What's New for 2000
Kia ushers in the 2000 Sportage with a new sound system, dual airbags, new colors and some additional equipment, but keeps last year's MSRP.
Part owned by Ford and Mazda before Hyundai acquired the company, Kia relies heavily on resources from all three automakers as it treads water in a tough marketplace. The Sportage is the product of collaboration between Kia, Ford, Mazda and suspension-tuning guru Lotus. Designed from the start as a sport utility, the Sportage sports tough ladder-frame construction, shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive, and a Mazda-based 2.0-liter, 16-valve engine that makes 130 horsepower and 127 foot-pounds of torque.
Two trim levels are available: base and EX. Sportage is well-trimmed, including power windows, split folding rear seats, a remote fuel door release, power mirrors, dual airbags, a rear defroster and air conditioning. Optional equipment includes four-wheel antilock brakes, leather interior, cruise control and an automatic transmission. Interior materials are not the Sportage's strong suit with headliner, dash panel, and seat fabric quality well below that of the more expensive CR-V's or RAV4's materials.
A wide variety of colors are available on the Sportage models, a few of which appear to have originated from the minds of the folks currently in charge of painting Hot Wheels cars. The look is rugged yet cute; perfect for family duty in the 'burbs. On-road driving offers a blend of controlled body roll, adequate steering feedback and limited acceleration. On freeway expansion joints the Sportage can feel choppy but not overly harsh or jarring.
On the pavement, we found the Sportage confidence inspiring and fun to drive. Lotus engineers worked wonders here, and the Sportage is stable and comfortable. Off road, the short, sloping hood provides excellent visibility for climbing or descending hills, and the suspension soaks up ruts and bumps without bottoming out.
In the four-door model, the seating position is high and upright, visibility is outstanding, and the layout of the dashboard and controls makes the Sportage easy to manipulate. Rear seat riders get minimal legroom, but the "stadium style" elevated seating offers a clear view of the outside world. The convertible model offers an easy-folding soft top and a full-size spare tire mounted in an outside carrier. From the driver's seat, the Sportage looks and feels much more substantial than its low price would lead you to believe.
A more powerful engine, along with higher-grade interior materials, would do wonders for this Kia's overall desirability. Still, you can't deny its substantial price advantage over the competition. It's not as roomy as the CR-V and it may not have the attitude (or V6) that's found in Nissan's Xterra, but the Sportage will serve your SUV needs in both on-road function and off-road fun. For young families and active singles looking to get into a sport-ute without getting into financial servitude, the Sportage is worth a look.