For the ride to Las Vegas and NHRA’s penultimate race of the season, a 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD showed up dressed in Pacific blue with a beige leather interior, looking ready to rock and roll. A favorite in its earlier incarnations, the Sportage hasn’t lost appeal, even in this competitive compact crossover category.
Always good looking (at least in my opinion), it’s gotten a bit larger over time and has adopted Kia’s new front fascia, with a grille that pretty much resembles a fat dog bone. Its well-aimed projection lights add to the muscular visage up front, while side curvature and brightwork lead the eye rearward to the large opening hatch.
This Kia is ready to rumble with the SX model’s directly-injected 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that really gets the job done, producing 237 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 1,450; redline comes at 6,500 rpm. A six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifting adds to the performance aspect of this crossover, as do the wholly competent MacPherson strut/multilink suspensions.
Exceptionally direct steering is motor power assisted rack and pinion by design; all-wheel disc brakes stop the Sportage’s 3,765-pound mass easily. Kumho 245/45R tires are mounted on 19-inch five-spoke polished and gray rims. The all-wheel-drive aspect certainly wasn’t needed for this trip, which accounted for zero off-road miles. There wasn’t even poor weather to test the AWD function.
Inside the cabin is where this crossover shines. Kia has moved the Sportage SX very upmarket, with a long list of standard and optional features. With perforated, leather seating and power adjustments for the driver, this top-of-the-line Sportage is a comfy ride for the long trip. There are both heated and cooled front seats. Pushbutton start/stop and proximity entry are standard.
All controls are easy to access. There’s dual-zone climate controls, a mega Harman-Kardon premium audio system with SiriusXM satellite radio, together with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. The heated steering wheel has phone and audio controls on the left with trip info and cruise control to the right. This is not a radar-controlled cruise system so the driver decides the following distance. You do have to restart cruise control for each trip.
The 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD is exceptionally well built and appears to use only the finest materials, All doors open and close with solidity and seams are uniform throughout the crossover. Controls feel integrated and there’s not a flimsy piece on this vehicle, which feels like new, even with more than 8,000 hard media miles on it.
Kia’s UVO infotainment system is excellent, with a well-executed navigation setup that’s easy to use. The controls allow easy sync for the cell phone and easy integration of each app available on the phone (and in the car). At the base of the center stack lie two 12-volt plug-ins, both USB and auxiliary plugs and a grippy floor so the phone can rest easily without undue movement.
Kia fits all the driver aids one could want – or not. Blind-spot monitoring isn’t as overwhelming as it’s been on other brands, while lane departure warning system was quickly disabled by this driver. There are front and rear parking assists and autonomous emergency braking. Kia fits a hands-free power lift gate that came in handy with all the extras needed for a weekend on the road.
Strangely, Kia uses HID rather than LED headlights for the Sportage, but they do include dynamic bending light and high beam assist, along with LED fog and tail lamps. We liked the power folding heated mirrors with LED turn signals inset and loved the one-touch panoramic sunroof with its power shade – easy to see if there were eyes in the sky on I-15.
List price for this 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD is $35,390 including freight, and Kia charges extra for cargo rubber mat, cargo net, cargo cover, cargo tray, carpeted floor mats and cross bars, bringing the total to $36,125.
One would think this machine would have exceptional cargo space but it really doesn’t, with 30.7 cubic feet when all seats are in use and 60.1 cubes when they’re folded. It was easy to fill the rear and necessary, as there really wasn’t a lot of space in the cabin to stash a computer backpack.
A bugaboo is mileage: this machine is rated at 20/23/21 mpg from its 16.4-gallon tank, using regular fuel. The first tank-load was fine, at 26.2 mpg, but around town mileage fell to 21.5 mpg. After putting nearly 700 miles on the 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD, we returned it noting 25.2 mpg on the final tank. Really hoped for more after keeping the Sportage in Eco most of the time, rather than normal or sport drive modes.
Another “feature” that didn’t work for this driver is the lowering of audio volume when the Sportage is in reverse and a great deal of glare in reverse at night. There were no seat memories for the driver, which was surprising.
While the upscale interior is a great improvement for this crossover, together with the long list of standard features and that willing turbocharged engine, the poor fuel economy, limited cargo space did tend to balance the obvious fine features.
If the 2018 Kia Sportage SX AWD’s visuals appeal to you – as they do to me – perhaps you might take a look at this machine. It’s always fun to drive, if you don’t mind being good friends with your nearby fuel station.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit