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All-new Sportage features more room, improved cabin

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The 2017 Kia Sportage is all-new, and the redesign doesn’t try to redefine the compact utility vehicle segment or the brand. The Sportage takes a distinct approach to exterior style while pushing all the necessary buttons to maintain competitive equality.

The access to the Sportage is big news this year — at least as “big” as it can be in the CUV segment. Gaining 1.2 inches on the wheelbase and 1.6 inches in overall length, the new model offers more room for passengers along with 18 percent greater cargo space.

The Sportage’s exterior design plays to the crowd who appreciates a bit of excess. While I really like the tiger-nose grille and gorgeous lens wrap showing off the three-layer lamp treatment, the front view is an odd mix of bulbous wheel wells and several hood lines that seem bigger than the CUV requires. The roof line is really sharp as it peaks above the driver and steeply flows down in a sleek, athletic profile.

The entry-level Sportage features the 2.4-liter inline-four that is used in the Optima and Sorento. That powerplant delivers 181 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Move up to the top-of-the-line SX Turbo, and you get a 2.0-liter turbo-four that puts out 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Kia estimates the 2.4/FWD combination will return 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined, while the 2.0T/AWD will score 20/23/21.

Sportage engines are mated to outstanding six-speed automatic transmissions that drive either the front wheels or all the wheels.

My tester featured the AWD system, and it proved valuable during heavy rain throughout the week of the test drive. The Magna Dynamax all-wheel-drive system electronically senses the road and anticipates slide events and can brake individual wheels to prevent or mitigate traction loss. The Sportage comes with Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes, and while suspension dynamics don’t change between the settings, throttle response and steering weight are altered.

This year’s Sportage makes huge strides in cabin comfort and material quality. This is a more astute interior design and one that incorporates a gentle touch of technology and a hard look at noise control and visibility for the driver.

My tester featured the upgrade leather seats, and extra lumbar and side bolstering made the Sportage a very comfortable ride on a day trip to and from to Champaign, Illinois. Leg room is just fine for full-size adults up front and just slightly snug in the rear seats.

I like Kia’s UVO infotainment system for its easy use and intuitive operation menus. The EX and SX Turbo models get a 7-inch screen that delivers great visibility for the driver. I don’t like not being able to input a navigation destination while in motion; this and other settings have to be done while the vehicle is parked.

You can buy a new Sportage with forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot detection, lane departure warning (with an annoyingly persistent alarm that thankfully you can turn off) and rear cross-traffic alert. Surprisingly, there is no option for adaptive cruise control.

Of course, Kia’s 100,000-mile warranty is legendary. Starting at a mere $22,300 for the base model ($35,000 for top end), the Sportage is bound to be a popular choice for CUV enthusiasts.