Kia Sportage shipped ashore as latest label in sport-utility
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
Get a grip on that fat little steering wheel, pull hard on your shoulder belt to strap it tightly, then slip on down into the lowest range of 4-wheel-drive. Applying traction to all wheels becomes the imperative here because we're heading off the pavement, down through ditches and into that ooey-gooey mire of rain-slick mud, Texas-style.
It's a wild ride, bumping and slurping as we go, but there's plenty of power at hand, a nice cockpit with comfy seats, and superb visibility due to the broad expanse of glass and a tall body. Tires grip with assurance, despite the fact the vehicle that's plowing through all the slippery stuff seems like a most unlikely candidate in the rugged and often macho class of sport-utility.
That's because we're in an itty-bitty thing that doesn't look like it's capable of serious off-road feats, although slick mud or steep and rocky slopes won't stop it.
Also, as the obvious contradiction for a SUV wagon, this one's curvy in a diminutive form that looks so cute.
Cute, but still tough: That's Sportage, the new little 4-wheeling 4-door wagon from Kia.
Okay, the names may not be familiar, but that's because the product only reached the United States market this spring, and Kia, a major automaker from South Korea, only recently set out to establish a dealer network in our country. Currently, Kia Motors America has spread rapidly eastward from California and plans to complete its new network with Florida outlets by summer.
To produce its automobiles, Kia teams with noteworthy names for subsidiary systems. Lotus Engineering of England, for instance, developed the 4-wheel independent suspension system on Sportage, while Germany's Getrag worked out the 4-wheel-drive transfer case and transmissions, as Kelsey-Hayes came up with the rear-wheel anti-lock brakes and Bosch LH Motronic did the fuel system.
Mazda owns a small share of Kia, so Kia asked this Japanese automaker to supply Sportage's engines, which Mazda lifted from the B2000 pickup truck.
The 4-cylinder plant, displacing 2.0 liters, consists of an iron block with aluminum heads. It links to a multi-port electronic fuel injection system by Bosch.
Sportage's rear-wheel-drive base model, the first to come ashore, stocks this engine in an edition with single overhead cam and two valves for every cylinder.
When hooked to the manual 5-speed shifter, it produces 94 horsepower -- not enough to blow past a Porsche, but, considering the size and weight of the 4x2 Sportage, it's entirely adequate.
The 4x4 edition merits more horsepower.
Stack twin cams on top and plug 16 valves into the equation, and Sportage's 4x4 churns with 139 hp.
Sportage needs that power boost to perform aggressively off pavement.
My experiences behind the wheel of a 4x4 Sportage occurred the morning after a Texas-size spring storm transformed steep slopes and shady hollows of a dirt bike motorcross park near Fort Worth into slippery chutes, glassy flats and axle-deep mud pits.
In other words, tough stuff to test 4-wheeler's mettle.
Of course, you must look beyond Sportage's cute shape to discover the serious handling hardware aboard.
Sportage starts with a stiff chassis, which consists of a ladder-like boxed rectangle of steel with four tubular cross braces and stamped steel cross member. At the front and rear, special crumble zones have been installed to absorb impact forces from a collision.
Then Lotus devised a 4-wheel independent suspension setup that makes Sportage fun to drive on pavement and quite competent on dirt.
In front, the double wishbone arrangement teams with coil springs, tubular hydraulic shocks and anti-roll bar, while in the rear a multi-link design -- in lieu of the typical 4x4's multi-leaf spring -- produces a sporty snap. Shocks, set behind the axle to lessen angularity, dampen harsh bumps for a smoother off-road ride quality.
Steering, derived from a recirculating ball and nut design, employs engine speed-sensitive power assistance so you can turn the wheel easily when parking your Sportage, but cut it quickly at higher speeds for better response.
The part-time 4-wheel-drive transfer case from Japan's Kanda has a conventional chain drive with synchronization for shifting on the fly (below 15 mph) from 2-wheel to 4-wheel traction mode. To pull out of 4x4, you must stop and reverse direction for a foot.
All Sportage versions roll on aluminum alloy wheels combined with 15-inch Michelin R-rated radials. If your goal is to tackle rough topography off-road consistently, consider swapping for all-terrain tires, as the factory rubber, while excellent on the road, could have used more nubby tread patterns in all that slick Texas goo.
Even so, Sportage performed like a wilderness warrior, zipping up the steep slopes, forging through the mud pits, floating across rocky surfaces and skating over ice-like pancake flats.
For an off-road vehicle, its ground clearance of 7.9 inches may look low, but I experienced no problems. As a bonus, since the chassis does slink you don't need a ladder to climb aboard.
Inside, Sportage delivers on comfort gear.
The front bucket seats feel supportive and firm, yet still comfortable. A rear bench, rated for three, works best for two, but there's sufficient space in all seats for legs and heads. Having two rear doors makes entry and exit easy for rear seat riders.
The back bench flips and folds forward to form a flat bay in the rear for hauling cargo, while an optional exterior spare tire carrier loads the rubber behind Sportage's back gate to create more cabin space.
Sportage EX contains more gear -- like power door locks, cruise control, a rear window wiper and remote tailgate opener. Still, the base Sportage has amenities usually considered optional, such as power windows, a digital clock and tachometer. Air conditioning shows up on the list of options for all models.
Prices range from $14,500 for the base edition to $16,765 for a fully equipped 4x4 Sportage EX.
1995 KIA SPORTAGE
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 KIA SPORTAGE Specs
| Model Options:
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||4x2: SOHC 2.0-L I-4 16v
4x4: DOHC 2.0-L I-4 16v
4x4: Manual/5, Auto/4
||Rear 4x2, 4x4
| Gas Mileage:
||4x2: 19/23 mpg
4x4: 20/24 mpg
||$ 14,500 to $ 16,765