Good Sports

Two months ago, I drove the 2011 Kia Sportage EX around the snowy hills of Ontario’s ski country. Last week, I passed the better part of a day at the storied Homestead-Miami Speedway, where we ripped around the 14-turn track in the all-new 2011 Sportage SX Turbo under the available tutelage of pro racer, David Russell. Today, I’ll relate observations about both of those AWD SUV experiences.

First, calling anywhere in Ontario ‘ski country’ is a bigger lie than calling NASCAR a sport.

Second, after three plates of suth’n bahbuhcued pulled pork and baked beans, accelerating and decelerating hard while pushing a vehicle into scores of challenging turns requires a steely gut. The rest is good.

The SX’s 2.0L GDI engine is noteworthy
With the fuel injecting directly into the cylinder rather than the intake tract, you get greater atomization. That is, a cleaner burn. The result is better performance and more efficient use of fuel. How much? The power of a V6 from a 4-cylinder, and enough torque to instantly displace your pulled pork.

No lag — just a vigilant safety system
A dual-scroll turbo-charger forces extra air into the engine for more power, sooner. So why did it feel like there was turbo-lag on the track? That was the ESC with traction control (thankfully) kicking in to compensate for my exuberance in the turns. I attributed what oversteer there was to the front-wheel drive of the SX, not my reluctance to whip through the apex of the turns.

Certainly, notes from the Sportage EX in January make no mention of oversteer. (Mind you, the Dynamax system continually monitors for wheel slips and redistributes power without being asked.)

Furthermore, on the track, we drove the much lower slung Kia Optima SX Turbo, alternating trips between the two vehicles. For that reason alone, the Sportage is going to feel higher up. (That, and the fact that it is!)

AWD 4 U? Or turbo front-wheel drive?
It all comes down to personal preference in terms of the feel. In January, the Sportage EX’s all-wheel drive was a blessing, getting us going through a flash snowfall. Obviously there’s little chance of experiencing these in Florida.

What’s more, the roads are far better down there — not subjected to the strenuous expansion/contraction action of four seasons (okay, one season and three seasonettes). Each experience happened in the right place.

2011 Kia Sportage SX starts at $36,995
2011 Kia Sportage EX starts at $26,995

Image courtesy of Steven Bochenek.

This is a test