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Kia's Sportage is an economical entry in the offroad-capable SUV market.




2002 Kia Sportage SUV Road Test
Rugged yet smooth

By Bill Roebuck

Kia Canada Inc. entered the Canadian market in the summer of 2000 with two models, the Sephia compact sedan and the Sportage sport-utility vehicle.

For those unfamiliar with the company, its parent, Kia Motors, is the eighth largest corporation in South Korea. It sells vehicles in more than 130 countries around the world. Kia built Ford's Festiva back in 1987 and continued in 1993 with the Aspire. That was the same year it started selling its own brand in the United States. In 1998, Kia was acquired by Hyundai Corp., although it remains an autonomous entity and operates its vehicle manufacturing independently.

The most likely reason you'll pay attention to Kia, aside from its amusing television ads, is the vehicle prices. The 2002 Sportage from $22,095. Current Kia models come with a 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty, 5 year/100,000 km comprehensive warranty, and 24 hour roadside assistance.

The part-time, four-wheel drive Sportage competes mainly with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, yet it's priced $3,000 to $5,000 less, comparably equipped. Topped up, around $27,000 will get you a fully loaded Sportage, with options such as leather seats, automatic, air conditioning, ABS brakes and cruise control.

The exterior appearance is smoothly rugged. In fact, the Sportage is built on a ladder-style truck frame with six cross members for torsional stiffness. The result is competent handling and a smooth ride. It also has a smooth 130-horsepower, 2.0-litre dual overhead cam engine and a standard five-speed manual transmission. An optional four-speed automatic is available. With both, a two-speed transfer case is standard. Vacuum-operated front hubs automatically disengage when you shift out of four-wheel drive. The hubs do not require stopping and backing up, as do some older four-wheel drive systems.

Acceleration isn't mind-boggling in the Sportage, but it's adequate for the size of the vehicle. The automatic does drain performance compared to the standard transmission, which provides more driving flexibility and faster highway speeds. You likely wouldn't want to tow anything with the automatic model, as I expect it would be too slow going up hills.

Safety is aided by a driver-side knee airbag that operates in conjunction with the front airbags. The sturdy looking Kia, unfortunately, has not performed well in crash tests done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 1998 model it crash tested received an "M" rating for marginal.
The Sportage has room for five, but it's a tight fit in the rear. The driving position is quite comfortable. Instruments and controls are easy to read and reach, with large gauges and knobs. Ground clearance is 20 cm, yet the low step-in height makes it easy to get in and out.

One nice feature is a stainless steel muffler for long life and a quieter exhaust sound. Also standard in the base model are a cassette stereo; power door locks, windows and mirrors; a full-size, exterior-mounted spare tire; and a theft-deterrent system. The EX model ($24,095) adds air conditioning, a CD player, cruise control, roof rack, alloy wheels, two-tone body cladding, a chrome grille, and wood grain interior accents. Automatic is optional (about $1,000).

The Kia Sportage is an inexpensive new vehicle that's fun to drive, can handle off-roading, and is smooth and comfortable on city and highway streets.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca 2002.

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