BY GLENN BROOKS
After a few short years selling its Pride supermini and Mentor family car, Kia expanded its range in 1995 with the introduction of the Sportage, a compact 4x4. It undercut not only the Vauxhall Frontera and Toyota RAV4, but Suzuki's big-selling Vitara. Though the Sportage has sold steadily since, the lack of a three-door version prevented it eating into the sales of these important rivals. The other important ingredient missing from Kia's recipe has been the lack of a big promotional push and the small, if growing, number of dealers. The company's range offers superb value for money and the Sportage, in particular, is possibly one of the new and used car market's best-kept secrets.
Models Covered: Sportage - July 1995-to 2003 (2.0 five-door estate [S, SX, SLX, GLX, GSX, GLX SE, XSE, Executive, Executive SE])
The Sportage arrived here in July 1995, in a choice of three versions - SLX, GLX or GLX SE. All were 2.0-litre, four-cylinder four-wheel drive estates and the range has stayed with the one engine ever since. A new Executive SE flagship model was launched in October 1996, as well as a premium-priced special edition version. This latter version was called the Karmann Sport and took its name from the German coach-building company that builds the Sportage for Europe and also assembles Volkswagen's Golf cabriolet. There were only 250 Karmann Sports built but a follow-up, the Karmann Sport SE, appeared in mid 1997 equipped with air conditioning and a price tag close to £20,000. The range was slightly revised in mid-1999 to incorporate just three models - S, SX and GSX, but there were no mechanical changes. For 2000, front and rear styling was slightly altered, there were new side mouldings and all but the entry-level S model came with two-tone paint. A two-stage spare wheel carrier mechanism improved rear door access to the load area. In 2002 an XSE special edition model was launched and Kia revised the range line up early in 2003 by making the XSE part of the mainstream Sportage range and deleting all other trim levels. The XSE's star burned briefly, and the Sportage range was retired from active duty in Spring 2003 but it wasn't until 2005 that its replacement arrived.
What You Get
Inside, there's plenty of space for four adults to be comfortable - five would be a bit of a squeeze. Just as comfortable, in fact, as they would be in any ordinary family saloon. The Sportage has always had a reputation for luxury equipment - a Thatcham Category II vehicle immobiliser, front and rear electric windows, electric mirrors, a stereo radio cassette player, a rear wash/wipe and central locking, all come as standard. The GLX models get alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes and an RDS stereo, while the GLX SE also has air conditioning. However, airbags have always been absent from the list and, though the 2000 model year left-hand drive cars have them (along with a redesigned dashboard), they have yet to be introduced in RHD cars sold in the UK.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Both engine and transmission are durable, provided scheduled maintenance has been undertaken. Check the service records and don't forget the basic checks like a walk around the car to check for accident damage. Convenience features like electric windows, mirrors and door-locks should all be checked as it's amazing how fiddly they can be to put right. Overall, though, Korean cars are built every bit as solidly and reliably as the Japanese these days, so a Sportage is as safe a bet as its competitors.
(Based on a 1996 SLX) A full exhaust system, excluding catalytic converter will be about £140. Brake pads front and rear are about £40 a set, a starter motor is about £110 and an alternator around £130. You'll need around £85 for a new door mirror, roughly £120 for a radiator and about £115 for a replacement windscreen. As for servicing, a major one will be about £230, an intermediate £135 and a minor one, close to £90.
On the Road
Much like the way it drives and the roomy interior, performance is comparable to a family saloon. Don't forget the Sportage sits higher on the road than family saloons though, so expect a bit more body roll. For the record, rest to sixty takes 14.7 seconds on the way to a maximum of 103mph. At the pumps, you can expect to average anything between 20-30mpg, depending on the type of journey. Though the ground clearance is nowhere near that of something like a Shogun or Discovery, the Sportage is more than capable of holding its own off-road. Indeed, many drivers of full-sized 4X4 would do well to try the Kia on and off the beaten-track. As a used buy, it makes a lot more sense than many bigger, unwieldy and gas-guzzling all-wheel drive estates.
Looks, decent on and off-road abilities and good fuel consumption make the Sportage one of the more sensible used 4x4s.