A Week With the Unimaginative 2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD

I’ve driven quite a few Kia vehicles over the last few years and generally have been quite impressed with them all. Like fellow South Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai, Kia keeps improving their cars each year, now delivering some of the best budget vehicles on the road. But the journey to being an A List car maker isn’t without its bumps, and after spending a week driving the 2020 Kia Sportage SX, I have to say that I did not find this to be one of their best vehicles. As I write this, the company has just unveiled its 2023 Sportage model, however, so much of what I found odd or baffling has likely been addressed or remedied. At least, once you can get behind the wheel of the 2023 model!

Let’s start with the drive experience. The 2020 Sportage SX is powered by a peppy 2.0L turbocharged GDI engine with 6-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. There’s plenty of power in that turbocharged little engine, actually, producing a compact SUV that surprises with its responsive drive experience. Whether rabbiting from a stop or passing a slow vehicle on the highway at 65mph, I never once felt the hesitation or lag of an engine with insufficient horsepower for more aggressive driving.

From an appearance perspective, well, it’s a compact SUV. At this point, they’re almost just cookies off an assembly line:

2020 kia sportage sx awd - exterior front

Not unattractive, but is this a RAV4? A CX-5? A CR-V? An Escape?? Maybe even one of the many Subaru SUVs? Pretty sure car companies must be close to peak SUV at which point they’ll all be able to swap body parts as needed and save us consumers a lot of money.

This model is Pacific Blue, very attractive, with a Gray interior and 19-inch Alloy Wheels that are part of the SX package for the Sportage.

The rear hatch and towing kit install are attractive, but don’t you think you could change the manufacturer’s medallions and no one would give it a second thought?

2020 kia sportage sx awd - 3/4 rear view exterior

The upside of the popularity and similarities of the compact SUV (okay, okay, “CUV”) is that once you’re familiar with one, it’s incredibly easy to slip behind the steering wheel of a different model and feel at home. Kia does a really good job with its dashboard layout to ensure that drivers can reach what they need or access all their desired infotainment and vehicle safety settings with a tap or two.

Here’s the front dash layout:

2020 kia sportage sx awd - front dashboard

Notice what’s playing on the radio: “Rainy Day”. All Kia models now include nature sounds. I personally associate this with sleep machines and so question why you would want to play something so incredibly relaxing when you’re zooming down the highway or stuck in traffic, but maybe that’s the point; less road rage thanks to calming rain or surf sounds on the car audio system. Genius. The audio system, powered by Harman-Kardon, sounds terrific too.

Everything on the dash is well labeled and logically positioned, so this is definitely a get-in-and-go vehicle with no confusion of what controls are positioned where. From the cup holders front and center to the controls on the steering wheel crossbar, I could almost drive this CUV with my eyes closed. Except for the obvious danger involved in that test! 🙂

The center dash also features all the ports and charging options a modern driver seeks:

2020 kia sportage sx awd - center console charging ports qi wireless climate

One USB-C and two 12V plugs (okay, that’s a bit odd rather than two USB and one 12V) and a Qi wireless charging pad that’s quite convenient and easy to work with smack dab in the center. Above it, the climate controls have a lot of buttons, but all clearly and logically labeled. Heated steering wheel, heated – and cooled – seats, all the controls are central and easily identified.

From a vehicular personality perspective, however, where is the personality of this Sportage? It’s most noticeable on the main gauge display, which is as generic as they come:

2020 kia sportage sx awd - main gauge display

After seeing the fun colors, background images, and similar pizzaz that competitors are adding to vehicles to help them stand out, this feels like the result of Kia consciously removing personality and leaving just the bare bones gauge display area behind. A bit disappointing.

Notice the mediocre fuel efficiency too: 21.1mpg is nothing to write home about, and the EPA ratings are 19/24, so 21.1’s about right for the mostly highway driving I did while I had the vehicle. Most of the Sportage’s CUV brethren from other car makers get in the high 20’s or even low 30’s fuel efficiency sans hybrid. Affecting this could well be the GDI turbo engine.

To test the vehicle out, a pal and I drove from Boulder to Fort Collins, Colorado, about an hour each way, on lovely country roads. With all the colors changing as we move into autumn, it was beautiful and the Sportage was comfortable and easy to drive and navigate to our destination. With my iPhone 13 plugged in, Apple CarPlay ensured we had good music and a map with precise directions too. No wireless CarPlay, but given how that works, I actually prefer not to have that particular feature. I realize I might be in the minority with that opinion!

It was just the two of us, but I felt that there was okay rear legroom if we’d needed to bring a third or fourth person along to “The Fort”, as we locals like to call Fort Collins:

2020 kia sportage sx awd - rear legroom

Notice also that below the center air vents are two plugs with circular covers in the above photo. Those are both USB ports, surprisingly, even though the cover suggests that they’d be yet more 12V “cigarette lighter” plugs. Nicely done, Kia!

Each of the rear passengers had a handle above their doors, a feature I like, but for reasons I cannot explain, the passenger behind the driver’s handle also had a small fold-out hook for hanging up a shirt or skirt. But not the handle behind the passenger’s seat. Why the difference?

I was also startled that the Kia key fob was designed in such a way that twice I accidentally triggered the vehicle alarm by having the keys in my pocket and bending down for something or the other. It’s easy to turn it off by pushing the unlock button, but this speaks to a small design mistake in the fob itself:

2020 kia sportage sx awd - key fob

What surprised me more was that you could see the insulation when you opened up the doors, giving the Sportage a bit of an unfinished feel. You can see it in the photo, below:

2020 kia sportage sx awd - insulation in door

It’s more overt when you’re standing at the car with an open door, but all of these factors combined to leave me with a sense that the Sportage was a bit unfinished compared to other Kia models. Yes, it has all the modern checklist features, from adaptive cruise control and wireless charging pad, but there were a fair number of quirks that were surprising too. Most importantly, where’s the personality and verve of this vehicle from Kia? The company clearly can produce cars with a more distinct interior and exterior look – like the K5 or the Telluride – but the 2020 Sportage SX? I’d definitely encourage you to give it some close scrutiny (and a test drive!) before you make a purchase decision.

Which does make me mighty curious about the 2023 model too. But that’s still not quite on the assembly line…

SPECIFICATION: 2020 Kia Sportage SX AWD in Pacific Blue, featuring a 2.0 turbocharged GDI engine with 6-speed automatic. MSRP: $35,090. INCLUDED OPTIONS: Cargo Mat, Cross Bars, Carpeted Floor Mats, Cargo Net, Tow Hitch. AS DRIVEN: $37,290.

Disclosure: Kia Motors loaned me the Sportage SX for a week for the purposes of this review and writeup. Thanks, Kia!

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