The name is old, but the product is all-new. For 2005, Kia revives the Sportage name on a compact SUV that’s twinned with the equally-new Hyundai Tucson, but offers more occupant protection.

The original Sportage was one of two vehicles offered by Kia when it first entered the Canadian marketplace in 1999; that model was a rough-riding, body-on-frame utility vehicle with a transfer case. By contrast, the 2005 Sportage is a smooth-riding, well-equipped unit-bodied SUV with all-wheel-drive capability.

The Sportage comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, or a 2.7-litre V6. The 2.0-litre comes with a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic; the six-cylinders are exclusively automatic. All-wheel-drive is available, and unlike on the Hyundai Tucson, it can be added to the four-cylinder, although only with a manual transmission. The AWD system is up to 99 per cent front-wheel until the wheels start to slip; it will then send up to 50 per cent torque to the rear wheels. The driver can also lock the system into 50/50, via a button on the dash, at speeds up to 40 km/h.

Trim lines are LX, LX-Convenience, LX-V6 and the top-line EX-V6.

The four-cylinder LX comes with a five-speed manual, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, power windows and locks, and a CD system with six speakers. Also included, and very unusual for this price, are antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability program and six air bags. The LX has been carefully priced to advertise under the important $20,000 barrier, and so air conditioning is not included.

The LX-Convenience adds air, along with keyless entry, fog lamps and heated mirrors.

The LX-V6 adds the larger engine, along with a roof rack and cargo cover.

The EX-V6 includes heated leather seats, luggage net, woodgrain trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob, CD/MP3/cassette audio system, and power sunroof.

Based on the Hyundai Elantra/Kia Spectra, the Kia Sportage handles more like a car than a truck, with fairly nimble steering characteristics. The four-cylinder is underpowered, especially when you need to pass someone on a hill, and the five-speed manual is sloppy. The six is a much better choice, providing good power for the price.

A well-done interior proves that Kia is now in the big leagues, with fit-and-finish light years beyond what the company was turning out just a few years ago. The seats are comfortable, and the rear ones fold into a flat floor via a brilliant system that requires only a tug of a handle, without flipping seat cushions or removing head-restraints.

The Sportage is great value for the money. In base form it’s the same price as the Hyundai Tucson, but has six air bags to the Tucson’s two.

The Sportage is built in Kwangju, South Korea.

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