The 2021 Kia Sportage picks up right where last year's mid-cycle refresh left off, with some modest improvements to design and technological updates that make driving easier and safer. An often overlooked vehicle in the increasingly crowded compact crossover segment, the Sportage provides comfort and value on a budget, but doesn’t quite match the style, fuel economy or cargo space of its competitors, many of which have been recently revamped as all-new models.
Still, with the features available for the price, it’s worth a test drive if you’re looking at vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4. You just might find the Sportage to be the right fit for you and your budget, and with its roomy backseat — at the expense of cargo volume — it might be the right fit, literally, for you and your passengers.
Finally, if you like the packaging of the Sportage, but are looking to save some money up front, as well as at the pump, it might be worth taking a look at the similarly sized Kia Seltos. You’d be giving up some power and nicer interior materials, but would be getting a more efficient and arguably more stylish Kia for about $2,000 less.
What's new for 2021?
The 2021 Kia Sportage builds upon the previous model year’s mid-cycle refresh with an update to S trim level offerings. The new Nightfall Edition and Nightfall Edition Premium appearance packages replace the S Sunroof and Premium Package, respectively. Nightfall gets unique 18-inch wheels with blacked-out center caps, and adds piano black trim on the front bumper, side sills, front and rear skid plates, and fog lights. It also gets unique Sportage badging on the liftgate.
The LX, EX and SX Turbo trims remain unchanged.
What's the Sportage interior and in-car technology like?
The Sportage's interior styling is straightforward and functional. There’s not much to visually break up the square footage of plastic, but the materials don’t scream “cheap.” In fact, its superior materials quality to the Seltos is one area that justifies the Sportage's higher price. The leather seating in the SX Turbo trim looks and feels quite nice, especially when you consider those front seats are heated and, optionally, ventilated. The seating position is upright for a good view of the road, and the center stack tilts slightly toward the left to give a sense of ergonomic care to the driver.
The standard 8-inch touchscreen is easy to use, and many functions receive their own hard buttons below it, so you don’t need to dive through menus when you want to adjust the temperature or change the song. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and there’s an optional wireless charging pad for your phone, too. In the SX, you can opt for an upgraded Harman Kardon 320-watt, eight-speaker sound system over the standard six-speaker, 160-watt system. Unfortunately, the Sportage cannot be equipped with the larger widescreen display that's available on the Seltos – one of the disadvantages the Sportage has for getting on in years without a full redesign.
How big is it?
The Sportage feels roomy in both the front and rear seats, and average-sized adults will be comfortable riding in the second row. Looking at the numbers, the Sportage is shorter in length than the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. As such, it drives smaller, and is easier to maneuver in a parking lot or tight city streets. Despite this difference, back seat room is awfully close to those bigger competitors, and actually surpasses some in certain dimensions. The doors are big too. Together, the Sportage made installing a bulky, front-facing convertible car seat an easy task.
This generous passenger space comes at the expense of the cargo area, however. It offers 30.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. That’s basically identical to the Mazda CX-5 and makes it one of the smaller vehicles in the segment. Two of the biggest, the CR-V and RAV4, have 39.2 and 37.5 cubic-feet, respectively. This equates to a medium-sized suitcase being left behind.
One of the things we like, however, is the dual-height cargo floor. Its raised position allows for a flatter floor when the seatbacks are folded, while its lower position allows for maximum space. The Kia Seltos has a similar feature and benefits from a boxy shape, but ultimately has about 4 fewer cubic-feet than the Sportage.
What's the performance and fuel economy?
All but the top SX Turbo trim feature a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. That power is delivered to the wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. With the standard front-wheel drive, the Sportage LX, S and EX are rated at . With all-wheel drive, it sees an EPA rating of 21/25/23 mpg. If fuel economy is important to you, most competitors in the segment, and even the Kia Seltos, offer more miles per gallon.
The line-topping SX Turbo trim puts the “Sport” in “Sportage" with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four mated to the same six-speed auto. Equipped with standard front-wheel drive, it provides 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. That latter figure arrives early at 1,450 rpm and hangs on util 3,000 rpm before it begins to decline. The all-wheel-drive version offers 237 hp and the same 260 lb-ft. The tradeoff comes in fuel economy. The SX with front-wheel drive gets 20/28/23 mpg, or 19/24/21 mpg with all-wheel drive.
What's it like to drive?
The Sportage is on the playful side of the segment, with driving and handling characteristics that are sport-ish. With responsive steering, a transmission that stays out of the way and a suspension that doesn’t complain through corners, it doesn’t get out of sorts if you get a little enthusiastic during your daily errands. A trio of drive modes (Sport, Normal and Eco) change the character a little bit, but not a ton, with the push of a button. But mostly, the Sportage is a comfortable, quiet, maneuverable commuter that's roomy enough for regularly putting passengers in the back seat.
In the Sportage, we’re personally more familiar with the turbocharged engine in the SX Turbo trim. That plucky powertrain makes its feel eager to move, easy to merge onto a highway or dice through city traffic. We’ve sampled the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine in other Hyundai/Kia vehicles, and found it ample, if less inspiring, in the likes of the Hyundai Kona or Kia Soul, and we suspect it couldn’t dampen the spirit of the Sportage too much. We’ll update this guide when we get a chance to try a Sportage equipped as such.
What more can I read about the Kia Sportage?
A summary of the changes for the 2020 mid-cycle refresh of the Sportage, which carry over into this 2021 model.
A pre-refresh first drive of this generation of the Sportage. We found it to be a competent, well-rounded compact crossover offering competitive features at a value.
What features are available and what's the price?
The base Sportage LX with front-wheel drive starts at $25,110 including the $1,120 destination fee. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, acoustic laminated windshield, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, 3.5-inch LCD TFT display, rear center armrest with cupholders, three 12-volt outlets, cloth seats, eight-inch touchscreen infotainment with Bluetooth, voice recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a six-speaker sound system, remote keyless entry, drive mode select, rear backup camera, cruise control, high beam assist and a number of active safety features (see Safety section, below).
All wheel drive is an extra $1,500 on the LX, EX and SX Turbo trims, and an extra $1,700 on the S.
To see what extra features come on the S, EX and SX Turbo trim levels, check out this breakdown of features, local pricing and specs here on Autoblog.
Sportage LX FWD: $25,110
Sportage LX AWD: $26,610
Sportage S FWD: $27,610
Sportage S AWD: $29,310
Sportage EX FWD: $28,410
Sportage EX AWD: $29,910
Sportage SX Turbo FWD: $34,770
Sportage SX Turbo AWD: $36,270
What's its safety equipment and crash ratings?
In addition to the usual seatbelts, airbags and stability control systems, the Kia Sportage standard safety equipment includes forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver inattention warning, lane-keeping assist and lane departure warning. Options include blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, and front and rear parking assist sensors. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality is also optional.
The 2021 Kia Sportage earns a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), with a four-star frontal crash rating, five-star side crash rating and four-star rollover rating. The 2020 Kia Sportage received the best-possible rating of "Good" in all crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also got top marks for its forward emergency braking system. It got "Acceptable" and "Poor" headlight scores (depending on trim level).
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