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Posted: April 23, 2013

Executive wheels: The wonderful world of SUVs

So many choices, so little time

Jeff Rundles

2013 MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER SPORT SE AWD

It’s been a SUV kind of late winter/spring, with plenty of weather to test the best of the breed.

Today’s SUV market runs the gamut from the relatively inexpensive and small to the very luxurious and large.  There’s a lot to choose from – and it's a tough choice.

First up: the Mitsubishi Outlander, a mid-sized SUV I found adequate in the past. I was far more impressed this time out. Mitsubishi has two Outlanders that are different sizes and have different engines. The regular Outlander is a much longer vehicle and can carry up to seven passengers, compared with five for the Sport.

I found the Outlander Sport to be a great car, and my doppelganger reviewer (my 15-year-old son who is, of course, hypersensitive to vehicles these days) agreed. Roomy, comfortable and good-looking, the Sport drives easily and handles well.

Powered by a 2.0-liter I4 engine with 148 hp, the Sport is no racecar, of course. But even with the continuously variable automatic transmission, generally much-maligned for lack of torque, the Sport was relatively zippy. It also features good gas mileage – 24 mpg city/29 mpg highway/26 mpg combined.

The Sport has a couple of issues. First, the panoramic glass sunroof doesn’t open. Second, the keyless entry didn't always work. Other than that, the Outlander Sport feels solid and well-made, and it's one of the few SUVs that still has the option to manually select four-wheel drive (4WD), two-wheel drive and 4WD lock.

With a panoramic sunroof, roof rack, a 710 watt Rockford Fosgate Punch Premium Sound system, a rear camera, navigation and, of course, all the modern hookups for techie toys and destination charge, the bottom line is $28,570. That makes the Outlander Sport a must-test-drive vehicle.

RATING: 3 ½ WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

2013 KIA SPORTAGE SX AWD

I drove the Kia Sportage to Phoenix for spring break, and it proved to be a wonderful road vehicle. Equipped with a 2.0-liter I4 engine, obviously turboed out with 260 hp, this vehicle can handle a good road trip with plenty of power to spare – not to mention good gas mileage, with an EPA rating 0f 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway (we experienced about 23 mpg in mostly highway driving between Denver and Phoenix).

The Sportage is handsome and very quiet, and the six-speed automatic transmission was wonderfully smooth on the highway and in the city. Indeed, our hosts in Phoenix drive a Lincoln Navigator and a Cadillac Escalade – both huge SUV with big V-8 engines – and they liked the Sportage enough to consider downsizing at least one of their vehicles. Trust me – that’s high praise for Kia.

Going from Denver to Phoenix and back afforded me the rare experience of driving in winter and summer conditions in the same week. The all-wheel drive system was well above average, the heater was quick and very powerful and the air conditioning was very cool (in all senses). Also, the vehicle has both heated and cooled seats, features we truly loved.

This Sportage was, in fact, a very luxurious vehicle for the price point. For $3,200 over the base price of $28,400, it included navigation (used it a ton and it worked beautifully), Sirius satellite radio and traffic, heated and cooled seats, heated outside mirrors and a wonderful panoramic sunroof that actually opened.

I especially liked the LED screen, which was just the right size to control everything without being obtrusive. The climate controls operate in a dash-control center with buttons and knobs that quickly get everything in order. The whole package is simple and elegant.

I tested the top-of-the-line of seven Sportage trims. The base AWD model, the LX, costs $22,700 and features a 2.4-liter, normally aspirated engine with 176 hp.  With the $800 destination charge, the bottom line was $32,400 – coincidentally, the average cost of a new vehicle in the U.S. car market.

That’s the only thing average about the 2013 Kia Sportage SX AWD. It handles well in any conditions. It never lacked for power in the mountains, even loaded up with gear and people, and I always felt in complete control. If I were in the market for a mid-sized SUV, I would probably buy this one.

RATING: A STRONG 4 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)    
 

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

With re: to the sportage, how many passengers will it carry? And can you give me ideas on good dependable vehicle for someone who needs a minimum of 7, (8 seats would be better.) Thank you. By Candace Tannehill on 2013 04 23
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