlocking door.

Fuel economy: 23 mpg as tested, which is not great. (The front-wheel-drive turbo hit 27 mpg; the Santa Fe Sport all-wheel-drive turbo 25.)

Where it's built: South Korea.

How it's built: Consumer Reports gives the Kia Sportage a "recommended" rating in reliability scores.

In the end: Given the choice between these two offerings, I'd lean toward the Kia Sportage, especially with the turbocharged engine. But I've found the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 to be more pleasing examples of crossovers.

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Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at


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