It was easy to recommend a Kia Sportage to a young family I know, but it was a terrific surprise to find out it's even better than I'd remembered.

That was obvious as soon as the crossover utility vehicle turned into the driveway. The 2011 model is redesigned to give it a dramatic look, thanks to new, swept-back headlamps, a tabbed grille and a lower fascia treatment. Those features, combined with the more sculpted hood, offer a clean, contemporary look. Not that the previous models weren't handsome, but the 2011 version takes the sophistication up a notch.

Stats Box »  Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing and 186 horsepower »  Transmission: six-speed automatic with sport shifting or six-speed manual »  MSRP: starting at $16,695

That look was one of the points that sold my thirtysomething friends on the Sportage. They needed plenty of room but almost visibly shuddered when looking at boxy, bloated minivans.

Not only did they find the traditional minivan look unappealing, but the vehicles' major price tags and thirsty gas tanks were the last thing they wanted.

The sporty, powerful Sportage with an manufacturer's suggested retail price of just over $16,695 and proudly bearing all kinds of kudos including a "Best Buy" rating from Consumers Digest for two years in a row, was appealing. The Sportage's gas ratings -- 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway (2WD) and 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway (4WD), according to the U.S. Department of Energy -- aren't the highest out there but aren't bad either.

Climb behind the wheel and you see the clean, contemporary look continues with a signature three-pot instrument cluster set, paddle shifters on the steering wheels and red-hued interior lighting that's just trendy enough without taking the look over the top.

Everybody will enjoy the interior space. The interior is roomy -- 39.1 inches of front headroom and 38.5 inches of front legroom. The numbers in the second row are 41.4 for headroom and 37.9 for legroom. The other high point is the Sportage doesn't have an ultra-high step, so kids can get in and out with ease.

Another terrific feature is that the rear seats configure in a variety of ways to suit changing needs. It might sound silly, but little extras such as cup holders with stabilizers are also selling points, especially to families that don't want to be constantly faced with stains. Combine that with plentiful interior storage spots and a host of safety features including six standard airbags, traction control and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and you see what all the excitement is about.

One drive in the Sportage will surely seal the deal. The first thing you're most likely notice is that the Sportage drives more like a car than a truck. You can swing into tight parking spots with ease and keep up with the best of them on the highway.

That's thanks to the 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam, 16-valve four-cylinder engine with Continuously Variable Valve Timing and 186 horsepower. (In the future there will also be an option for a 2-liter, gasoline direct injection, turbo four-cylinder). That boosts fuel economy whether in the 2WD or AWD models that can be paired to either a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic transmission. My friends bought the automatic transmission model, and it's one of the smoothest I've ever experienced.

It's one that's proprietary to Kia and was first used on the 2011 Sorento CUV.

Check out the 2011 Kia Sportage and you'll likely see why you may recommend it too.