2011 Kia Sportage SX AWD
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged inline-4
Power: 256hp, 264 lb.-ft.
Fuel Economy: 21 city/25 hwy
Price as tested: $27,295

When's the last time you got excited over a CUV? That's not a trick question. In fact the latest vehicle classification du jour seems to be a sneaky way for most manufacturers to re-skin minivans to the unsuspecting public. Then, of course, along comes Kia, and it's latest tagline, "The power to surprise." Yeah, they got hip hamsters and NBA dunk-monsters in their corner, but above all that, they've built a crossover that's actually fun to look at, as well as drive.

all-new Optima

No disrespect to Chubby Checker, but there's nothing old or classic about this Sportage. Squatted in a slightly raked stance over its full-faced wheels, the SX looks ready to move. The front end, with its blackened grille and LED accented headlamps echo the styling of the flagship Optima, yet don't appear to be just tacked-on style elements. Every angle of this crossover flows with a smooth liquidity that makes it a pleasure to check out from your ground-level cube, or 10th floor loft alike. Think that blacked-out panoramic roof looks trick from above? Wait until you check it from below.

Inside, the SX still uses a bit more hard-plastic trim than one would ideally like, even for a lower price-point car. A little bit of soft-touch accenting could take it a long way, but the seats are supportive and comfortable, controls are wisely placed, and that multi-panel roof we mentioned opens up the cabin about as much as physically possible before one would have to chop the top. 

Still, the SX's big claim is that 2.0 Liter 4-cylinder turbo under the hood; a sensible and thrilling alternative for a segment whose top of the line offerings usually include mundane, underpowered V6s. This crossover moves with little turbo-lag, and will walk a good number of its direct competitors like the dogs they are. So let 'em bark at the next light; then unleash that power to surprise on 'em.