This year's list of nominees for "most improved" wouldn't be complete without this potential winner of the award...the all-new Kia Sportage.
The nameplate has been around since 1997, when it was the grimmest little conveyance imaginable...underpowered, undersized and possessed of the kind of materials and craftsmanship that gave Korean automobiles a reputation they're still trying to live down.
But, as we've been saying here at TireKicker for the past three years, the Koreans are making quantum leaps with each generation of automobiles. And the Sportage is an excellent example of that.
Even in more recent years, the best thing Kia had going for it was price and warranty, but the Sportage is now a no-excuses, fully competitive small SUV. In fact, it's leapt ahead of some of the older competitors with a DOHC four and a six-speed automatic transmission standard in all but the base model, which gets a six-speed manual.
That base model starts at a reasonable, but no longer bargain-basement, $18,295. Our tester was the next-to-the-top EX model (the SX is a screamer, with 260 horsepower instead of the 178 in the base through EX models). Base price: $23,295. That gets you the engine and transmission detailed above, plus power steering, power four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, donhill brake and hill-start assist, tire pressure monitoring, dual-zone climate control, power locks and windows, keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD/mp3 audio system with USB and auxilary inputs, cruise control, a trip computer, tilt steering wheel, Bluetooth, a 12-volt power outlet, intermittent wipers and a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel.
All that adds up to a very pleasant environment in which to do your driving. And the one Kia sent over for a week included navigation with Sirius Traffic and a backup camera, a premium audio system including a subwoofer, heated front seats, pushbutton start, a panoramic sunroof, rear sonar, heated outside mirrors and a cargo cover.
Bottom line: $27,990 with destination charges. Which is right in the zone for this type of small SUV with that type of equipment. And the combination of the four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic pays off with excellent gas mileage...22 city/31 highway. It's well worth a test drive.