2005 Kia Sportage
www.Autos.ca thanks the staff of the Four Seasons hotel, Whistler, for their help retrieving the photographs for this article. Click image to enlarge

by Paul Williams

Whistler, British Columbia – Compact SUVs represent one of the fastest growing segments in the Canadian market, with sales of entry-level SUVs projected to grow 45% by 2008. Maybe you’ve considered buying one, for their practicality, ruggedness, perceived safety and style.

But then again, maybe you’ve been put off by the high fuel consumption, high prices and bulky packaging often associated with such vehicles. These are the criticisms identified by consumer research, says Kia’s Gordon Sadler, that manufacturers are now addressing.

Kia’s solution is the 2005 Sportage, a nameplate returning to the Canadian marketplace after a short absence, but a completely different vehicle than the original Sportage which was introduced in 1999 and discontinued in 2003. The 2005 Kia Sportage is a five-passenger “large” compact SUV (it’s 372-mm longer than its predecessor) that packs an unprecedented array of important standard safety features into its starting price of $19,995. To get a less expensive, equivalently-equipped SUV you’d have to buy used.

The Sportage is actually a slightly repackaged Hyundai Tucson (Korean Hyundai is Kia’s parent company), although it’s offered with different standard equipment, a restyled nose and tail, some interior changes including a much nicer instrument panel, and a “sportier” image. It’s also built in a different factory than the Tucson.

There are two engines available: a 140-horsepower/136 pounds-feet torque inline-four, and a 173-horsepower/178 lb.-ft. torque V6. The Sportage is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive depending upon specification (it is fundamentally a front-drive vehicle, but the AWD version moves torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected).

2005 Kia Sportage

2005 Kia Sportage

2005 Kia Sportage
Click image to enlarge

In all, there are seven trim levels in various combinations of engine, drive, transmission and equipment.

The $19,995 front-wheel drive, four cylinder LX arrives with a manual transmission and no air conditioning. A Convenience Package that adds air conditioning, power/heated mirrors, foglights, and privacy glass costs $1,755, bringing the price to $21,750. Add an automatic transmission for $1,000, and your four-cylinder, front wheel drive LX-Convenience Sportage comes to $22,750. This trim level should be very popular.

All-wheel drive is available with the four-cylinder Sportage, but only with a manual transmission. You get the Convenience Package as well for $23,750. The Convenience Package features are standard on the V6-powered Sportage models.

A front-wheel drive six-cylinder Sportage, the LX-V6, costs $24,995. All-wheel drive takes the price to $26,995 and the top-of-the-line EX-V6 AWD with leather interior and sunroof costs $29,500. There is no manual transmission option with the V6 Sportage.

Fuel economy ranges from a respectable 10.6/7.8 L/100km city/highway for the 2.0L, five-speed, with front-wheel drive, to 12.4/9.4 L/100km for the 2.7L, automatic with all-wheel drive.

But what about those important standard safety features mentioned above? They are important indeed, and include electronic stability control (called ESP by Kia, and sourced from Siemens), anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, electronic traction control, and six airbags including side impact and full-length side curtains. A comprehensive range of user amenities including power windows, power door locks, in-dash CD player with six speakers, and 16″ alloy wheels is also standard.

2005 Kia Sportage

2005 Kia Sportage

2005 Kia Sportage

2005 Kia Sportage
Click image to enlarge

These safety features, at this price (along with its other standard features), really put the Kia Sportage into a class of its own.

The Sportage interior is roomy and its materials look and feel high quality, including the textured plastics of the dashboard and centre console, and seat/door panel fabrics. Controls are easy to reach, understand and use.

The rear seats recline for comfort, and will fold flat to accommodate large objects. The front seats will recline flat, and the passenger seat will fold flat if required to transport extra-long cargo. There is plenty of knee room for rear-seat passengers.

The rear door features two-way operation, allowing entry through the flip-up rear window, or by opening the hatch. Under the cargo floor Kia has fitted a multi-compartment stowage area for small items.

On the road, the car-like handling of the Sportage will make it easy to drive even for those unfamiliar with SUVs. The ride is firm but smooth, and both engines do a good job of hauling the Sportage up Whistler’s steep mountain roads.

Criticisms at this point are few. For some, the driver’s seat adjustability may be an issue due to the rake of the steering wheel. My experience was that either the steering wheel or the pedals were too far away. A telescoping steering column would fix this, as would adjusting the normal angle of the steering wheel.

Also, while the engines seemed adequate for climbing hills with two people and light luggage aboard, both the 2.0L four and 2.7L V6 are less powerful than competitors’ engines (Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan X-Trail). That being said, none of these competitors offers so much standard equipment and safety technology, and several popular brands don’t offer a V6 in this class.

Another point is the use of a 58L gas tank for the 2.0L Sportage, and a 65L tank for the V6. Why not allow 2.0L owners the benefits of the extra range from the larger tank?

2005 Kia Sportage
Click image to enlarge

Although Kia has only been selling vehicles in Canada since 1999, it is the fastest growing car company in this country. Kia has been building vehicles in Korea for 60-years, and according to Kia executives, it releases its new vehicles in Korea several months before they are sent overseas. This provides an opportunity to discover issues before the product is exported.

To further reassure consumers, Kia supplies a five year/100,000km warranty on the whole vehicle and its powertrain that includes roadside assistance for the same duration.

The 2005 Kia Sportage is a vehicle that must be on your list if you are considering a compact SUV. It’s unmatched in desirable standard equipment and price.

2005 Kia Sportage

Type: Compact SUV
Notable: Standard electronic stability control, side impact and side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control; long and comprehensive warranty
Price: $19,995-$29,500
Freight/PDI: $1,150

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