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The increasingly packed small SUV segment is full of vehicles that are, at best, mediocre. It also has a few standout performers. In this comparison, we will be looking at one standout small SUV and one that almost falls into the 'mediocre' category. What exactly sets them apart though? Which is the one that presents buyers with the best deal? Hang tight with us through this review, as, in the end, we will let you know whether the 2021 Kia Sportage or the 2021 Ford Escape is the better buy.
First, a few juicy tidbits about each vehicle. The 2021 Kia Sportage is fairly reminiscent of its corporate counterpart, the Hyundai Tucson. If you have ever driven a Tucson, then the Sportage will feel delightfully familiar. This year's Sportage packs a bunch of standard features into the mix and lets you opt for an affordable all-wheel drive model if front-wheel drive won't cut it. While it struggles against some strong competitors in this segment, the Sportage puts in a solid performance. The ride quality is smooth, the cabin spacious, the interior quiet, and the dashboard intuitively laid-out with its controls.
What we don't like about the Sportage is how slow the acceleration feels. The base 2.4-L 4-cylinder engine is underwhelming and does not provide a great return on fuel. The optional 2.0-L 4-cylinder is turbocharged, so you do get a nice boost in power. It just drags down a little more on the fuel economy. You also do not get the same amount of cargo volume as you do in other small SUVs.
The 2021 Ford Escape sees a few positive changes for the year, starting with the addition of the hybrid powertrain option on the SEL trim level. This is a 2.5-liter hybrid powertrain that generates a combined 200 horsepower and gets around 40 miles per gallon combined. The ride quality on any trim level feels smooth, and the seating is spacious and comfy. The controls are all pretty straightforward too.
The downsides here? The handling feels vastly inferior to many of the Escape's rivals. It is not as composed and reassuring. Also, the transmission will make abrupt, jolting shifts between gears, meaning you will not get an effortless distribution of power to the wheels.
While both of these vehicles fall below some of the top competitors (like the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V), they both have something to offer buyers. But which one makes for the better option? Let's talk about their respective powertrain options, drivability factors, and safety features before we make our final decision.
A powertrain can make or break a driving experience. Knowing what you are getting is important before you sign the approval forms and drive your new vehicle off the lot. How fuel efficient is it? How much power does it generate? What kind of transmission comes equipped? These are things buyers should know before considering either the Sportage or Escape.
Let's start with the 2021 Kia Sportage. It gives you the option of equipping the standard 2.4-L 4-cylinder engine or the 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder. Either one will come with a 6-speed automatic transmission. You can equip either front- or all-wheel drive. The base engine generates 181 hp while the turbo 4-cylinder gets a much-needed boost to 240 hp. The latter only comes on the line-topping SX Turbo trim level, which will also give you a sport-tuned suspension and upgraded front brakes.
The 2021 Ford Escape gives you a few engine options as well. The base engine is a turbocharged 1.5-L 3-cylinder engine that puts forth 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. It comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Standard for the Titanium and optional for the SE and SEL trim levels is a 2.5-L hybrid powertrain that gets 200 hp combined and is paired with a CVT. A 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder is optional and gives you a boost in power to 250 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. This is only available on the SEL and Titanium trim levels though. The 4-cylinder is AWD-only while the other options can come with FWD or AWD.
What makes a vehicle enjoyable (or not-so-enjoyable, as the case may be) to drive? We will focus on several key factors here: acceleration, braking capabilities, steering, handling, ride comfort and quality, the interior design, and just how easy the tech features are to use while behind the wheel.
Let us start with the 2021 Kia Sportage. The Sportage is at its finest while scooting about town. On the highway, it needs a little more refinement. The 2.0-L turbo engine only gets you from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 9 seconds, which is slow for a turbo-powered small SUV. The brake pedal also becomes soft, although it does provide steady enough pressure when you need to press down on the brakes for a quick stop. On slower, straight roads, the suspension feels sporty enough. However, it becomes soft and clumsy when driven along winding roadways. The steering also lacks feeling, so you will have to tolerate its numbness.
The Sportage's front seats are padded well for comfort, and they can come with heating and ventilation systems that work rather effectively. The climate control system makes quick work of getting to the desired cabin temperature and will keep it there. Noise is not present inside of the cabin while going about the city, but on the highway, you will hear it seep in. The ride is firm and sporty, and the suspension handles bumps on city roads with ease. Larger bumps and higher speeds will bring out some rebound though, and the vehicle takes on a boat-esque ride.
For its class, the Sportage has some high-grade materials. The sloping roofline cuts down on rear seat head space and makes it so that taller occupants need to duck to get in. There is ample room for adjustment in the front seats, although some taller drivers might wish that the seat could go even lower to the floor. Trying to locate the controls by touch can be a tad difficult since the buttons are of similar shape and size. Otherwise, they are labeled well enough for identification.
Technology is where the Sportage shines. The infotainment touchscreen is user-friendly, and rear seat occupants can get charging ports for their wireless devices. The optional stereo system is superb - one of the best out there, in fact. However, voice controls area bit disappointing since they do not thoroughly recognize natural speech patterns. Subscribing to Kia's Uvo services does seem to improve the quality of voice recognition, but it will cost you extra money.
Now, let's take a look at how the 2021 Ford Escape stacks up. While the 2.0-L engine musters up enough power, the 8-speed automatic shifts slowly and shows a lot of jerkiness on the upshifts. Downshifts result in a series of small shocks as well. Engine start-stop is a true annoyance since it will jut the Escape forward as you restart it by taking your foot off of the brake. This is something that should have been addressed in the factory and should have never made it onto the sales lot.
When left in Default mode, the steering is light and easy. Handling is another thing though. It has a lot of body roll to it and feels rather ominous while rounding through turns. On top of all that, the tires have little in the way of road grip. Nothing here really inspires driver confidence.
At least the Escape is reasonably comfortable. There is plenty of cushioning on the well-shaped front seats. Even the rear seats provide ample comfort for a couple of adults. You can get power adjustability on the Titanium trim level, which is something not a lot of front seats have in this class. The downside? You cannot get rear heated seats or ventilated front seats on any of the Escape's trim levels. The mid-tier trim also comes with single-zone automatic climate control, whereas most others offer dual-zone. Bummer, right?
The interior is well laid-out though, making it easy to figure out the controls. Sync 3 is one of the best infotainment systems out there right now with its straightforward interface. You also get a remarkable view from the driver's seat as the thin roof pillars and small headrests are not obstructive in any way. The navigation system is easy to use, and even the base sound system provides excellent quality. We just wish that smartphone app integration was standard on all trim levels. You also do not get as many USB ports as you will on many of the Escape's rivals. However, we love that the base Escape comes with onboard Wi-Fi hot-spot connectivity - not a regular feature for this class.
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Safety features can be effective at keeping a vehicle from getting into an accident. We all want our passengers and cargo to be safe. But not all features work as they should. That's why you need to know about them before you decide to buy a specific vehicle.
The 2021 Kia Sportage comes with a driver attention monitor that will issue a warning if it senses your attention or alertness starting to wane. Lane departure warning will alert you if it senses you drifting into another lane without using your turn indicator. Lane keep assist will gently guide the vehicle back into the selected driving lane. Also, forward collision mitigation will issue a warning and apply the brakes for you if it detects a potential impending frontal crash. Blind-spot monitoring gets added to the S trim level, and the SX Turbo gains adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and parking sensors for the front and rear of the Sportage.
On the 2021 Ford Escape, you get similar safety features. The base trim does get blind-spot monitoring in addition to forward collision warning and lane departure mitigation. Upgrading to the SE or SEL allows you to opt for the Co-Pilot360 Assist+ package, which adds adaptive cruise control, lane keep, and evasive steering. These get standardized on the Titanium trim level, as do front parking sensors and an automated parking system. An optional head-up display comes on the Titanium Elite package and will display important driving data and safety info on the windshield in front of you.
Which Has the Best Value?
While the 2021 Ford Escape has a few more key tech features, the powertrain does this vehicle very little justice. The Sportage's optional turbo engine provides better fuel economy and a more enjoyable ride. We have to hand it to Kia for making the powertrain as refined as possible.
Which is Better?
The 2021 Kia Sportage could benefit from a few of the Escape's standard features, but it otherwise trumps the Escape. The Sportage has a vastly better driving performance and garners more fuel economy from either of its engine options. Its safety features all work well, and you do not have to worry about engine start-stop bucking the Sportage around at a stoplight or in a drive-thru lane.