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Yet another dramatic new-model makeover from Hyundai/Kia.

The Kia nameplate is synonymous with value, but the Korean manufacturer is trying to change that. Oh, it'll keep the value, but it wants to add design to its strengths. If the Sportage looks vaguely like an oversize Italian hot hatch, it's no coincidence—it was penned by a designer from Italy. And if its LED daytime running lights look familiar, it's no surprise—Kia's design head is the former Audi design boss.

The Sportage shares its platform with something slightly more Korean—the Hyundai Tucson. That means it has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed stick or a very smooth six-speed automatic. The new engine makes more power than last year's optional V-6, which is a pleasant surprise, but the Sportage isn't exactly quick in a straight line. A tur-bocharged 2.0-liter with more than 270 hp is coming next year, and that model will also have adaptive dampers. The additional thrust will turn the Sportage into one of the quickest cute-utes, but the dampers may be overkill, as it already offers surprisingly well-balanced handling and amazingly good body control.

Top-spec Sportages offer dual-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, keyless start, and leather seating. The driver's seat is power-operated and can be cooled at the touch of a button. This is hardly the stuff you'd expect from a Kia.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: the Juke looks like a frog. But unlike frogs, the Juke looks far better on the road than it does in photos. Also unlike a frog, the Juke is a man-made design meant to appeal to younger guys. To that end, it combines die roofline of a sports car with the big wheels, the flared fenders, and the ground clearance of an SUV.

We don't get it, either, but we do think the Juke is fun to look at. It also succeeds at that trademark crossover miracle, where the tall version looks bigger, more substantial, and far more expensive than the car it's based on (in this case, the Nissan Versa).

Plus, it's really fun to drive—and in ways the Versa isn't. First of all, it's got a turbocharged, direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder under the hood strapped to a CVT and four-wheel drive (front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual are standard). The four-wheel-drive version uses a torque-vectoring rear differential to mitigate understeer, and it replaces the front-wheel-drive car's torsion-beam rear suspension with an independent setup.

Inside, the painted center console is made to look like a motorcycle's fuel tank, and the seats are surprisingly supportive, although the steering wheel doesn't telescope, so it's always too far away. The coolest feature is i-CON, a driver-selectable chassis-tuning system like Audi's Drive Select. Sure, the changes to throttle mapping and power-steering boost are neat, but i-CON's coolest feature is its interface: it uses the climate-control buttons. Press a button, and the labels change from HVAC functions to i-CON functions. Even with the bold exterior styling, it's the i-CON buttons we could stare at all day.

■ on sale: NOW I base price: $20,000 (est.) specs: 1.6L turbo 1-4.188 hp. 177 Ib-ft; front- or 4-wheel drive

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