SAN FRANCISCO - Dictionary.com defines a bargain as "something offered or acquired at a price advantageous to the buyer." And it's a word we Americans love, as is well documented by the number of superstores dotting the landscape and our affinity for "supersizing" it. Lots more food for just a few additional pennies? You bet! And no worries about that expanding waistline - the gym down the street offers a membership for only $19.00 per month, and a whole new wardrobe can be bought at Wal-Mart for less than it costs to fill up your gas tank.But what makes us really smile are the big-ticket bargains, and one of the best examples is the 2005 Kia Sportage. When Kia first stepped onto the North American stage more than ten years ago, it was a company that offered only two, poorly built vehicles, one of which was the Sportage SUV. However, over the years Kia added more models to its lineup, joined forces with fellow Korean automaker Hyundai, and implemented an outstanding 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty program for all of its cars and SUVs. Kia has come a long way, and nowhere is the company's improvement better exemplified than in the 2005 Sportage.
Topping the list of Kia Sportage models is the EX V6, which comes with a power sunroof, heated and color-keyed side mirrors, foglights, and body-color fender flares and body side moldings. Also standard are an MP3 player, keyless entry, an anti-theft alarm, a trip computer, a cargo cover and cargo net, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The front-wheel drive 2005 Kia Sportage EX V6 is priced at $20,589; the four-wheel-drive system requires a $1,400 premium. Also offered is the EX Luxury Package, which for $1,300 provides leather upholstery, heated front seats, a six-disc CD changer, a subwoofer, a Homelink universal garage door opener, and body-color bumpers.What's more impressive is the long list of standard safety features. In an effort to make the 2005 Kia Sportage safe for all passengers, each model comes complete with front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, a stability control system, and a traction control system. That's a lot of security for a starting price of less than $17,000.
While hard, shiny plastic is used in the cargo area, much of the rest of the interior is dressed in hard plastic with a tasteful matte finish, giving it a more upscale look. Soft touches are delivered via the padded door and center armrests, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and soft cloth seating material. For those who prefer cowhide, there's the EX Leather Package that covers both the seats and door inserts.
The 2005 Kia Sportage rides on a fully independent suspension, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard on all models. Kia engineers claim to have tuned the suspension so that it best combines tight handling with low NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels. The idea is that as handling improves, comfort and interior noise levels suffer, and vice versa. As a result, the Sportage provides a comfortable, fairly quiet ride, though it has a tendency to roll and plow a bit when pushed in the corners. Since this is an SUV, the handling draws no complaints and the low NVH levels are welcome.
With brakes, steering, and suspension systems that meet or exceed the standards in the class, that makes the uninspired powertrain the weakest link, especially considering the competition. When comparing four-cylinder engines, the Honda Element and CR-V both offer an extra 20 horsepower, the Jeep Liberty an extra 10 horsepower, and the Toyota RAV4 an extra 21 horsepower. In regards to the V6, the Chevrolet Equinox boasts 12 more horsepower, the Ford Escape another 27 horsepower, and the Jeep Liberty packs in an additional 37 horses. And many of these vehicles combine equal or better fuel economy with higher curb weights. While the Sportage provides enough grunt for the daily commute, an injection of power is needed to make it feel as lively as some of its competitors. The manually-interactive automatic transmission helps out a bit by allowing the driver to hold gears longer and keep the revs up, resulting in a more entertaining ride.
Ahh, you've got to love a bargain.
Engine Size and Type: 2.7-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 173 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 178 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm
EPA Fuel Economy: 19 city and 23 highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 17.1 mpg
Curb Weight: 3,521 lbs.
Max. Cargo Capacity: 66.6 cubic feet
Max. Towing Capacity: 2,000 lbs.
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sorento, Mazda Tribute, Mitsubishi Outlander, Saturn VUE, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Suzuki XL-7, Toyota RAV4
None of the sheetmetal is shared between the two models, the front and rear fascias differ, and the rear side windows are different. The instrument panels and standard/optional features are also different. Under the skin, both vehicles are built off of the same platform, though they come from separate assembly lines. And Kia engineers claim that the suspension has been specially tuned for a sportier, firmer feel versus the Hyundai Tucson.What conditions led to a 17.1-mpg observed fuel economy?
Our driving time in the 2005 Kia Sportage was limited to about 150 miles in the greater San Francisco area. Our route took us through city traffic, out on the highway, through some twisty back roads, and briefly over some hard-packed sand dunes. While there were instances of aggressive driving to find the vehicle's limits, the Sportage was operated as it would be by the average driver. Using the trip computer, we noted that instantaneous fuel economy fluctuated between the mid-16- and mid-17-mpg range.
Is the 2005 Kia Sportage a good buy?
For drivers who seek a bit of excitement in their vehicle or good gas mileage, the Sportage isn't the best bet. But for those who want a well-priced, competent, and comfortable vehicle that comes with a killer warranty and lots of safety features, the Sportage is definitely worth considering.
Photos courtesy of Kia Motors America