When it bowed as a 1995 model, the Kia Sportage sport/utility was on the primitive side (94 horsepower, no airbags). It was a straightforward, rugged, body-on-frame SUV. A good bargain, especially in 4x4 form, the Sportage gradually gained civility until leaving the Kia lineup after 2002. Now the Sportage is back. To create the new 2005 model, Kia kept most of the Sportage's best traits and reengineered the rest into a platform joint-ventured with Hyundai.
Gone is the funky two-door convertible version, and the spare tire has been moved inside, under the cargo area. A new unibody structure replaces the old ladder-frame chassis; it's larger in most measurements and more refined than the original. Output from the base 2.0-liter four is up from 130 horsepower to 140. Newly optional is a 2.7-liter V-6 that puts out 173 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission for the bigger engine, but I-4 buyers can also choose a five-speed manual. In 4x2 trim, the Sportage is now a front-driver. Four-wheel-drive versions are essentially front-drive until slip is detected, but it's easy for you to lock in drive to the rear at speeds of less than 20 mph.
Many hit-or-miss features on competitor models are standard or available on the Sportage. All variants get four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, electronic stability control, six airbags, power windows/locks/mirrors, a six-speaker CD stereo, roof rails, and alloy wheels. Air-conditioning is extra cost only on the base 4x2 LX manual. The up-level EX adds frills like a sunroof, keyless entry, and foglamps. An EX Luxury Package adds more posh with heated front leather seats, auto headlamps, a deluxe CD/MP3 sound system, and body-color bumpers. Check every option box, and you still won't rack up an MSRP over $24,500.
The Sportage shares underpinnings (but no sheetmetal) with the Hyundai Tucson; the Kia is smoother and less feisty-looking than its Korean cousin and more upscale inside and out. While the Sportage sets no new benchmarks in performance or handling, it's hard to ignore the fit, finish, and amenities it offers--for $1000 to $2000 less than other entry-level SUVs on the market.