Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Getting Down In San Diego with the 2017 Kia Sportage

I'm not the kind of guy who sniffs at another opportunity to visit San Diego, despite returning there three or four times a year. Although some of the same elements of life in this area, such as cost of living, would discourage me from ever moving there, as they were key in my moving out of South Florida, I still love to visit San Diego. What's not to like?

When I learned a few weeks before the event that Kia had chosen San Diego as the site to introduce the redesigned 2017 Sportage to the auto media, I didn't immediately begin tossing stuff in my bag; but I did find and dust off my old, smaller rollerboard to take along for beer. San Diego is arguably the craft-beer Mecca of the U.S. – a key reason I love to visit. I knew I would be bringing back a stash of 22-ounce bottles of some unavailable-back-East beers. Like the good Scout that I am, I was going to be prepared. 

I was fired up about a first drive of the renovated Sportage. As Kia's longest-running nameplate, this fourth-gen Sportage will have a major impact on the brand. Sportage is among the 40 percent of Kia products sold in the U.S. that are assembled in the U.S. It's an important piece in Kia's North American product strategy. 

Kia's choice of a venue to host the three-day, two-night Sportage confab was also reason for my Christmas-morning level of excitement. Home for those three days would be San Diego's Hard Rock Hotel. Never having stayed in a Hard Rock, I was elated to finally sample that experience. Doubling down on the allure of the accommodations is that this Hard Rock is in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. It doesn't get much better.

Arriving in San Diego around noon, I had plenty of time to check into my room and do a little sight-seeing. Of course, “sightseeing” is Russ-speak for “craft-beer drinking.” In my Sportage pre-trip research, I had found a couple of craft breweries within a mile or so of the hotel. I could have Uber'd to and from where I wanted to go, but after several hours crammed in an airplane seat, I wanted to stretch my legs and air out my road-weary posterior. 

Navigating the historic avenues of the Gaslamp Quarter and beyond, I hiked the mile or so to Monkey Paw Brewery. Monkey Paw won't earn any kudos for its d├ęcor, but I give it high marks for its beers. As a taste of its wares, I chose a Julie's Bizzaro Carrot Cake Stout. “Yum” pretty well sums it up. With that under my belt, I hoofed it back to the Hard Rock.

Kia scheduled dinner that first evening at a eatery a few blocks from the hotel. We were presented with the option of walking or riding in a Pedicab. For the uninitiated, a Pedicab is a human-propelled rickshaw. Think of it as a tricycle with a large backseat. A buddy of mine and I hopped on the first one in line – it's always good to be in the first wave of journalists, whose credo is “drink free or die” that arrives at cocktail hour. We thought we would be the first to belly up to the bar. Ha! 

"89" apparently refers to her weight soaking wet.
Alas, we failed to notice the human engine on our Pedicab was a 90ish-pound woman who probably struggles to manhandle a bag of groceries up two flights of stairs. We represented nearly 400 pounds of combined cargo. This woman didn't stand a chance. As Pedicabs loaded with our colleagues raced by, my buddy and I could barely hear one another over our driver's wheezing and sobbing. We did arrive before the end of the cocktail hour, but were relegated to the outer fringes of our cohorts packed against the bar. I suspect our driver didn't fare as well, probably winding up in an emergency room somewhere. 

My concentration level at these presentations is astounding.
 Our first order of business the following day was to attend a 90-or-so-minute presentation of all things Sportage. Salted among the avalanche of information were tidbits like, Kia ranked No. 2 in JD Power's 2015 Initial Quality Survey and was ranked No. 6 in reliability by Consumer Reports. We also learned that the new Sportage is the widest CUV in its segment and that its two engines for 2017 are heavily revised versions of last year's powerplants.

Here are a few other gems you might want to know about the 2017 Sportage: Entry into Sportage begins at $22,990 for the LX. There are also EX and SX Turbo grades. Even the LX version comes standard with Kia's new UVO3, featuring Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, 14 telematics services and 8 GB of music storage.

We drove both front- and all-wheel-drive versions of the top-end SX Turbo during our romp around Southern California. We rocked out to the sounds of the eight-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system as we negotiated the hills and curves of our drive route. Although we were surprised our Sportage with its 2-liter turbo is only rated by the EPA at 21 mpg in combined driving, my driving partner and I were impressed with its handling and aggressive acceleration. Not to mention the interior fit and finish.

The SX comes right out of the box crammed full of goodies, such as push-button start, leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, Smart hands-free power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, front/rear parking assist, autonomous emergency braking and a lot more. Our AWD SX totaled out with delivery fee at $34,895.

After the formal drive, we took advantage of the SX's navigation system to guide us to the Belching Beaver Brewery's auxiliary tasting room a few miles from the Hard Rock. I stocked up on two bottles each of its Peanut Butter Milk Stout and its regular Milk Stout.

Kia always spices up the drive experience with a contest of one sort or another. This event's contest was tailored more toward the social media crowd, requiring a video of each driving team pantomiming to some song as it played on the Harmon Kardon system. In the spirit of participation, my driving partner and I threw together a three-minute video. Knowing we didn't stand a snowball's chance of winning, or even collecting my usual “Honorable Mention,” umm, mention, we didn't put a lot of effort into this thing. Besides, thinking the contest was going to be the karaoke performance scheduled after that evening's dinner, I had invested a fair amount of time working on one of the songs from the playlist we were e-mailed a couple of weeks earlier. I wasn't in the mood to spend much time on this video contest that I knew we couldn't win.

I won't go into detail about the video other than to say we did it to Ray Wylie Hubbard's “We're From Texas.” There is actually a bit more to the title, but you can look it up. Needless to say, this was the first Kia contest in a couple of years that I didn't at least get an honorable mention. My fans were crestfallen. I was a little misty myself.

The blow was even greater when we got to the karaoke portion of the night and the song I had rehearsed and choreographed wasn't on the final play list. What? Kia had actually brought in a band specializing in karaoke. Yep, it was live music backing up the amateur vocals. Cool? You bet.

Somewhere between sending out the original list and the actual event, someone replaced some of the songs; mine among them. Drat, I had even taught myself to moonwalk. It wasn't good, but I judged it good enough that people would figure out what I was trying to do. I had also rewritten some of the lyrics. I wound up not performing at all. After all, it wasn't the contest, right? I didn't feel honor bound to participate. It was a great evening of entertainment, however. 

I may have been a bit disappointed in the contest/karaoke elements of the Sportage event, but I am smitten by the crossover itself. Kia continues to amp up the quality and performance of its vehicles. Sportage will do well.


  1. So, is that "Peanut Butter" Milk Stout or "Peanut" Butter Milk Stout?

  2. If one or the other, I'd say "Peanut Butter."

  3. Or maybe it's each one - Peanut AND Butter AND Milk stout. Nah.