Having undergone a major transformation in 2005, the Kia Sportage receives some additions and deletions to its lines for 2006. The LX no longer has cruise control; the LX-Convenience drops its chrome inner door handles and receives a roof rack and metal grain interior accents; the LX-V6 adds side garnish and sill mouldings and metal grain interior accents, and deletes chrome inner door handles and cargo cover; and the LX-V6 Luxury Package drops by $370, with a tire change and redesigned alloy wheels, and the deletion of chrome inner door handles, body-colour mirrors, handles and rear garnish (they change to black), MP3 capability, and trip computer.

Twinned with the Hyundai Tucson, 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 can be added to both transmissions, although only with a manual transmission on the four-cylinder. 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 models are the four-cylinder LX and LX Convenience, and the six-cylinder LX-V6 and LX-V6 Luxury Package.

The LX comes with ABS, CD player with six speakers, power windows and locks, power mirrors, tilt column, fold-flat passenger seat, 60/40 folding rear seat, front wiper de-icer, 16-inch alloy wheels, variable intermittent wipers, fixed intermittent rear wiper and cloth seats.

The LX Convenience and LX-V6 add cruise control, keyless remote, heated mirrors, privacy glass, fog lamps, roof rails, and air conditioning.

The LX-V6 Luxury adds power sunroof, leather-wrapped wheel, heated leather seats, and “leatherette” door trim.

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.

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