2005 Kia Sportage EX 4x2 Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2005 Kia Sportage EX 4x2

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Kia

Korean manufacturer Kia started out in the American marketplace, like many import automakers before it, by selling subcompact sedans. Yet Kia became best-known for its second offering, the compact Sportage SUV. Timing is everything, and the timing was right for the Sportage, released at the beginning of the SUV boom in 1995. An alternative to the large, expensive SUV, it quickly became Kia's sales leader, and had staying power. Its best sales year was 2000, but it was discontinued after 2002.

Why discontinue a best-seller? At the time, Kia itself looked close to being discontinued. It had collapsed financially, and, despite rumors of American or Japanese buyout, it was saved by fellow Korean manufacturer Hyundai. Sometimes failure is the best thing that can happen, for this gave Kia access to new vehicle platforms, and allowed synergy between Kia and Hyundai in product development. There are separate design teams for both lines, and styling, both exterior and interior, and chassis tuning of vehicles based on shared platforms are unique to each brand, exemplifying the strengths of platform engineering.

Market research showed not only that the Sportage name was the best-recognized among Kia products, but it was better-known than Kia itself. So a second-generation Sportage was a no-brainer, and it's here now. It's completely new and shares only its name with the original. The new 2005 Sportage is larger, roomier, more powerful, and a more upscale vehicle. There is only one body style, a four-door SUV, but two engines - a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four or a 173-hp 2.7-liter V6, two trim levels - LX and EX, and a choice of front- or automatic four-wheel drive. The four is offered with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic; the V6 comes only with the automatic. All automatic transmissions have ``Sportmatic'' manual-shift mode standard. The new Sportage is a more expensive vehicle than the original, but that's relative. A base-model FWD 4-cylinder LX lists at $15,900, while the 4x4 EX is $21,400. Add all possible options and the $590 destination and it still tops out at around $24,000.

I was first introduced to the 2005 Sportage when it made its press debut a couple of months ago, and drove both LX and EX V6 models at that time. I've been driving a front-wheel drive Sportage EX for the past week, and have been very pleased with it. The first-generation Sportage was a little rough around the edges, but this one is a very refined, civilized vehicle that can more than hold its own against any and all competitors in everyday use. Fit and finish and build quality are all first-rate, and in ride and handling it is a car, not a truck. Useful standard performance and safety features like four-wheel antilock disc brakes and, for automatics, ``Sportmatic'' manual-shift mode added to the well-executed basic package make the 2005 Kia Sportage a good value in a small urban/suburban utility vehicle.

APPEARANCE: In style, the new Sportage sits between its predecessor and Kia's larger Sorrento. It's more modern, and more highly styled, than the original, but not as sculpted as the Sorrento. Its handsome and well-proportioned lines, tight panel gaps and attention to detail, and long wheelbase and short overhangs give it an upscale look -for a decidedly non-upscale price. As with other small SUVs, it is more carlike than trucklike in details like head and tail lights and mirrors, and makes no pretense to a rugged macho look. Contrast-colored lower cladding is standard, with body-colored cladding part of the ``Luxury Package.''

COMFORT: The room promised by the Sportage's long wheelbase, wide track, and height is delivered. In EX trim, with leather (ostensibly an option but included in the base price of my test vehicle) the contemporary upscale design and high-quality fit and finish make it seem to be a considerably more expensive vehicle. And it is well-equipped, with power windows and door locks, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, and an eight-way manually-adjustable driver's seat on all models. Only in the base 4x2 four-cylinder LX is air conditioning not standard. The front seats offer good comfort and support. Not only does each side of the 60/40 split rear bench fold flat, forward, for cargo storage, each seatback is adjustable for back angle - on all models. In passenger mode, a flat floor means that even the center passenger is not cramped. If extra cargo space is needed, for long items, the front passenger seatback can be folded forward, flat - in all models. Also, the liftgate glass can be opened without opening the liftgate, for quick stowage of small items. The Sportage is not a high, off-road type SUV, so access is easy and five adults can fit in comfort if the center rear passenger is small. Good soundproofing and attention to aerodynamic details make for low levels of interior noise, further improving comfort.

SAFETY: The Kia Sportage that was recently in the news with a negative accent on safety was the old, 1995-2002 model. All new Sportages are built with a strong central structure surrounded by front and rear crumple zones and side-impact door beams. Three-point safety belts are found at all seating positions. There are six airbags - dual front, front side, and full-length side curtain - four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), and standard traction control and ESP electronic stability systems.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The old Sportage was a body-on-frame truck, a third-world utility vehicle given a makeover for the American market. The new Sportage is, like most of the vehicles in the small SUV class, a unibody car at heart. It shares its floorpan and other parts with the current Kia Spectra sedan. A rigid chassis-body structure and fully-independent suspension help give it a quiet ride and nimble handling. The springs and shocks are tuned relatively softly, and there is plenty of travel, for comfort on all kinds of road surfaces. The Sportage has a higher center of gravity than a sedan, so it doesn't handle like a sports car. But it is fun to drive, handles better than expected, and is comfortable for long-distance trips. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes give it good stopping power. The available single-range four-wheel drive system is an electronically-controlled part-time one, designed for all-weather, all-season traction. A locking center differential can help in really slippery conditions at low speeds. On the press intro, I had a chance to play in loose sand in a front-drive Sportage, and it did well. In either form, the new Sportage is designed primarily for on-road, not heavy off-road use, although 7.7 inches of clearance and good traction should pose no major problems on semi-developed forest roads and the like.

PERFORMANCE: Most Sportages sold are expected to be equipped with the 2.7-liter dual overhead cam V6 engine. Its 173 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 178 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm propel 3,344 lbs of front-wheel drive or 3,521 lbs of four-wheel drive vehicle, so acceleration is not neck-snapping, but it's quick enough to keep up in traffic. The four-speed automatic shifts well on its own; extra acceleration may be found by putting the shift lever into Sportmatic mode and shifting manually.

CONCLUSIONS: The new Kia Sportage combines comfort, refinement, and value.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Kia Sportage EX 4x2

Base Price			$ 19,999
Price As Tested			$ 20,589
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam V6

Engine Size			2.7 liters / 162 cu. in.
Horsepower			173 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			178 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic with
				 manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		103.5 in. / 171.3 in.
Curb Weight			3344 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.3
Fuel Capacity			n/a gal.
Fuel Requirement 	87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P235/60 TR16 BF Goodrich Traction
T/A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground clearance 	7.7 inches
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 25 / 20
0 to 60 mph				11  sec
Towing capacity 			2000 lbs

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge			$ 590

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