The 2021 Kia Sportage is a dependable compact SUV that has garnered praise from automotive experts and owners for its performance, style, and features. Starting at $25,265, it’s also more affordable than many competitors.
But the Sportage has a fairly significant weakness. And that weakness is a source of strength for a rival compact crossover, the Subaru Forester.
The 2021 Kia Sportage’s performance and strengths
The 2021 Kia Sportage is economical, comfortable, and practical. It comes standard with a 2.4-liter inline-four engine producing 181 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. However, the SX-Turbo version’s 2.0-liter turbo inline-four harnesses you 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Both come with a six-speed automatic transmission. But despite its relatively weak engines, the Sportage isn’t incredibly fuel-efficient. The 2.4-liter front-wheel-drive model gets 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Those numbers drop to 21 mpg and 25 mpg for the all-wheel-drive version and fall even further if you choose the turbo option.
Despite the inefficient fuel economy, the Sportage comes with plenty of space and technology features. Base model buyers will be treated to an 8.0-inch infotainment system compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The SX Turbo version comes with built-in navigation and an upgraded sound system.
The Sportage also scores high marks in safety thanks to its bevy of advanced safety features. It comes standard with automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beams, forward collision warning, lane-keeping assistance, and pedestrian detection. Trims above the base model also get adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also gave the Sportage 5 out of 5 stars in overall safety.
So it’s striking, then, that one of the 2021 Sportage’s most significant weaknesses is safety-related.
The Sportage’s visibility issue
Unfortunately, in addition to fuel inefficiency, side and rear visibility mar the Kia Sportage. The design is to blame. Though the SUV’s exterior is attractive, its small windows, lack of a back corner window, and a rear roof pillar compromise driving visibility.
Consumer Reports flagged this issue for would-be purchasers in its 2021 Sportage review (as well as in the 2020 model‘s review). And because visibility is such an important safety feature, CR even developed a list of vehicles in each class with the best and worst visibility.
However, the Kia Sportage isn’t the worst compact SUV for visibility. That dubious distinction goes to the GMC Terrain.
Consumer Reports also calls the 2021 Subaru Forester the best compact SUV for visibility. It’s a distinction that should help the Forester — best known for its practicality — better stand out in a crowded field.
The Subaru Forester’s performance, features, and options
Though the Subaru Forester’s styling resembles sportier competitors, its smooth handling and reliable (though weak) engine make it a practical choice. All models come with a standard 2.5-liter flat-four-cylinder engine producing 182 hp that can push the Forester from 0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds. It’s fuel-efficient, at 26 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.
The interior is spacious and brimming with excellent tech features, such as a 6.5-inch infotainment touchscreen (higher trim levels get an 8.0-inch touchscreen) and multiple USB ports. The premium Touring trim comes with built-in navigation and onboard Wi-Fi, plus caramel-colored leather seats.
The NHTSA also gives the 2021 Subaru Forester 5 out of 5 stars. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates it a Top Safety Pick+, the highest award. The Forester comes with the same advanced safety features as the Sportage, but the Subaru’s most prominent distinction is its large windows, allowing for substantial visibility. No internal design touches impede rear or side visibility, allowing drivers to see cars, pedestrians, animals, and other objects clearly.
Kia might want to consider rolling back its rear pillar and lengthening its windows. Though it’s a brand known for safety and reliability, the Sportage comes in well behind the Forester in driving visibility and, therefore, safety.