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The Kia Sportage has never been one for small evolutionary changes. Originally a cheap, poorly made penalty box followed by a solid, yet utterly forgettable bargain-price SUV, today's Sportage is now a stylish and well-rounded compact crossover SUV. In human terms, the Kia Sportage has gone from a baboon to a Neanderthal and then George Clooney in the span of 15 years.
While the previous generation might be a cost-effective but rather uninspired used car choice, the current Sportage stands out from the crowd in more ways than just looks. Thanks to its excellent build quality, stronger performance and generous array of features, it's far and away the most appealing Sportage yet. This third-generation model remains on the small side among compact crossovers, however, and as such is a better choice for singles or those with small families.
Current Kia Sportage
The Kia Sportage is available in base, LX, EX and SX trim levels, with the lower three drawing power from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 176 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. The sporty SX receives a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that increases output to 260 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. There's a choice between front- and all-wheel drive, and most consumers will end up with a six-speed automatic transmission (though a six-speed manual is standard on the base model).
Despite its "base" name, standard equipment for the entry-level Sportage includes alloy wheels, Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, satellite radio and an iPod interface. Stepping up to the upper trims gets you access to bigger wheels, LED running lights, keyless entry, a telescoping wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated seats, leather upholstery, a rearview camera, a navigation system and Kia's Uvo voice activation system. The SX trim distinguishes itself with a sport-tuned suspension and unique exterior and interior styling treatments.
The Sportage's interior features a pleasing mix of complex and organic shapes. There is quite a bit of hard plastic throughout the cabin, but for the most part, it's well-textured and adequately padded where passengers generally make contact. Passengers and driver alike benefit from well-contoured seats and adequate head- and legroom. The rear seat comfortably accommodates two average-size adults, but the seat doesn't recline or slide fore and aft. The Sportage comes up a bit short in regards to cargo space, too, offering a maximum of 26.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 54.6 cubes with the 60/40-split-folding seats laid flat. Bigger competitors boast as many as 73 cubes.
On the road, the Kia Sportage finally lives up to its name. It feels more athletic and engaging than other compact crossovers thanks to taut suspension tuning. This leads to a bit of a stiff-legged ride over rough pavement and washboard highways, though. Power from the four-cylinder engine is simply adequate, but at least the automatic transmission shifts smoothly and quickly.
Used Kia Sportage Models
The current Kia Sportage debuted in the 2011 model year and represents the third generation in the model's history. Characterized by a striking, European-inspired exterior design, an eye-pleasing interior and a well-engineered chassis, this compact crossover is considerably more appealing than prior Sportages. Not much has changed since its debut, though the first-year model lacked some updates applied for 2012, including improved handling, additional sound insulation for a quieter cabin and the introduction of the Uvo voice activation system.
The previous, second-generation Kia Sportage was launched for 2005 and ran until 2010. Considerably different from the previous generation, this Sportage featured a new unibody platform shared with the Hyundai Tucson (just as the current model does). Compared to the current Sportage, though, this generation was a bit bigger in interior size but far plainer both in design and interior material quality. There were no significant changes made during this generation.
There were two trim levels: LX and EX. Both trims are equipped with a healthy list of standard amenities, such as alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, tinted glass and a six-speaker CD stereo. Satellite radio as well as auxiliary and USB audio jacks were added for 2009.
The LX was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine capable of 140 hp. It came standard with a five-speed manual transmission, and a four-speed automatic was available as an option. Most Sportages with this engine were front-wheel drive, though Kia did offer all-wheel drive on manual transmission-equipped models. As an upgrade for the Sportage LX and standard on the EX, Kia offered a 173-hp 2.7-liter V6. It came standard with the automatic transmission and could be had with front-drive or all-wheel drive.
This Sportage might not have looked too big from the outside, but the interior had plenty of headroom and legroom, both in the front and the back. The rear seats split and folded flat for a level cargo floor and a maximum of 67 cubic feet of storage. Fit and finish was OK and materials quality was on the cheap side. Safety was a strong suit for this Sportage, with strong crash scores and a full complement of airbags, stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes.
In reviews, our editors found that this Sportage did few things poorly, but it failed to stand out in a segment where its competitors did things exceptionally well. Its dull styling and drab cabin did it no favors, while both its engines were unimpressive from both a power and fuel economy standpoint.
The Kia Sportage started life in 1995 as a body-on-frame compact SUV. Though it was one of the first such vehicles of its kind, it was too small and underpowered to compete with the roomier, more carlike mini-utes that Honda, Subaru and Toyota rolled out shortly thereafter. The base Sportage came with a meager 94-hp, 2.0-liter SOHC four-cylinder. Rear-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission were standard. Kia also offered a part-time 4WD version of the base trim. The 4x4 Sportage came with a twincam 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 139 hp. A better-equipped EX trim came standard with 4WD and the more powerful engine. A four-speed automatic transmission was an option on all 4WD models.
Kia eliminated the single-cam engine in 1997, leaving all trims equipped with the twincam engine, now rated for 130 hp. That same year, Kia began offering the four-speed automatic on 2WD models.
In 1998, Kia added a two-door convertible to the Sportage lineup. It was available with both drivetrains (2WD and 4WD). After that, there were no more significant changes to the Kia Sportage, only minor face-lifts and interior modifications. The final year of production was 2002. Buyers should generally avoid these early models, as they weren't able to match the levels of comfort, performance and fit and finish offered by competing models of the same time period.
Read the most recent 2013 Kia Sportage review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Kia Sportage page.