Car-focused movies, such as the "Fast and Furious" series, show high-speed chases where the hero hits a nitrous button, causing his car to rear up, the front axle leaving the ground. The 2013 Kia Sportage SX felt a bit like that when I mashed the gas pedal. And it was a front-wheel-drive crossover.
The SX version of the Sportage gets near-uncontrollable power from a turbocharger.
The Sportage, Kia's answer to the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, checks in as a plump-looking crossover. Cargo area with the rear seat up measures 26.1 cubic feet, enough for a good stock of groceries or luggage for two on an extended road trip. The rear seats don't fold quite flat, but doing so still more than doubles the cargo area.
Kia offers the Sportage in base, LX, EX, and SX trims, with all but the latter powered by a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine. Each trim can be had with front-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive is optional on the LX, EX, and SX.
A turbocharged direct injection 2-liter engine sets the SX apart in the line-up. This motor sits dwarfed by the engine compartment, which looks big enough for a V-8. Yet that little engine also generates 260 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque.
The SX boasts 84 more horsepower than the other Sportage trims.
Highlighting how well its efficiency technologies work, the SX also rates at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway in EPA testing. Compare that to the other trims' 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. Adding all-wheel-drive knocks fuel economy down by about 3 mpg.
Over the course of my review, I came in with 21.9 mpg. In city driving, tackling hills, frequent stoplights, and traffic, I saw the average fuel economy fall to the high teens.
When I reviewed a Sportage EX a couple of years ago, its 2.4-liter engine proved adequate for most driving situations, but made an awful whine when pressed. The SX's turbo 2-liter is far different. Flooring it from a stop, the six-speed automatic transmission let the engine speed run up near redline while the 269 pound-feet of torque generated such acceleration that the front end lifted.
The front wheels did not actually leave the ground, but I could feel lessened grip in the steering. The looser traction up front made it feel like the car might dart off the road. Don't expect to hold a turn under this kind of acceleration.
Testing the turbo lag, I set the transmission to manual mode and put it in second, then performed a rolling start. The turbo took about a half second to kick in, but rather than a startling punch of power, it merely added a bit of thrust to already strong acceleration. The direct-injection 2-liter engine does a pretty good job by itself.
Aside from playing with the turbo, the Sportage SX performed comfortably in day-to-day driving. Taking off from a stoplight, it exhibited slightly uneven acceleration, due to the turbo but exacerbated by the transmission, which tends to seek higher gears whenever possible.
Kia includes an Eco button in the Sportage SX, something I was tempted to use after watching how the turbo hit the fuel economy. As is common with Eco modes, this one merely detuned the accelerator, without affecting other car functions. For those who find the gas pedal too sensitive, the Eco button works to dial it back.
However, I would really like to see Kia, and other manufacturers, make Eco mode do more than detune the accelerator. It should also dial down the air conditioning, one of the biggest power drains on engines.
To help fuel economy, Kia uses electric power steering on the Sportage SX, and manages to tune it for good driving feel. In low speed maneuvers, the linear boost of the steering was my only clue that it was electric. Driving fast along a mountain road, steering exhibited decent road feel with a pleasing heft.
The Sportage SX's suspension shows tautness similar to that of the steering wheel. The ride felt more rigid than soft, and over rough patches of road it became uncomfortable, as the car communicated all those bumps to the cabin. Speeding through turns, the tightly tuned suspension minimized understeer but not enough to keep the body from leaning.