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2007 Kia Sportage

The Ultimate Plebianmobile

   Sometimes you just have to get out of the office for a few days and take a trip, change the scenery, and breathe some fresh air. But as an auto scribe you could hardly say I leave my work behind me. Oh I was on leave, but not on vacation. The good folks from Kia had a Sportage 4×4 ready and waiting for my critique as soon as my plane hit the tarmac at the Atlanta, Georgia airport.
     Well, not quite. The valet had a bit of a shuffle at first, but after teasing me with a black-on-black Honda S2000, they found my missing steel silver Kia Sportage.
     The Sportage is a tidy little Ute. The small footprint ensures that jutting around town is a low effort ordeal, and the understated styling ensures that you will not stand out in places where you choose not too. The ultimate plebianmobile.
     The interior appointments are standard fare for the class. The radio faceplate is an off-the-shelf item. The aluminum-like center stack neatly integrates the typical 3 dial HVAC controls. The instrument panel itself is soft touch, something that many of the domestics fail to match yet. As this Sportage had the optional Sport Package, the steering wheel and shift knob were both leather wrapped, the radio was an AM/FM/Cass/CD/MP3 unit, the gauge faces were unique and the dash handle was aluminum trimmed. On top of that, the cabin is roomy. Well, for one person at least, as 95% of my drive time I was the sole occupant.
     My trip led me away from the Atlanta area to the town of Savannah where I would be meeting family. This left me with roughly 270 miles one way to contemplate and ponder the road manners of the Sportage. I found the little Kia to be amazingly quiet. Literally all you hear is mild tire and wind noise. You have to really wail on the throttle in order to get the engine’s moan to escape the sound deadening material. And I mean moan because the mill under that hood doesn’t like it when you prod it. Getting up to highway speeds was not an easy affair. The 2.7-liter V6 under the hood only cranks out 173 hp, and with no low-end torque to speak of motivating this little guy took careful planning.
     Roaming the streets of downtown Savannah, however, the Sportage was in its element. As I said before, the small vehicle footprint is good for getting around town, as I quickly found out. Savannah is one of the oldest remaining historical districts in the U.S. As such, the architectural layout of the road system is more accommodating of bicycles and pedestrians. Most of the roads are narrow and one-way. In fact, I think most Detroit alleyways are wider. But I managed my way around and even had a few chances to brush up on my parallel parking maneuvers.
     The Sportage was outfitted perfectly for Savannah. Well, except for the all-wheel drive. There is no reason why anyone in that town needs all-wheel drive. It never snows. It barely gets cold enough to justify more than a light jacket. I nearly careened into the median I was laughing so hard when I passed the first sign that said, “Caution: Bridge will Freeze First in Winter.” Winter to them just means the bugs go away for a couple of months! All jokes aside, however, the Sportage does fit in. The compact size means getting around is easy and the extra space of the SUV/wagon architecture means plenty of room for miscellaneous supplies, as well as a few groceries.
     After 700-plus miles round trip, I just had one thing bugging me. No, not the price tag. At $22,775 the top-of-the-line Sportage LX hit my calibrated vehicle value meter as just right. What bugged me was the fuel mileage. After 700-plus miles of mostly highway driving I barely managed to squeak out a 20.8 miles per gallon average. This is nothing wrong with the number considering the EPA says drivers can expect 19 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, but surely a small SUV with a small V6 and only 3,500-pounds to motivate can do better. Heck, GM’s new 275-hp crossovers push 5,000-pounds and are still rated up to 26 mpg. A more efficient engine and one or two more gears in the 4-speed automatic would go a long way toward improving those numbers. Shaving a couple hundred pounds off the curb weight would help too.
     To Kia I say fix the transmission, the engine, the vague steering, the wishy washy handling and put this thing on a diet and you’ve got yourself a winner (some styling tweaks wouldn’t hurt either). But if you are looking for a small, comfortable and easy to maneuver sport-utility, then the Kia Sportage is a hands down solid bang for you buck vehicle. Just don’t expect terrific fuel mileage or an exciting drive.

The Good:
Tidy in size and maneuverability, clean, comfortable cabin and an easy ride
The Bad:
Poor fuel mileage, lazy engine and tranny, uncommunicative steering and chassis, semi-boring styling.
The Verdict:
You get exactly what you pay for.
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