Being that I work at a luxury dealership which sells Mercedes-Benz and Volvo vehicles, it may seem odd that I would be test driving a KIA. But this compact SUV had two things that kept telling me to drive it. The first is that it is a nice shade of red. With all the European shades of grey surrounding me, that red color kept catching my eye. The second thing is that it has a manual 5-speed transmission. There are fewer “stick shifts” available any more in the US. Mercedes-Benz no longer offers a manual transmission. And Volvo will no longer produce a manual transmission once the C30 and C70 are discontinued. So, despite the fact that the KIA is not a normal target of my reports, I had to drive it.
Last Sunday our family took the KIA Sportage to Orwell Bible Church in Amish country. From Painesville, it’s a straight shot down Route 86. As long as the kids are getting along, it’s an enjoyable 30-minute drive. If not, well… that’s one of the reasons you might pick another vehicle for a family of five. Depending on the size of your children, the rear seat of the Sportage may or may not work for you. My six-foot tall 14-year-old was a bit cramped in the back seat. However, the trip went very well despite his long legs. It helped that my wife read us a suspenseful story on the way down and back.
The first thing I noticed about the Sportage was the performance. The LX version comes with a 140 hp 4-cylinder engine that works best with higher RPMs. At one point, I had to down shift to fourth gear to get up a moderate hill at 55 mph. But for the rest of the trip, the acceleration was acceptable. I learned to keep the car in each gear longer than usual to take advantage of the smaller engine. This is not a performance vehicle after all. It’s a compact economy car with enough power to get you from point A to point B. And if that’s what you are looking for, this is the car for you. The engine ran well and the transmission shifted well and we experienced no problems whatsoever.
The interior of the Sportage is nicely designed. Although this particular car did not have many frills, it did come with comfortable cloth seats and a few amenities such as power windows, cruise control, CD-player, Satellite radio, and USB/AUX ports for your MP3 player or iPod. The rear hatch gives plenty of room for luggage (or a nice place to wait when the rest of the family is still getting dressed for church). And with the seats folded down, you get approximately 67 cubic feet of storage space.*
Do you know how to drive a manual transmission? If so, this would be a good car for you. Actually, even if you don’t know how to drive a “stick shift” this would be a good car for you to own and to learn on. It doesn’t take long to learn. The five-speed transmission and clutch work well together and give you more control than you would have with an automatic. You can keep the RPMs up on a hill or corner giving you more control of the situation. But that’s not the only benefit. Many drivers have found that driving a stick shift has maximized their fuel economy with the manual transmission as opposed to the automatic. According to KIA, this car should provide 20 mpg City/25 mpg Highway with either transmission. That’s not bad for a five passenger vehicle but I think you could probably do better with the manual.
*That’s about 10 cubic feet more than the Classic SAAB 900 (56.5 ft3) with the rear seat folded down. I knew you were wanting to know that! (per Saabnet.com)