2017 sportage dirty

Driving the 2017 Kia Sportage EX AWD in Rural America

The 2017 Kia Sportage EX AWD is a great vehicle for daily driving on paved roads, but can this Korean compact SUV handle the rough dirt roads of rural America? I spent a week driving the new Sportage on my local unpaved roads to see how well – or how badly – the smallest Kia SUV performs on some of the worst public roads in the area.

Compact SUVs like the 2017 Kia Sportage (crossovers, if you prefer) have become one of the most popular segments in the American auto industry and at this point, every company doing business in the USA has at least one small SUV in their portfolio. These vehicles are roomier than most sedans in terms of both passenger space and cargo space and they are usually offered with four wheel drive, so they are generally better than many sedans in the snow. The steady rise in popular has led to more competition in the segment, which keeps prices low while keeping the demand for the best mix of power and efficiency high.

In short, compact SUVs have become more popular than smaller sedans with many buyers who want more capabilities without compromising too much in efficiency and the Kia Sportage is easily one of the most improved vehicles in the class. In EX AWD form, the Sportage has a nicely loaded interior, a stylish, high tech exterior and an AWD drivetrain which balances power and fuel economy, so for the buyer who is shopping for a small SUV with lots of passenger space, lots of cargo, lots of premium features and a relatively low price – the 2017 Kia Sportage EX AWD is a great option.

However, the biggest slight against all of the small SUVs is that they are only good for on-road driving. The vast majority of the vehicles in this segment sit a little lower for easier entry and they have a softer suspension for a smoother ride, both of which can lead to lessened capabilities when you leave the paved roads. Some of these vehicles are no better than a compact sedan on rough roads, so to see how the Sportage drove on rough roads, I spent a week driving the small Kia SUV avoiding paved roads whenever possible.

Interior and Pricing
Before getting into how the 2017 Kia Sportage EX AWD performed on rough, rural roads, let’s take a quick look at the interior features and pricing of this compact SUV.

17 sportage ex dash

While the SX Turbo is the premium trimline for the 2017 Sportage, the EX AWD is the next in line and when you pile on the EX Premium Package and the EX Technology Package, the only thing missing from the top-of-the-line model is the turbocharged engine. My EX AWD test vehicle had heated/cooled/power adjustable leather front seats, an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation linked to a premium Harmon Kardon sound system, a heated steering wheel, a gorgeous panoramic sunroof, and LED interior accent lighting – along with a lengthy list of added-on safety features as part of each of those packages. The touchscreen offers easy access to the sound system, the navigation and various interior settings, but for drivers who don’t like touchscreen technology – the Sportage has a full spread of traditional buttons and knobs under the touchscreen as well as all of the basic sound system controls located on the steering wheel.

17 sportage fr seats

In addition to all of those features, the 2017 Kia Sportage EX AWD offers an impressive level of passenger space in the front and rear seats, with the rear bench being elevated just enough for the rear-riders to get a better look out the front of the vehicle. The front seats and outboard rear seats will all comfortably fit an average-sized adult with a great amount of leg room and headroom for everyone, but the rear center seat is best reserved for small kids. Also, in addition to spacious seats all around, the rear cargo area is surprisingly big – offering plenty of space for golf bags, hockey bags, a month’s worth of grocery bags or enough luggage for a family of four to spend a week on the road.

17 sportage ex cargo

Best of all, even with all of these standard and optional features, my 2017 Kia Sportage EX AWD had an MSRP of just $32,595 (including destination), so while this small SUV has the features and space of a larger vehicle – it maintains the compact price.

Driving a Small SUV in Rural America
Small SUVs like my 2017 Kia Sportage tester are often referred to as “mall crawlers” or some other derogatory term to point out the fact that they are not engineered to performance like the bigger, old school sport utility vehicles in off-road settings. These critics will insist that they should be called crossovers and not SUVs simply because they are not designed to do anything other than drive to and from the office building, soccer practice, the mall or the golf course – and those critics are right.

17 sportage ex rr


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