Kia Sportage
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Sportage, anyone? Kia’s sharp-looking compact tall wagon displays fashion-runway styling, but when the rubber meets the off-road it can claw its way through the muck just fine.

Base 2.4-liter four-cylinder puts out 182 ponies; optional turbocharged four-cylinder is worth 260 horsepower; available four-wheel-drive system can lock up the front and rear axles for improved off-road agility.

If Kia’s larger Sorento is too much vehicle for you, but the smaller Soul isn’t quite enough in terms of space and power, try the Sportage on for size. Under design director Peter Schreyer’s watchful eye, it delivers a bold appearance on the outside along with a perceptibly quiet cabin that will certainly be appreciated by those inside. For drivers there’s a selector that varies the stiffness and “feel” of the steering depending on the level of feedback desired. The base powerplant is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that creates 182 peak horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The optional turbocharged four-cylinder has an output of 260 horsepower 269 pound-feet. Regardless of engine, a six-speed automatic is the only transmission (the base 2.4’s six-speed manual gearbox has been cut). The Sportage is a front-driver by nature, while the optional all-wheel-drive system, which is available for both engines, directs 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the front wheels until tire slip is detected. At that point, the required power is instantly deployed to the rear wheels. Additionally, a manually selected “Lock Mode” allows for a fixed 50:50 front:rear torque split at speeds up to 25 mph for those times when sustained maximum traction is required. Of the four trim levels, the top-line SX features unique body pieces and wheels and more supportive seats. An upgraded Infinity-brand audio system, panorama roof and push-button start are all optional, as are heated and cooled front seats (offered when the leather seat-cover option is specified).