2012 Kia Sportage

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$18,500

starting MSRP

2012 Kia Sportage
2012 Kia Sportage

Key specs

Base trim shown

Overview

The good:

  • Modern design
  • Standard USB port and Bluetooth
  • Available panoramic moonroof

The bad:

  • Short side windows reduce visibility
  • Large rear doors might be difficult to open in tight spaces

4 trims

Starting msrp listed lowest to highest price

Wondering which trim is right for you?

Our 2012 Kia Sportage trim comparison will help you decide.

Notable features

  • Available turbo four-cylinder
  • Six-speed manual or automatic
  • Available Uvo connectivity system
  • FWD or AWD

2012 Kia Sportage review: Our expert's take

By David Thomas

The verdict:

Versus the competiton:

Editor’s note: This review was written in October 2010 about the 2011 Kia Sportage. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2012, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.

It’s not often that a compact SUV can turn heads, but the new Kia Sportage does. And while the exterior design may be eye-catching, the interior could be considered class-leading, putting Honda and Toyota on notice that even a Kia can compete with their best-sellers.

There’s so much Kia gets right with the 2011 Sportage that it’s almost too easy to overlook its few glaring shortcomings.

Looks
You wouldn’t call the Sportage stunning, as that term is reserved for sports cars and exotics. But while the Sportage isn’t stunning, it is visually dynamic and it turned heads everywhere I drove. The last car I saw turn as many heads for around $30,000 was one of the first Dodge Challengers to land in Chicago. And it was bright orange, not plain-Jane silver, like the Sportage I drove.

The aggressive front end kicks things off, but it’s the slick rear — with angled taillights that pay homage to the latest Audis — that marks the Sportage as an aesthetic winner. The 18-inch wheels that come standard on the top, EX trim level I tested were a bit more polarizing; some editors thought they were too much, while others (myself included) thought they were a must.

There’s no doubt in today’s crowded car market that looks sell cars … or leave them to languish, depending on how radical the look. The Sportage plays the cool-versus-radical game quite well.

Interior
No one was conflicted about the Sportage’s interior. Surrounding its passengers in black fabric, leather and plastic, this SUV has an air of sportiness in its palette. Overall, the design is pretty remarkable for a compact SUV that starts under $20,000. The dash has a winged effect, the gauges are sharp and sporty, and even the vents have hefty, chrome-accented levers.

If the design itself weren’t a high point, the materials would be. In its price range, the Sportage equals or beats every rival. The Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester are available at a similar cost, but their interiors are inferior. The Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V are bigger and cost more, and their interiors don’t offer the level of quality and aesthetics that the Sportage’s does.

All this hard work would be worthless if the Sportage weren’t comfortable to sit in and drive, and it is. There was ample room in the backseat for all passengers, and when I sat behind the driver’s seat (adjusted for my size, 5-foot-10), I had inches of knee room. This interior roominess is remarkable for a vehicle that’s shorter than its competition, including the Rogue and Forester. The Sportage has 100 cubic feet of interior volume, which is more than the Rogue and Chevy Equinox, despite their larger frames.

Some of the taller Cars.com editors found the interior roomy enough for them in both rows as well, despite the fact that our tester’s optional panoramic sunroof cut into headroom. I also took my 2-year-old son for a few errands in the Sportage, and his child-safety seat fit fine, with his feet barely touching the front passenger seat when it was adjusted for a real-life person. I, of course, move it up when it’s empty to avoid getting scuff marks on it.

Kia’s seats are firmer than average, though, so long road trips won’t be quite as comfortable. Still, during my hour-plus commutes, I never experienced any overt discomfort.

Performance
All this remarkable work inside and out is hurt by the Sportage’s overall driving experience. While the steering is precise — and the steering wheel is quite heavy — the 176-horsepower four-cylinder engine is not a smooth customer, and the Sportage’s ride is extremely stiff. I can put up with a gutless engine, and I think many compact-SUV buyers can too. But a super-stiff ride? That may be a deal-breaker.

Similar to the harsh ride we noticed when testing the Hyundai Tucson, a sister vehicle to the Sportage, our EX tester was remarkably rough on all road surfaces. I’d like to drive a Sportage with the 16-inch wheels — which are standard on lesser trims — to see if they make it any better, but I don’t think all the harsh jolts sent through the chassis would be negated by smaller wheels. It’s likely our test car’s all-wheel-drive system made the Sportage heavier and slower, and perhaps affected the ride a bit, too, versus a front-wheel-drive version with smaller wheels. Again, we’ll weigh in on other models when they become available to test. Potential buyers, though, should spend their test drive paying close attention to ride comfort. The power itself is on par with the competition, but the six-speed automatic offers coarse shifts. When you hammer down the gas pedal to get up to highway speeds, the engine bogs down and takes quite some time to get you comfortably merged into traffic.

Gas mileage is quite good, with front-wheel-drive models coming in at 22/31 mpg city/highway with the automatic transmission and 21/29 mpg with the manual. Automatic all-wheel-drive versions are rated 21/28 mpg. Few competitors match this mileage, besides the Chevy Equinox (22/32 mpg, front-wheel drive). The base trim level is only available with a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive.

The engine is also quite loud, with noise intruding into the cabin more than you’d expect in a modern car of any stripe. Wind noise is minimal, presumably thanks to the aerodynamic shape of the little crossover. Road noise is a tad loud with the large, 18-inch wheels and tires, but it’s not unforgivable.

Features & Pricing
Have you ever seen a car commercial that says “Starting at $18,295*,” yet in small print that asterisk reads, “As shown, $29,990”? Well, those are the starting and as-tested prices of our 2011 Kia Sportage. The base front-wheel-drive model starts at $18,295 before the destination fee, and our all-wheel-drive EX test car was $29,990, including a Premium Package with leather seats ($3,000), navigation system ($1,500) and destination charges ($695).

That’s not a small disparity, but there’s plenty of comfort room in between for shoppers to find a lot of value.

At the base price, you get the same style and engine as the other trims, with 16-inch alloy wheels. You also get a stereo with USB input, Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls and a trip computer.

The LX is the middle trim, starting at $20,295 for front-wheel drive and $21,795 for all-wheel drive. The LX adds the automatic transmission, privacy glass and keyless entry as standard equipment, but that’s about it. A number of option packages are also available, however.

The EX starts at $23,295 for front-wheel drive and $24,795 for all-wheel drive. The EX adds the 18-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, a spoiler, roof rails, dual-zone climate control, a telescoping steering wheel and a cooled glove box.

In terms of equipment and pricing before options, all three trims compete exceptionally well against the competition. Other than the Hyundai Tucson, no competing SUVs start below $20,000.

Cargo
Where you lose out by picking the Sportage is in cargo room. At 26.1 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 54.6 cubic feet with them down, it falls short of the competition — even the relatively minuscule capacities of the Nissan Rogue, at 28.9 and 57.9 cubic feet, respectively.

During my week testing the Sportage, though, I didn’t feel like the cargo space was unusable. In fact, the narrow cargo bay of the larger Equinox isn’t overly cargo-friendly despite its larger overall measurements.

Safety
The 2011 Sportage features six standard airbags, including front-seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags for both rows. Electronic stability control is also standard. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has named the Sportage a Top Safety Pick based on its tests of the Hyundai Tucson, which is structurally similar to the Sportage. That means it earns top marks in front, side and rear crash tests, as well as IIHS’ new roof-strength crush test.

Sportage in the Market
The compact crossover segment is a heated one, with the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V ruling the roost in terms of sales. With its low starting price, array of standard features, high-quality interior and head-turning looks, though, I expect the Sportage to do quite well in that field, despite its poor ride comfort and sluggish engine.

Send David an email  

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.5
  • Interior design 4.5
  • Performance 4.4
  • Value for the money 4.5
  • Exterior styling 4.8
  • Reliability 4.4

Most recent consumer reviews

5.0

9 years old And going strong. Looking brand new

Better than my last car I. Reliability because of the quick response from Kia to replace what they could free of charge. Letting me know about any recalls.

4.9

10yrs old.. NEVER been in repair shop.. GREAT 🚗

My 2012 Signal Red Sportage has pretty much everything you could want. Navagation, Bluetooth, air-conditioned/heated seats, rear camera, push button start, hands free phone, awesome stero, leather interior, panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, car alarm, etc. She has lived in garage, and to date 4/20/21 has 46k actual miles... My one trip was from Ks to Grand Canyon. The only thing that is not factory is windshild wipers and a set of tires (because) I drove over some nails on construction site... FABULOUS CAR

1.9

terrible car

It has had several recalls and had total engine fail and replace. Now there is another recall about oil leaks, which there is. Interior is falling apart. Wish we never bought this car new. We've paid the price over and over.`

See all 85 consumer reviews

Warranty

New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by Kia
New car program benefits
Bumper-to-bumper
60 months/60,000 miles
Corrosion
60 months/100,000 miles
Powertrain
120 months/100,000 miles
Roadside assistance
60 months/60,000 miles
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
Maximum age/mileage
5 years or newer/less than 60,000 miles
Basic warranty terms
12 months/12,000 miles
Powertrain
10 years/100,000 miles
Dealer certification required
165-point inspection
Roadside assistance
Yes
View all cpo program details

Have questions about warranties or CPO programs?

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See all 2012 Kia Sportage articles