Friday, March 12, 2010

Kia Sportage

Exterior front, side view of the 2007 Kia Sportage Compact Sport Utility Vehicle

What was tested? 2007 Kia Sportage 4x4 ($21,195)

Options: Sport package ($900), floor mats ($85).

Price as tested (including $595 freight charge): $22,775

Have you ever driven an old Kia Sportage?

Gosh, I hope not - unless I don't like you, in which case I hope you're forced to drive one every day for the rest of your long, miserable life.

Exterior front, side view of the 2007 Kia Sportage Compact Sport Utility Vehicle

If you drove an Abrams tank that had been shrunk down to the size of a Harley, it would be much, much more comfortable than an old Sportage. If you strapped two machine guns against your ears and pulled the triggers, you'd almost understand how noisy it was. And after sitting a few minutes in the back seat, you'd beg to get out of the thing even if the alternative was being carried across Africa in a wheelbarrow with a flat tire.

Despite its many downsides, the original Sportage sold fairly well in the early 1990s because it was priced about the same as a pack of chewing gum. And it lasted about as long.

Exterior rear, side view of the 2007 Kia Sportage Compact Sport Utility Vehicle

Remarkably, the Sportage name survives today, albeit in a much different form. Today's Sportage has almost nothing in common with the old, tiny, cruddy one, and - strange as it may sound - it's actually an SUV I don't mind driving.

Gone is the old truck-based design. In its place is a roomy and solid-feeling vehicle that's based on a car platform, the same as the stunning Hyundai Tucson.

As a result, the driving feel is smooth, quiet and composed, almost like a luxury car. Its 173-horsepower V6 engine provides enough grunt for spirited driving, and the suspension provides the kind of silky ride usually associated with more pricey cars and SUVs.

Interior dash and seats of the 2007 Kia Sportage Compact Sport Utility Vehicle

In fact, there's only one thing in common with the old Sportage: the cheap-o price. It starts under $16,000 for a stripped-down LX model, or around $19,000 with air conditioning and an automatic transmission. It compares well with small SUVs that cost $25,000-$30,000, particularly in terms of interior space and material quality.

If you're nervous about Kia's quality - as you should be considering the company's long-term record - a couple of things may calm you down. One, Kia's reputation has risen dramatically recently, with better reliability ratings than many well-known American and European brands. And two, Kia offers a fantastic warranty for 10 years/100,000 miles on the drivetrain and five years/60,000 miles on everything else.

Is that enough to make you buy one? Probably not on its own. But when you combine the low price with a long list of standard features, excellent build quality, solid driving feel and Kia's improving reputation, it's hard to ignore the Sportage.

And it's hard to believe it shares the same name with its early '90s ancestor.

Pros: It's a surprisingly good vehicle for how little it costs. It compares well with SUVs costing $25,000-$30,000, or more.

Cons: It's underpowered if you go with the base, four-cylinder engine.

RATINGS (1-10)
Style: 7
Performance: 7
Price: 10
Handling: 8
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 8

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