2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD: Yet Another Compact SUV

kia logo new 2021I’ve been driving a number of different Kia vehicles recently, finding each a solid option in its class with lots of nice design touches and external design. Most recently, the sporty Kia K5 GT sedan, but I also liked the Kia Sorento X-Line too, which is, yes, a compact SUV. When I had the chance to drive the entry-level 2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD, I expected something quite similar to the Sorento. But I was wrong; the Sportage is rumored to have a significant redesign coming for 2022 and five minutes in the Sportage showed just how ready it is for that redesign.

Why did they loan me a 2020 model in late 2021? Because the ’20 and the ’21 Sportage are just about completely identical: It’s 2022 when the redesign is supposed to hit the market, as I mentioned earlier, and that one isn’t quite ready for us automotive writers. In case you’re wondering…

To be fair, the Kia Sportage isn’t a bad car by any means, but given the comparison against the higher end and more recently redesigned vehicles, it’s just a bit lackluster. From fuel efficiency to dashboard design, the next gen is going to be really interesting. Meanwhile, let’s have a look…

2020 KIA SPORTAGE SX AWD — EXTERIOR

Compact SUVs are one of the hottest segments in car sales throughout the world, so it’s no surprise that every single company, from Porsche to Maserati, Ford to Kia, has at least one entrant. Kia has two, the Sportage (at the entry level its base price is $24,000) and the Sorento (base $29,350). I’ve already written about the Sorento and shared quite a few photos, so let’s have a look at the exterior of the Sportage in Pacific Blue with the SX trim package and optional cross bars on top:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - exterior

It’s an attractive front end and style, even having a spot in the center of the grill for a front license plate as required by many states, along with the side air scoops to give the front profile a bit more energy. The lines along the side, however, are quite typically compact SUV.

Walking to the back, the rear has a bit less personality:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - exterior rear

Again, there’s nothing wrong with this design, but there’s nothing that makes this vehicle a standout in its category either. Indeed, the silver bottom plate gives the back a bit of a Subaru look to my eyes.

Opening up the back hatch on the Sportage, there’s plenty of cargo space behind the second row of seats:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - rear cargo space hatch

Some people might like the cargo net but I didn’t find it useful, even when I loaded up the back after a shopping trip to the grocery store. I do really like the cargo cover, however, an optional add-on that I suspect the vast majority of buyers opt to include with their vehicle. Also note the now-standard 60/40 rear seat split, where you can fold down either side – or both – to maximize your cargo and carrying capacity. You won’t be bringing a 12′ ladder home from the hardware store, but it does offer plenty of space for a bicycle or large screen TV.

The drive experience was good, powered by a 2.0L turbocharged GDI engine with 6-speed automatic, though it was a bit slow from a start, as are so many automatic transmissions. Handling was good and it was fun to drive on curvy roads, small and nimble in town and comfortable zipping through busy parking lots.

2020 KIA SPORTAGE SX AWD — INTERIOR

The interior is generally where I am pleasantly surprised by the Kia Motors design touches, but the ’20 Sportage just didn’t offer that intersection of functionality and verve. Here’s the main dash:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - interior main dashboard

It’s a very rectilinear design with rows upon rows of buttons. Oh, and that weird circular thing on the top right? That’s an air freshener I added since I was trying it out to see how the design matched. It looks good! But that’s another story. Notice also the flat portion on the bottom of the steering wheel, a modern Kia design touch that I definitely like.

Look closer at the climate controls area, you can see how it’s just row upon row of buttons:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - climate controls button parade

Between all the audio controls, the climate controls, and the seat heater/cooler controls, it’s almost like an Apollo space capsule, without any meaningful shapes or other elements to differentiate them for the fast moving driver. It’s also the first modern Kia I’ve driven that doesn’t have the terrific 3-speed AUTO climate control feature, which I missed on hot days.

On the other hand, it does have the fun and goofy environmental “Sounds of Nature” as a default MEDIA option, integrated into its very nice infotainment system:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - infotainment screen map

Notice above that I’m actually listening to “Calm Sea Waves” while I’m driving. It’s… a bit weird.

My greatest gripe with the 2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD, however, is with its lack of fuel efficiency, as shown in the middle of its straightforward main gauge display:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - main gauge mpg fuel efficiency

23.2mpg is really low for a small SUV that I was driving mostly on highway. In fact, the EPA figures for this particular vehicle are 19/24, so I’m at almost the theoretical max miles per gallon. Small, modern cars should get better mileage, however, and I expected at least 5mpg if not 10mpg better efficiency than I experienced. Will the 2022 redesign offer better fuel efficiency? I hope that it will, though the 2022 Sportage configuration page doesn’t offer much promise in that regard.

FInally, leg room. Pretty typical: If you’re a tall driver the person sitting behind you needs to be small, otherwise it’s acceptable:

2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD - leg room

With the other Kia vehicles I’ve driven, I was struck by their design, interior amenities and other aspects of the vehicles that made them fun and interesting. There’s nothing wrong with the 2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD, but there’s nothing really exceptional about it either. I look forward to driving a 2022 model year unit to see just how much has changed.

CONFIGURATION: 2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD in Pacific Blue with Gray interior. Powered by a 2.0L turbocharged GDI engine and 6-speed automatic. MSRP: $35,090. OPTIONS: Cargo mat, cross bars, cargo net, cargo cover, carpeted floor mats, and tow hitch. AS DRIVEN: $37,290.00.

Disclosure: Kia Motors loaned me the 2020 Sportage for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, Kia!

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