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2017 Kia Sportage
Kia's redesigned 2017 Sportage combines practicality with sporty flair.

Prices: $22,990-$34,000

Kia has come up with a much-improved Sportage compact crossover for 2017. The new model has to be good to compete with formidable rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.

Kia can probably get away with an ad campaign that says "It's suddenly 2017" in referring in early spring to its 2017 Sportage. For one thing, every body panel is new, and the front end looks more aggressive.

The new Sportage is roomier because its wheelbase is longer and overall length is increased. Body overhangs also are short. The car has decent leg room and more headroom for two 6-footers in the backseat. Width remains the same, so wide parking area slots aren't needed.

How nimble are you? Extra effort is needed to get in or out of the Sportage..Once inside the quiet, attractive interior, occupants have a good view of surroundings.

The LX has a 5-inch color touchscreen  that's easy to use, and the EX has a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen  All versions come with a 160-watt six-speaker audio system, while a more powerful 320-watt system is available.

I particularly liked the small, but clearly marked dashboard switches for those who don't feel like using the touchscreen to control various functions.

Rear seatbacks easily flip forward and sit flat to increase the enlarged cargo area, which has a lower opening and available power rear hatch.

There's also a stiffer structure, new suspension, advanced driver assistance system and an upgraded interior.

All Sportages have have a driver-oriented cockpit with a simple, modern design. The EX and SX turbo models have sumptuous leather upholstery and a heated and leather-wrapped D-shaped wheel with paddle shifters. That shaped wheel eases entry. 

This is the fourth generation Sportage. It has significant suspension and steering improvements for better ride and handling and an available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.

The Sportage comes in  LX,  EX and SX Turbo trim levels. List prices range from $22,990 to $34,000. The Sportage comes with either rear-wheel drive (RWD) or front-wheel drive (FWD).

Two engines are offered--a 2.4-liter 181 horsepower four-cylinder or a turbocharged 2-liter four with 240 horsepower (237 on AWD models) and a lot more torque.

Both engines are hooked to a responsive six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature.

Estimated fuel economy is not a strong point with the turbo engine and AWD.

With FWD, the figures are 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on highways with the lower-horsepower engine and  21 city and 26 with FWD and the more potent turbo engine.

 Figures with AWD and the regular engine are 21 city and 25 highway, but just 20 and 23 with the turbo engine.

I tested the $32,500 Sportage SX FWD and found it to be carlike and easy to maneuver in tight parking garage spots and heavy traffic. It was fast during 65-75 m.p.h. passing with no turbo lag. It also was agile with its fully independent suspension, electronic stability control, traction control and 19-inch wheels. The SX has firmer shocks to for sharper handling.

The steering was nicely geared, and the ride was supple. The brake pedal had a firm, confident feel, and stopping power with the anti-lock brake setup was good.

My test car had a "sport" mode button that caused the steering, engine shifts, engine response and transmission to be slightly more responsive.

The test car had such standard items as a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated power front seats and a push-button start.

Concerned about safety? The SX FWD also had a rear camera display, blind spot detection with lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert and front/rear parking assist.

Many of these items, and others, are offered for lower-line models in option packages. For instance, the $1,900 Premium package has items including a panoramic sunroof, blind spot detection system, rear cross-traffic alert and a heated steering wheel.

As with most of its rivals, the Sportage has prospective buyers covered with a variety of models.