Besides a minor interior tweak, the 2008 Kia Sportage is identical to last year's model. It's a compact SUV that competes with other small utes such as the Jeep Compass and Honda Element. Because Kia and Hyundai share corporate parentage, the Sportage is related to Hyundai's Tucson.
The Sportage is offered with front- or four-wheel drive in LX and EX trim levels. The only change for 2008, Kia says, is embossed markings for the side mirror controls. A tire pressure monitoring system is standard on the EX.
Built on a 103.5-inch wheelbase, the unibody Sportage measures 171.3 inches long overall and 66.7 inches tall. Styling echoes the larger Kia 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, and there is chrome trim in the rear.
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 with a V-6 engine.
The Sportage seats up to five. 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, and a six-speaker CD stereo. The EX adds heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, a cargo cover and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. V-6 models get standard cruise control.
Under the Hood
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 airbags, 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.