We bought this car new in 1997. It was a closeout on a 1996 model. For the money it has been great. It had a few little interior rattles over the years that separate it from the better built Japanese cars at the time, but nothing to serious. The car seems to like to eat O2 sensors. It needs a new one every 3 years. Same with the muffler. But other than that, a good car with the expected maintenance. The car looks like new in our garage.
I have owned this car for six years now. It has never once left me stranded. If you treat this car well it will run. Repairs I have done were normal considering the age. Timing belt, front wheel bearings, harmonic balancer, starter, fan clutch, brake drums and other scheduled maintenance. This car has lasted multiple cross country road trips and does exceptional on the highway. Even now, with it being 12 years old I get 23mpg city and 30mpg hwy. The new model sportage is put to shame by this. People mention to me my car doesn't accelerate fast. I don't mind this because I'm not a fast driver. I like that it's high enough that you can step into it not stand up or stoop down.
I like the trunk space, the height, and the dependability.
Since it's no longer in production it doesn't matter what improvements I say. However, if it had a cd player built in and cruise control that would make it perfect.
I have a 96 Kia Sportage and The Kia is good in most cases until it breaks down. For the do it your self mechanic there is NO shop manual avalable, Because KIA wants you to bring the car to them. I am currently having to replace water pump, timing, and work on lifters without a shop manual. Hoping i can find all the timing and torque specs i need. I hope in the future Kia allows a shop manual and more after market parts for the do it yourself mechanic. Hopefully after i am done i can get better fuel mileage.
It's been a great car. Reliable, tough and just keeps running. Even after 11 years, there hasn't been a reason to get rid of it. At this point in its life we are replacing parts and such but it's still far cheaper than a new car. The interior has worn like iron. Even parked in the sun all the time, the dash hasn't cracked. You won't set any speed records in it and the acceleration isn't as good as it was earlier in its life but that's to be expected from a heavy 4WD pulled by a 2 liter 4 cylinder engine.
Good visibility, 4WD, looks, comfortable in both the front and back seats.
More power. A 6 cylinder would be a nice improvement. The newer models have that now, but aren't a true truck frame so new ones are not nearly as capable off-road as the older ones.
This car has been a fun drive over the last 9 years. Withonly the waterpump (warranty failure), EGR (again warranty failure) and replacing the timing belt at 80000 miles, this car has been perfect. It attacks the mountain roads around Arizona and can get around town just as well. Holds a full load of groceries in the back and add more room with the folding seats. Limits to this car are thelack of leg room for the back-seat passengers if they are over 6 ft. tall. This may seem trivial but there are also no drink holders in the back. We've taken this car on long trips across country, but you have to stop more often for the people in the back to let them stretch.
Gas mileage always in the 22+ range. Nimble in turns.