Cute ute gets better with age
ANAHEIM, Calif. - One of the first so-called "cute-utes" on the market when it debuted in 1995, the Kia Sportage beat most of today's pint-sized SUVs to the punch. The primary difference between the Sportage and subsequent entries in the class lay in vehicle construction - the Sportage was a traditional body-on-frame boulder basher like the Geo Tracker and Suzuki Sidekick, while vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 were smooth-riding "soft roaders" that spawned an entirely new segment of SUVs that looked like trucks but drove like cars. That first Kia Sportage did not drive like a car. Though stylishly designed inside and out, the Sportage was a truck under its shapely skin, and an underpowered one at that. Still, the original design lasted eight years thanks to low prices and burgeoning interest in small suvs, put out to pasture only when the Kia Sorento debuted for 2003.
This January, the Kia Sportage returns following a two-year hiatus, riding on the same platform that underpins the new Hyundai Tucson SUV. Hyundai, Kia's parent company, donated a heavily modified Elantra sedan foundation for the purpose of constructing the new Sportage, which with unibody construction and a four-wheel-independent suspension is built more like a car than a truck.
Two trim levels are available: LX and EX. Every 2005 Kia Sportage comes well equipped from the factory, including side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, traction control, stability control, and four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. Power windows, power door locks, cruise control, privacy glass, a roof rack, and 16-inch alloy wheels wearing 215/65 tires are also standard.
Powered by a standard 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the 2005 Kia Sportage LX is equipped with a five-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional, and the Sportage LX can be equipped with a 4WD system as long as you don't mind rowing your own gears with the manual transmission.The 2005 Kia Sportage's 4WD system sends nearly all of the engine's output to the front wheels under normal conditions, and can automatically transfer as much as half of the engine's power to the rear wheels when the front wheels slip. At speeds below 20 mph, the driver can lock the driveline into a 50/50 power split by pressing a button on the dashboard. There is no low-range gearing, so unlike the original Sportage, this one has no serious off-roading capability. For dirt roads and heavy snowfalls, the 2005 Kia Sportage offers 7.7 inches of ground clearance to make travel easier.
A 2.7-liter V6 engine hooked to the SportShift automatic is optional on the Sportage LX and standard on the Sportage EX. This motor makes 173 horsepower, and the Sportage comes equipped with larger 235/60 tires and dual exhaust outlets when the V6 is specified.
Other standard equipment on the 2005 Kia Sportage EX includes a power sunroof, fog lights, heated outside mirrors, leather trim for the steering wheel and shift knob, remote keyless entry, a cargo cover, upgraded seat fabric, and an illuminated ignition surround. A Luxury package for the Sportage EX adds leather seat upholstery, heated front seats, automatic headlight control, an electrochromic rearview mirror, a Homelink universal transmitter, and an upgraded audio system. The best reason to choose the EX Luxury, however, is for the body-colored bumpers, which make the Sportage appear far less cartoonish than the standard LX and EX models.
We thought that the Kia Sorento SUV and Kia Spectra sedan heralded a new chapter in Korean design, one in which the vehicles were actually attractive. The new 2005 Kia Sportage disproves that theory to some degree, thanks to its prodigious use of dark gray plastic, odd trapezoidal wheel arches, and wide-eyed headlamp lenses. To our eyes, the original was far more handsome; this 2005 looks ten years old right out of the gate.In most other respects, however, the redesigned 2005 Kia Sportage is a huge improvement. True, it's no longer a Billy goat off-road, but it works better than ever as a daily driver. Take, for example, how easy it is to use the tailgate. It's hinged from the top rather than the side, the spare tire is stowed under the cargo floor rather than hung awkwardly off the tailgate, and there's a flip-up rear window for added convenience. Inside, a handy Drop & Fold seating system creates a flat load floor and 66.6 cubic feet of cargo space in seconds. The front passenger's seat even folds in half to carry longer items with the rear hatch closed. There's lots of storage space inside, too, with bins in all four doors, a large glovebox, overhead sunglasses storage, and a center console bin with a height-adjustable armrest.
Pricing was not announced when the 2005 Kia Sportage was unveiled at the 2004 California Auto Show, but we would expect it to straddle the $20,000 mark depending on equipment. With an impressive load of standard safety features, a long powertrain warranty, and low prices, the new-and-improved Kia Sportage is better than ever.
--Photos Courtesy of Kia Motors America