reprinted From ChiCAGONOW.COM/DRIVE-He-Said

(Contributing Editor: Susan Frissell, Women With Wheels.com, ChicagoNow.com “Girls Go Racing”)

When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Korean brand Kia is currently sizzling. Last year it sold 600,000 vehicles in the U.S. alone. That represented a nearly 8% increase over previous year sales.

As a carmaker which ditched lot of its econobox product in the past decade, it’s no surprise that not a single Kia product is a dominant seller in any single market segment.

Despite having double duties at sister carmaker Hyundai, Design Chief Peter Schreyer has a cleaner slate with the younger Kia brand, successfully infusing cutting edge trends with classic lines.

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WHAT: 2017 Kia Sportage SX-T AWD 2-Row compact Crossover Utility Vehicle. It’s the wilder cousin to Hyundai’s Tuscon.

Standard Power: transverse 2.4L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 181 hp/ 175 lb-ft + 6-spd. torque converter planetary automatic transaxle.

OPTIONAL: 2.0L DOHC 16V DI intercooled turbocharged gas I-4 = 240 hp/ 260 lb-ft + upgraded 6-speed automatic.

WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Mimicking toned human muscles Sportage sports bulges; Exaggerated fender arching emphasized by long HID lighting housings ; Hood = deep valley; Front fascia corner quad LED fog lights; Front & rear lower matte aluminum pseudo skid plates;

Concave door panels feed rising cheat line contrasting with sharp raked roof line finished with spoiler; Stunted D-pillar = near “Floating Roof”; Belt line taps liftgate mid-section, Thin taillamp housing connected by metallic wisp conveys width; Twin chrome exhaust tips;

WHY: A gutsy compact CUV value intentionally bearing more than a passing resemblance to something from Zuffenhausen.

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since late Spring 2016

WHERE: Kia new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: Ulsan , South Korea

WHERE TO: Optional Magna multi-plate wet clutch, open differential all-wheel drive, e-varies front/ rear traction from 100/0% – lockable at maximum 50/50%, with ABS descent control. < 7″ clearance = dirt road but not gully capable;

HOW ROADWORTHY: 2.0L turbocharged DOHC DI gas 4-cylinder has get up and go; 6-speed planetary automatic carries over, at times hiccuping over boost lag; Quicker rebound dampers quell pitch; Sprung soft allows lean & plow; Electric steering exhibits meaningful heft, yet intervals of response vagueness persist; Brake bite arrives late with abrupt pedal travel; Gas Engine clatter?; Cabin is muted to road noise; wing mirror wind whistle begins near triple digits.

HOW FAR: 22 combined miles per gallon = slightly > larger mid-size Sorento.

HOW BIG/ LITTLE: fits 5 adult occupants; Rear knees aren’t likely to abut front seat backs, though rear hats might graze the panoramic moonroof; Sharp raked roof cuts into cargo capacity;

HOW USEFUL: Chrome metal load floor skid plate; near flat folding 60/40% split 2nd Row tilting seatbacks; -1 Forward visibility from bulging fenders / -1 Outward rear visibility from small backlight; Tow Rating: 2,000 lbs.

HOW SAFE: 8 airbags; IIHS Safety Pick +; Rear camera; sonar front & rear Park Assist, Roll Mitigation, Blind spot, rear cross traffic warning & lane departure warning.

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: Heated & cooled driver/ front passenger seats; 6-way power driver’s ; Heated steering; D-shape heated leather steering wheel with spoke integrated tactile redundant controls; Semi toggle-style center stack switches and metallic tipped door switchgear; Contrast stitching;

Cool Gizmo(s): Key-fob proximity hands-free power liftgate & power folding wing mirrors; Panoramic roof.

Nearly Non-Descript: Short seat cushions; Leather wears premature, Faux embossed dashtop stitching; Hard plastic front seat backs advertise scuffs.

HOW “APP” -LICABLE: 8″ matte capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen; +1 Large icons; Voice command hands-free communications; 3-D SD GPS navigation ; Subscription based Sirius TravelLink Sports, Weather, Traffic; Fueling; Cinema; ; subscription fee based UVO telematics; ; Harman Kardon sound system more Clarify-ed than outgoing Infinity audio; UVO Apps: Pandora, SoundHound USB x 2, 12V x 3.

HOW MUCH: $34, 895 = fully loaded 2017 Kia Sportage SX-T AWD ; base front-drive Sportage LX = $22,900.

WHAT’S MISSING: More engaging transmission; Driver seat/ mirror position memory; Quieter & less sensitive LDW alarm; Android Auto/ Apple Car Play, 115V outlet, +1 Cargo management; > Cabin color contrast; SMS messaging app.

ANY COMPETITION: Ford Escape 2.0T: +1 lustier powertrain & semi-autonomous driving; Jeep Cherokee 2.7 V6, Subaru Forester 2.0T: +1 off-road creds; Volkswagen Tiguan.: Teutonic build.