In 1995, the compact Kia Sportage SUV arrived, ready to establish the upstart Korean brand in America. The low priced, capable little off roader soon became Kia’s top seller. So, when it was replaced with the larger Sorento in 2003, it left a big hole in Kia appeal. Well, now the Sportage is back! It’s still compact in size, but just about everything else about it has changed.
In fact, fans of the original will find the 2005 Kia Sportage to be a totally different SUV. The old Sportage was a traditional truck-style body-on-frame design. High-tech systems consisted of little more than anti-lock brakes for the rear wheels. But time and technology marches on! The all-new Sportage is built on a car-type unibody shared with the Hyundai Tucson utility, Elantra sedan, and Kia Spectra. And it’s packed with modern electronically controlled systems.
But first the basics. The Sportage is the little brother of the Kia SUV lineup. It measures 171.3-inches from nose to tail, and rides on a 103.5-inch wheelbase. That’s the same wheelbase as a Honda CR-V, but is 10-inches shorter overall.
Like its big brother the Sorento, the Sportage wears sleek, muscular sheet metal. The look is somewhat derivative, but still very handsome, and more rugged than the Tucson. If it favors any other compact SUV it would be the Land Rover Freelander. Indeed the Sportage sits tall on 16-inch alloy wheels with an ample 7.7-inches of ground clearance.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam 4 with 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque. If you need more punch, opt for out EX-grade test vehicle’s 2.7-liter 24-valve V6. As in the Tucson, it pumps out 173 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic for the 4-banger, or an automatic only for the V6. Both automatics have manual shift mode. Both engines are available in front-wheel-drive, or automatic all-wheel-drive with a lockable center differential. But more impressive is the inclusion of standard traction control and electronic stability control.
With all systems engaged, our all-wheel drive Sportage cruises to 60 in a leisurely 10.4 seconds. The quarter mile takes 17.8 seconds at 78 miles-per-hour. Not very exciting. Power delivery is soft but very smooth, with real pull only arriving when the engine spins past 5,000 rpm. Shifts are slow and deliberate.
While the first Sportage had a solid rear axle, the ‘05 model is all independent with MacPherson struts up front, and a dual-transverse link setup out back. It is still softly sprung, however, delivering heavy front plow and body roll in corners. But electronic stability control keeps drama contained. And the power rack-and-pinion steering, while lacking feel, responds quickly to inputs.
Our average 60 mile-per-hour stopping distance of 127 feet was an adequate result, and comes courtesy of 4-wheel discs with standard ABS. Pedal feel is also extremely soft, and the body exhibits a lot of nose dive. But overall stability is very good. In daily driving, the Sportage delivers a smooth ride, and car-like control of noise and vibration. It is also sure-footed in both good and bad weather. The all-wheel drive system handles light off-road duties like snow and forest trails with ease.
Unlike the original Sportage, the new model boasts sedan-style accommodations. The cabin is roomy for its class, and our EX-grade tester is very well equipped. Fit and finish are also impressive, with big improvements in material quality and assembly over previous Kia utilities. This Kia also gets high marks for safety, thanks to standard side-impact airbags up front, and first and second row side-curtain airbags. Our staff drivers were well pleased with the supportive seats, which came with the optional Luxury Package’s leather upholstery and heaters. The Luxury Package also includes a 6-disc CD changer, though all Sportage models come with at least a single CD as standard equipment. Air conditioning is standard on all but the base LX manual-transmission model.
All Sportage models include a 60/40 split rear seat. It flips easily into position to make a wide, flat load floor. Maximum cargo space is also good for a compact SUV, and slightly above the Tucson at 66.6 cubic feet. With the seat up it’s still a healthy 23.6 cubic feet, all accessed by a 2-way tailgate with flip-up rear glass. It’s a comfortable, versatile, if mild-mannered little machine, and a solid addition to Kia’s promising sport-ute lineup.
Now, if you’d like to park a Sportage in your driveway, you’re looking at a base price of $16,490 for a 2-wheel-drive 4-cylinder LX without air conditioning. Two-wheel-drive V6 models start at $19,090. For all-wheel drive, a 4-cylinder LX runs $18,490. Our up-level EX V6 starts at $21,990, and with the optional Luxury Package comes to $23,290. This puts it in the same price league as the Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav-4, but neither of those offers a V6 engine.
Compact value like this will bring even more dollar-conscious SUV consumers into Kia showrooms and confirm that the 2005 Kia Sportage is the welcomed return of an old friend.
Engine: 2.7-Liter 24-valve V6
Torque: 178 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 10.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.8 Seconds @ 78 MPH
60-0 MPH: 127 Feet
EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 23 MPG Highway