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Wednesday, August 18

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kia sportage

Packing an available V6, tons of standard safety equipment and a comfortable cabin all at a bargain-basement price, the Sportage is a value leader among small SUVs. Buyers with more flexible budgets may want to check out the Kia's stronger-engined competitors, however.

Pros
Impressive fit and finish, stylish and functional interior, hard-to-beat warranty, standard ABS, side airbags and stability control.

Cons
Down on power and drivetrain refinement versus its competitors.

What's New for 2006
The Sportage EX now features a standard tire-pressure monitor, while all models receive a cabin air filtration system.

Introduction:
The name Sportage doesn't really conjure up warm memories. Many folks remember the Sportage of yesterday, a crude cute-ute that was plagued with quality issues, a weak engine and a cheap interior. Introduced globally in 1993, the Sportage was a body-on-frame small SUV. Updates and revisions through the years were made in an effort to keep the truck-based 'ute competitive. The axe fell in 2002 when the aging Sportage disappeared to make way for the infinitely more refined midsize Sorento. Kia realized a gap was left when the Sportage departed, and knew it had to whip up a mini-ute just as modern as the successful Sorento.

Debuting last year fully redesigned, the current Sportage shares nothing with its predecessor. We're not just talkin' basic parts here: The new SUV even abandons the original's petite dimensions and truck-based body-on-frame structure in favor of a larger design based on a more carlike unibody platform. Kia's goal with the Sportage is to combine the smooth ride, agile handling and refinement of a passenger car, the style and driving position of an SUV and the interior room of a wagon, all in one versatile package. And the company has succeeded. The Sportage is longer, wider and taller than the average compact SUV. The stylish interior features quality materials and great ergonomics. A unique split-folding rear seat is able to fold flat to create a level cargo floor. It does this by lowering the bottom cushion into the footwell, and doesn't even require removal of the head restraints.

Power is provided by two different engines: a 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing, which makes 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque; and an optional 2.7-liter V6 engine that produces 173 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, and a full-time four-wheel-drive system is optional. The system senses when one or both front wheels lose grip and automatically diverts up to 50 percent of the engine power to the rear wheels. The system can be manually set to a fixed 50/50 split when extra traction is needed for driving in the snow.

The Sportage scores highly on the safety front by including standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for front occupants, and front and rear head-protecting side curtain airbags. No longer just a cute little SUV, the Sportage is now a serious competitor in a class of excellent machines. Its affordably priced combination of carlike ride dynamics, roomy passenger quarters and all-weather capability make for a compelling package.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The Sportage is a compact four-door SUV offered in two trim levels, LX and EX. Both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (which Kia calls 4WD) are available. Standard features on the LX include 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows and locks, tinted glass, a rear wiper and a CD stereo system. The EX adds a sunroof, foglamps and keyless entry. Options include a premium audio system and leather seating.

Powertrains and Performance:
The standard engine on the LX is a 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine. It generates 140 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque and is mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic with automanual-shift capability (2WD only). Optional on the LX and standard on the EX is a 2.7-liter V6 that produces 173 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. The V6 is available with the four-speed automatic only. Buyers can get front-wheel drive (2WD) or all-wheel drive (4WD) with either engine.

Safety:
The Sportage boasts six standard airbags -- front and side-impact airbags for both driver and passenger, and side curtain airbags for both front- and rear-seat occupants. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control are all standard equipment. Neither NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash tested the Sportage.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Kia designed a functional, roomy and attractive interior for the Sportage. Most of the materials are of good quality and the build quality is solid. The rear-seat design allows for a flat load floor by the process of lowering its cushion into the rear footwell; removing the head restraints is not necessary. With the rear seat folded, the Sportage offers 67 cubic feet of cargo capacity, a good figure for this class.

Driving Impressions:
The Sportage provides a carlike ride while returning relatively sporty handling on par with that of most peers. Should you push too hard through a corner, the standard stability and traction control system will intervene to keep you headed in the right direction. Additionally, the Sportage's four-wheel independent suspension system helps smooth bumps without the jittery feel typical of many SUVs. Power from the standard four-cylinder is barely adequate, so we recommend you stick with the larger 2.7-liter V6. The four-speed automatic isn't quite as smooth as the five-speed unit in the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV-4, but it always manages to keep the V6 right in its power band.