1999 Kia Sportage
This 1999 review is representative of model years 1995 to 2002.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
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
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
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
You definitely feel the ride
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
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 . . .
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.