The 2011 Sportage would score a nine out of 10 among compact sport utility vehicles if the name on its tailgate had a more solid reputation than Kia's.
Kia is a relatively young brand in America, and its performance in owner surveys such as those of Consumer Reports magazine and the market research firm J.D. Power and Associates still is spotty. In the past two of Power's major surveys, which measure not only short- and long-term vehicle quality but also the ability of dealers to keep customers happy, the brand scores well below average.
Note, however, that neither of those rating services has owner feedback yet on the new Sportage; and that the Sportage beat out the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Nissan Juke in Consumer Reports testing (detailed in the March issue.)
Feel lucky? Consider a Sportage. A corporate twin of the Hyundai Tucson, the Sportage is a practical and attractive family vehicle that can be had well-equipped with four-wheel drive in the mid-$20,000s. Prices begin at $18,990 with freight.
The Sportage's ride often is choppy and can be downright punishing on bad pavement - not uncommon in small SUVs. The steering, though, is nicely weighted and communicative and the cornering is flat for an SUV. But the brakes take a bit more pedal pressure than some drivers will like.
The tester's interior ergonomics were mostly top flight, with controls well-positioned and self-explanatory and gauges clearly readable day or night.
The Sportage's four-cylinder engine is delightfully peppy. It runs pretty smoothly, too, but it will never win an award for quietness. Nor will the Sportage's cabin, where at highway speeds an unpleasant amount of wind, engine and tire noise manages to get past the sound insulation to the ears of driver and passengers.
I averaged in the low 20s during my six days with the Sportage tester - near the lower end of the range estimated by the EPA: 21 miles per gallon city and 28 highway.
The 2011 Sportage hasn't been rated yet for safety by the federal government, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates it a "top safety" pick.
It will tow up to 2,000 pounds, its manufacturer says.
Like Hyundais, Kias are covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles for powertrain problems, and for five years or 60,000 miles bumper to bumper. Good looks and all the right moves, but a brand that's still iffy.