During Kia's early years in the U.S. market, the South Korean automaker offered two models: the Sephia sedan and the Sportage sport utility vehicle. A new Sportage debuted for the 2005 model year, joining the company's larger Sorento SUV. Because Kia and Hyundai share corporate parentage, the Sportage is related to Hyundai's Tucson.
Longer in wheelbase than the original Sportage, the current model has a wider track and a more powerful standard engine. Larger and roomier than its predecessor, the Sportage is offered with front- or four-wheel drive in LX and EX trim levels.
For 2006, the Sportage gets an improved spiral-type antenna and a standard air-filtration system. A tire-pressure-monitoring system is standard on the EX.
Built on a 103.5-inch wheelbase, the unibodied Sportage measures 171.3 inches long overall and 66.7 inches tall. Styling echoes the Sorento's, and flared wheel arches help establish what Kia calls a "strong visual presence." A horizontal-bar grille sits above a lower air intake.
Twin roof bars are integrated into sloping D-pillars, which are outlined by black moldings. Alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires. Dual exhaust pipes are installed on V-6 models.
Ground clearance is 7.7 inches, and the Sportage has a four-wheel-independent suspension. A roof rack is standard. The top-hinged tailgate contains a flip-up window, and the spare tire mounts under the floor. Fog lights, bodyside cladding and a moonroof are installed on EX models.
Five occupants fit inside the Sportage. The driver's seat has dual-height adjustment. With Kia's "Drop & Fold" rear seating system, the seat cushion lowers and the backrest folds flat, yielding 66.6 cubic feet of cargo space. To accommodate long items, the backrest of the front passenger seat folds down.
A height-adjustable center console is installed. All four doors contain cupholders.
Standard equipment includes power windows with one-touch-down for the driver, power mirrors, cruise control and a six-speaker CD stereo. The EX adds heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, a cargo cover and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 140 horsepower, while the 2.7-liter V-6 generates 173 hp and 178 pounds-feet of torque. A five-speed-manual gearbox is standard in the four-cylinder LX, and a four-speed automatic is available. All V-6 models come with the automatic.
All-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are standard. Six airbags, including side curtain-type devices, are also standard.
With V-6 power, the Sportage yields a pleasant driving experience. Even on rougher pavement, the ride is well-cushioned. Suspension reactions are seldom excessive, and recovery is prompt. Even sizable bumps are partially absorbed.
Other than a little tire noise on some surfaces, the Sportage is quiet, though the engine gets snarly at high rpm. Maneuvering smartly and steering with a somewhat light touch, the Sportage feels satisfyingly secure on rain-soaked pavement. On expressways, however, it takes some concentration to stay centered in your lane.
Automatic-transmission responses are prompt, but downshifting can be sluggish when passing. The gauges are simple but appropriate, and the front passenger gets a thick grab bar. A low cowl aids the view forward, and big side windows help rearward visibility.