SEE ALSO: Kia Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 16,295 Price As Tested $ 18,034 Engine Type DOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI* Engine Size 122 cid/1998 cc Horsepower 130 @ 5500 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 127 @ 4000 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 104.3"/68.1"/170.3" Transmission Five-speed manual Curb Weight 3379 pounds Fuel Capacity 15.8 gallons Tires (F/R) P205/75R15 Brakes (F/R) Disc /drum Drive Train Front-engine/four-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/five-door Domestic Content N/A Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 19/22/20 0-60 MPH 13.5 seconds Maximum payload capacity 860 pounds Maximum towing capacity 2000 pounds * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
(Matt Hagin says Kia is a survivor in the fast-changing SUV world and it's Sportage is successfully pushing its way into the competitive mini-SUV market. Bob Hagin agrees with Matt's assessment, and comments that although the little truck is built in Korea, it was designed in Southern California.)
BOB - Kia is now being marketed around the U.S. and it's been a tough pull for the company. The plan was to start in Southern California in the mid-'90s and spread across the country from there. I don't think things happened quite as quickly as the company had planned, but now things seem to be moving along. The Sportage we tested was about the same size as an original Jeep. It competes in a tough market niche since many of the heavy-hitters in the car business seem to be getting into the small SUV business with vehicles derived from passenger cars.
MATT - The Sportage is a little different from most of its competition, Dad. It's designed to be a rough-duty machine. Its chassis consists of a full ladder frame and it can be had in either two-or-four-wheel drive. And because it has automatic locking from hubs, engaging 4WD is easy through the two-speed transfer case: just pull the lever and go. That type of system is handy when we go skiing. I always felt sorry for those poor souls who have to get out of their vehicle and "lock-in" at the chain control station. And if things stickier than that are expected, a limited slip rear differential is optional on the EX model. Our test unit had a German-designed, five-speed stick-shift but a four-speed automatic is also available.
BOB - Even so, Matt, Sportage won't run the Rubicon unscathed, and it wasn't meant to. I'm impressed, however, with its 2.0 liter Mazda- designed double-overhead-cam, 16-valve engine. It puts out a respectable 130 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. That's not enough to get the driver in trouble, but plenty to pull the 3300-pound Sportage along at a good clip. It will pull a ton and carry 860 pounds of payload. The engine design is fairly new, and as other companies race to even higher- tech, it probably has some room for further development. Otherwise, it's very sound mechanically.
MATT - Kia offers the Sportage with four doors or as a much shorter two-door, but that one comes in convertible form only. In '99, the introduction of the two-door, two-wheel-drive Sportage was obviously aimed at the kid-market where red paint on a zippy, topless SUV is as much a lifestyle statement as a means of transportation. The front suspension on both uses double wishbones and coil springs up front, while the rear is a four-system. To design the suspension system, Kia called on outside engineering firms for help, so the suspension had a lot of input from Lotus of England. The small standard tires leave something to be desired so I'd prefer beefier off-road rubber for the Sportage. But since most SUV never venture far from pavement, most buyers would do fine with the standard skins. Anti-lock brakes are a $500 option, but well worth the money. Drivers don't need it very often but when they do, it's worth any price.
BOB - With the small amount of space available inside these mini-off-roaders, it makes sense to have a roof rack. If someone is using their Sportage for a ski trip with more than two people and gear, putting the skis on top in a ski rack becomes mandatory. And for those who live where it snows, it's an added benefit to have a 4X4 that's relatively comfortable inside.
MATT - I know it's a mini-SUV, but forgive me for saying that the interior is a little cramped in back. I can fit two kid's car seats in the back, but there isn't any room for much else. The seating position is high and lots of glass area gives great visibility. I didn't like the back door design because it only opens from the side. I would prefer one that opened either up or down but then again the spare tire is mounted on the door so I don't think there's much choice.
BOB - I don't think the back-door location of the spare is so bad, Matt. At least I wouldn't have to crawl under the rear to get it out.