Introduction

Let's be clear right up front: The 2010 Kia Sportage is a good little crossover SUV. The only problem is that the hyper-competitive compact crossover segment is one of those places where being good might not be quite good enough.

The Sportage's long-standing midpack status dates all the way back to the model's U.S. introduction in 1995, when it broke new ground as one of the first truly compact sport-utility vehicles. Unfortunately, that original version was also rather crude, and it was quickly eclipsed by more refined entries from Honda and Toyota.

Kia went back to the drawing board and rolled out an all-new Sportage in 2004. Built on a more carlike unibody platform, this second-generation Sportage was a dramatic improvement over the previous version. The problem, of course, is that while the Sportage's engineers were upping their game, the competition was upping theirs. The result is that the 2010 Sportage is likable enough, but it lacks any subjective advantages that might lure buyers away from segment leaders like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

The Sportage's most obvious shortcoming is that both its available engines are no match for its rivals. Its 173-horsepower V6, for example, actually has less oomph than the CR-V's four-cylinder, to say nothing of the RAV4's spirited 269-hp V6. The Kia's four-speed automatic also lacks refinement compared to the competition's five-speeds, and that missing gear also adversely affects the Sportage's fuel economy. While these weaknesses don't exactly make the Sportage a slug in everyday driving, they're the kind of small differences that can become the deciding factor in a segment filled with a number of attractive choices.

There is one area where the Kia Sportage does manage to one-up its competitors, however, and that's the value proposition it offers. Compare its list of standard features with the Honda and Toyota, then take a look at their respective MSRPs and you'll discover that buying the Sportage can save you thousands of dollars. Figure in Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and this Korean crossover begins to look even better. As such, the Sportage is best suited for buyers whose first concern is finding a relative bargain.

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