The previous-generation Kia Sportage did its best to live up to the “sport” in its name. But with this came a stiff suspension and excessive road noise, with a rakish roofline that compromised cargo space and made blind-spot views a guessing game.

The 2017 Kia Sportage attempts to address those issues, while giving the small SUV a reverse-mullet haircut in the process: Instead of “business in the front, party in the back,” the new Sportage has a cartoonish, bug-eyed face, juxtapositioned against a clean and stately tail.

The fourth-generation Sportage is slightly larger, with a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase and an extra 1.6 inches of overall length. This gives marginal increases in passenger space (most notably more than a half-inch of extra rear head room), but the last Sportage was already mid-pack here. More importantly, the larger body equates to more useful cargo volume, an area where the old Sportage ranked toward the bottom of the class.  

2017 Kia Sportage front

Importantly, the new Sportage now earns the highest score of “Good” in the IIHS small-overlap front crash test, whereas the outgoing model rated a Poor, the lowest score.

Although the Sportage shares its platform with the highly-rated Hyundai Tucson, the two don’t have matching engines. The Sportage LX and EX get motivation from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 181 horsepower, while the SX Turbo has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 240 hp, for those who require more oomph. (By contrast, the Tucson has a choice of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic or a 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. We weren’t jazzed by either Hyundai drivetrain.) Both Sportage engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and all trims are available with front- or all-wheel drive.

The base 2.4 is a nice drivetrain, with ample power. Fortunately, the engine is smooth no matter how hard it is working, even at high rpms. The automatic transmission operates serenely, whether at mild or full-throttle, showing good response to inputs. So far, we’ve been getting around 26 mpg according to the trip computer.

Handling is mildly sporty, with well-controlled body roll and reasonably quick turn-in response. The ride soaks up bumps better than the old model, but it is still less cushioned than rivals such as the Hyundai Tucson or Toyota RAV4.  

2017 Kia Sportage interior

We haven’t been too happy with the front seats. They are unyieldingly firm, and tend to lose their support on long trips. However, generous side bolsters keep your body in place through sharp corners. The rear seat is roomy and the seatbacks recline via a well-placed lever next to the bottom cushion.

Interior quality is decent. There’s soft-touch material on the dash and window sills, and bits of matte-silver plastic trim add color to what is otherwise a basic-looking design. Center stack controls are large and easy to decipher quickly, and we appreciate the knobs for radio volume and tuning. The base LX’s 5-inch infotainment touch screen is small by today’s standards – EX models get a 7-inch (optional on LX), SX Turbos an 8-inch.

Access to the front seats is easy, with a natural step-in height, and plenty of head room. Large, wide-opening rear doors ease the process to the second row, but the sloping roof means you still need to duck to keep from conking your head. Once in, head room is quite good, and foot room is plentiful.

Long rear doors address some of the rear three-quarter view, which is limited due to the lack of a third side window, a design cue that has become a Sportage trademark.

Sportage pricing begins at $23,885 for a front-wheel-drive LX, and it goes up to $34,895 for a fully-loaded SX Turbo AWD. We bought an LX AWD and opted for the $1,100 Popular package, which includes a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, upgraded cloth, heated mirrors, and roof rails. The total price came to $26,720.

A rearview camera comes standard on all Sportage models, but if you want forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, you’ll need to step up to the EX, and order the $2,800 Technology package (with key safety items AEB w/pedestrian protection, FCW, lane-departure warning, front/rear parking sensors, along with various other electronic goodies). Even then, you’ll first need to order the $1,900 Premium package, which brings blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, in terms of safety systems. The SX Turbo comes standard with all of this.

So far, we like what we’re seeing in the new Sportage. The improved ride, better visibility, plus straightforward controls and refined powertrain, should make the Sportage an easy vehicle to live with. Check back to see how it ranks in the small SUV category as we complete our testing.  

2017 Kia Sportage rear