UPDATED: What A Difference Eight Years Makes: The 2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD and AWD

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD
The 2017 Kia Sportage SX FWD.
TireKicker is about six weeks away from its eighth birthday.  When we published our first pixel in August of 2008, the Kia Sportage was a penalty box...a cramped, underpowered, underwhelming attempt to get in on the ground floor of what then were called "cute utes".

A few weeks later, though, the 2009 model hit dealer showrooms.  It was several levels of improvement all at once.  You can read our review and see some regrettably low-res pictures here.

If the '09 was that much of a leap forward, the 2017 Kia Sportage defies laws of physics and heads straight for alchemy.  Yes, it's that good.

Rear 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Sportage SX
2017 Kia Sportage SX.
The Sportage's big brother, the Kia Sorento, is one of our favorite vehicles. If TireKicker's Best Cars (the list on the right hand side of this page) was a top 11 instead of a top ten, you'd see the Sorento there.  A lot of that admiration comes from our eight-day, 1800 mile Utah camping trip in a Sorento two summers ago.

The 2017 Sportage takes all the goodness of the Sorento and simply puts it in a smaller package. It is little short of brilliant.  Our tester was the top-of-the-line SX Turbo.  $32,500 buys a 240-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four with a six-speed automatic transmission.  Fuel economy is 21 city/26 highway, according to the EPA, but our observed fuel economy in Kia SUVs always beats those estimates.  Your mileage may vary.

19-inch wheels are part of the SX standard equipment list, along with a full complement of airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, downhill braking and hill start assist control, tire pressure monitoring, automatic HID headlights with dynamic bending light and high beam assist and LED daytime running, fog and taillights.

Interior view of 2017 Kia Sportage SX
2017 Kia Sportage SX interior.
Inside, it's more good stuff, with intelligent design, nice materials and excellent workmanship.  The Sportage SX standard list adds a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, Android Auto (which, if it's as good as Apple Car Play has been in other Kias, is a winner), an 8-inch color touchscreen with nav, heated and ventilated power front seats, pushbutton start with smart key, a heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, backup camera, blind spot detection and lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking assist and autonomous emergency braking.

That, my friends, is one seriously loaded small SUV.  And it's all standard.  Our tester stopped right there and with $895 inland freight and handling, the bottom line was $33,395.  That's $1,580 less than the Ford Escape Titanium we reviewed back in January, with the same horsepower and similar equipment.  It's a staggering $3,627 less than the Toyota RAV4 SE the Phoenix Bureau reviewed in April with 62 fewer horsepower and way less in the way of creature comforts.  And given that the Escape and RAV4 are the dual kings of the small SUV segment, Kia's aggressive pricing represents a serious value argument...and a direct challenge.

UPDATE:  We got an unexpected week in the all-wheel drive version (replacing a press vehicle that got crunched on its way to us), and found all the above goodness.  Main difference is a $1,500 higher price tag ($34,000 base, $34,895 bottom line) and lower fuel economy (most likely due to the weight of the AWD hardware).  It drops to 20 city/23 highway and in a mix of city streets and urban freeways, we saw 22.8.