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2017 Kia Sportage: First Look

img 133752397 1447794154852 jpg 2017 Kia Sportage; | Manufacturer image

Competes with: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4

Looks like: The previous-gen Sportage went to the cosmetic surgeon and said, “I wanna look like this,” pointing to a photo of the Nissan Juke’s mug.

Drivetrain: A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder carries over on the SX Turbo trim, while a 2.4-liter four-cylinder returns on the LX and EX trims; six-speed automatic transmission; front- or all-wheel drive.

Hits dealerships: 2016

More 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show Coverage

The Kia Sportage has always managed a stylish, attractive appearance inside and out, and despite some noted flaws in the driving experience, has remained a reasonable choice for a solo driver not hauling a family. With the redesigned-for-2017 Sportage, debuting today at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, Kia looks to be going for wider appeal in the white-hot compact SUV market.

The five-seat Sportage has been overhauled with a sporty-looking new design worthy of its sporty name, along with upgraded interior materials, and beefed-up safety systems and tech features. That’s in addition to a rigid new structure making liberal use of high-strength steel and, Kia hopes, addressing the lackluster safety rating of the SUV’s predecessor.

Exterior

The Sportage wears a new Juke-like face with similarly bulbous, froggy-eyed headlights that protrude just above the edges of the hood. Kia’s signature grille now is shaped more like a bow tie than the outgoing vehicle’s more handlebar-mustache-shaped grille. Shapely curves and creases sweep across the hood and door panels in contrast to the previous version’s flatter, more linear surfaces. The sloping roofline and lengthened spoiler create a more swept-back and aggressive stance.

But the new Sportage isn’t just sleeker; it’s also bigger. While the vehicle’s width remains the same, its wheelbase is stretched 1.2 inches to 105.1 inches, and the length has increased 1.6 inches to 176.4.

Interior

Room inside is also up. Headroom has grown by 0.2 inches to 39.3 inches in front and 0.6 inches to 39.1 inches in the rear, and rear legroom by 0.3 inches to 38.2 inches. In addition to the more spacious cabin, cargo space has increased by 4.6 cubic feet for a total of 30.7 behind the second row; meanwhile, a lowered license plate has enabled a more accommodating lift-over height, and a new optional power liftgate automatically opens when the key fob comes within 3 feet of the vehicle.

The Sportage offers black, two-tone gray or black-and-beige color schemes in a cabin adorned with metal elements and soft-touch materials. The EX and SX Turbo add leather seats, while the latter also has a D-shaped, heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, piano black trim on the center console, aluminum alloy pedals and decorative dashboard stitching. Heated front seats, a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and an eight-way front passenger seat are optional.

Kia has also addressed some shortcomings of the previous version’s interior. Visibility is improved thanks to side mirrors mounted lower on the doors and thinner A- and C-pillars, as well as a larger rear glass hatch. Kia says cabin noise, vibration and harshness have been reduced thanks to suspension improvements, additional sound-absorbent materials, thicker front glass and a lip seal for the sunroof.

The LX comes standard with a 5.0-inch touch-screen with Bluetooth connectivity. The EX includes a 7-inch capacitive touch-screen and the latest version of Kia’s UVO3 infotainment system, which debuts on the new Sportage and offers Android Auto, late-availability Apple CarPlay and 8 gigabytes of music storage. The SX Turbo gets an 8-inch touch-screen with navigation.

Under the hood

Powertrains carry over for 2017. The SX Turbo model uses the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which makes 241 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque. The LX and EX trims again get a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that’s good for 181 hp and 175 pounds-feet of torque. All trims are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and are available with front- or all-wheel drive.

Horsepower is down 1 hp and 19 hp for the 2.4-liter and 2.0-liter, respectively, but Kia says it has retuned the engines for maximum performance and fuel economy. The outgoing Sportage in recent years has lost ground to competitors in fuel economy, and despite zippy acceleration at low speeds, our reviewers dinged the previous version for its performance at highway speeds. In addition to projecting greater fuel economy and passing power, Kia says the new drivetrain and retuned suspension system work together to improve ride quality, stability, response to changes in road surface and handling precision.

Safety

Available safety features include autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlights. Also, Kia says the new version uses nearly three times the amount of high-strength steel in its architecture, which should help with crash tests. The SUV failed to earn a Top Safety Pick rating in 2015 from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety after receiving a poor rating in the small overlap front test; that’s despite ratings of good in the institute’s other four crashworthiness evaluations.

The 2017 Sportage is slated to go on sale sometime in 2016; pricing will be announced closer to launch.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

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