1997 Kia Sportage

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1999 Kia Sportage

This 1999 review is representative of model years 1995 to 2002.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7
Pros:
  • Low price
  • Cute styling
  • New-for-1999 convertible models
Cons:
  • Engine loses steam on large hills and in mountains
  • Small, hard-to-work radio buttons
  • Two-door models can be a handful in windy conditions

The Kia Sportage is a nicely styled, small sport-utility vehicle from South Korea with an equally attractive price tag. For 1999, Kia adds a new 2-door convertible model in two- and four-wheel drive. But the engine loses steam on hills, and the vehicle's light weight and tinny door slams linger in my memory.

It's a cutie
It's cute and relatively inexpensive to buy. It's also small, maneuvers easily and can come as a convertible. Ever heard a sport-utility vehicle described like this? Truth is, the 1999 Kia Sportage isn't like most sport utes. At just 156.4 inches long, its new-for-1999 two-door convertible is shorter in overall length than Volkswagen's New Beetle. The convertible's wheelbase is shorter, too.

The four-door as well as two-door Sportages turn in smaller circles than most other sport utes, so you can make U-turns with far less fuss. And the beginning price tags—on either four-door hardtop or two-door convertible models—are less than what you'd pay for many used sport utilities.

No intimidating sport ute here
I understood the appeal of the Sportage immediately. Unlike bigger, brawnier sport utes, Sportages—including the four-door models that are relatively unchanged from 1998 to 1999—don't intimidate. They're fairly easy to step into—they don't require a hefty climb inside—and they're stocked with necessary standard equipment including power windows and door locks, tachometer and digital clock. Air conditioning is extra, though.

Jazzy fabric seats make the Sportage interiors feel light and breezy—again a departure from more heavily-dressed sport utes. Matching the light, zippy look, the Sportages drive with decent spunk, especially in five-speed manual models. The five-speed—the standard transmission for 4X4 models—does have a notchy-feeling gearshift lever with quite a bit of play, however.

Engine struggles some on hills
All Sportages come with one engine—a 130-horsepower 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder with 127 lb.-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. Even in the lighter weight 2-Door Convertible, this engine isn't a powerhouse. But it responds in city traffic, is relatively timely in getting up to highway speeds and seems under-powered only on hills, when working the gears doesn't always compensate for the quick loss of power.

You definitely feel the ride
The ride can be bouncy, which is tiring on long trips. And my test Sportage two-door convertible was buffeted by strong winds on blustery days, making the vehicle feel jittery on the highway. It was also a louder ride—on pavement and in two-wheel drive—than I expected. I heard the engine on the test convertible at idle, and there was a good amount of road noise, too, in highway travel.

But the Sportage does well in slower-speed conditions off road. The 4X4 models have a two-speed transfer case and vacuum-operated Warn hubs that automatically disengage when the driver shifts out of four-wheel drive. Ground clearance is 7.9 inches, rivaling that of other sport utes.

Some good, some bad inside
Seats feel spongy but firm. And despite the vehicle's small size, both the Sportage convertible as well as the four door provide room for four adults. (There actually is seating for five, but the back seat is best for two adults only). The rear seatback is one piece that folds for additional cargo room—39.4 cubic feet in the convertible and 55.4 in the four-door Sportage.

I appreciated the placement of front-seat cupholders high up on the dashboard where I didn't have to look away from the road while reaching for my soda. Kia positioned other controls around the cupholders so I could still reach the emergency flasher, air conditioning and recirculation controls.

What I didn't like were the small radio buttons for the 1 through 6 radio station pre-sets. They can't be used properly if you have any kind of fingernails. The power on/off button is the size of a pin head, and I kept punching, by accident, the "source" button above the volume knob whenever I wanted to adjust the sound. The Sportage ride was that bouncy.

The Sportage convertible, like the four-door models, has Kia's unique knee airbag for drivers which is in addition to front airbags for driver and front passenger.

About that convertible . . .
The convertible part of the new Sportage two-door actually refers only to the rear-most roof of the vehicle, where—like the Isuzu Amigo's soft-top model—the Sportage's roof and plastic windows are removable, exposing the cargo area and rear seat to the sunshine.

You just have to work through all the zippers and Velcro attachments in the right order to get the plastic top down and then back up. But the vehicle's low cost shows here and there, such as in the tinny sound of the doors slamming and the uneven gaps around the test vehicle's front-passenger airbag cover. The plastic stripping around the rear cargo area was loose on the test vehicle, too.

A footnote: Kia's South Korean parent company, which is laden with debt, was up for auction in 1998. In October, officials announced another South Korean automaker, Hyundai, submitted the winning bid for Kia. But a spokeswoman for Kia Motors America Inc. said the deal "has not yet been fully consummated," and she had no information on how new ownership might affect Kia's U.S. operations.

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BB01 - 7/29/2014 7:57:38 PM