What's New for 2001
Kia's Long Haul warranty, introduced late in model-year 2000, provides powertrain coverage for 10 years or 100,000 miles, while a new Limited trim level includes lots of standard goodies over the already well-equipped Base and EX versions.
Designed from the ground up to be a real truck and not some hopped-up, car-based mini-SUV, 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 a rather meager 130 horsepower and 127 foot-pounds of torque. A standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic makes sure as much of that power reaches the rear or all four wheels as possible.
Three trim levels and two body styles are available for 2001, in either 2WD or 4WD. Convertibles come with Base trim, while four-door hardtops can be equipped as Base, EX and new Limited models. Even the least expensive Sportage is well equipped, including a full-size spare tire, theft deterrent system, power windows and door locks, power mirrors, tilt steering wheel, six-speaker sound system, and alloy wheels on 4WD versions. EX adds air conditioning, a roof rack, cruise control, a CD player, dark tinted glass and fake wood on the interior.
New for 2001 is the Limited, replete with 140-watt sound system, remote keyless entry, hard spare-tire cover, special wheels and paint, chrome exterior accents, platinum-faced gauges and unique striping. Costing just $545 more than the EX, Limited is also your entry ticket to a two-tone leather interior for an additional 800 clams. Four-wheel ABS is a popular option on any Sportage.
Though leather is available, interior materials are not the Sportage's strong suit, with headliner, dash panel and seat fabric quality well below that of competitors such as the Honda CR-V, Mazda Tribute and Toyota RAV4. But none of those SUVs can boast of a knee airbag, such as the one found on the Kia.
Sportage looks rugged yet cute, perfect for family duty in the 'burbs or a jaunt along a coastline. On the pavement, we found the Sportage confidence inspiring and fun to drive. Lotus engineers worked wonders with the suspension, which includes a relatively sophisticated double-wishbone arrangement up front, 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 thanks to 7.9 inches of ground clearance.
Seating positions are 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. Cargo room behind the rear seat in hardtop models measures 25.8 cubic feet; with the back seat folded, that expands to 55.4.
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, not to mention the excellent powertrain warranty. For young families and active singles looking to own a sport-ute without getting into financial servitude, the Sportage is worth a look.