2002 Kia Sportage
2002 Kia Sportage. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

Kia was the third of Korea’s automakers, after Hyundai and Daewoo, to set up shop in Canada, importing its first vehicles under its own name into this country in 2000 (Ford sold the Kia-built Festiva/Aspire in the 80s and 90s). At that time, the company sold just two models here: the four-door Sephia sedan, and the subject of this week’s used-car review, the compact Sportage SUV.

Kia’s decision to bring a small SUV to market as one of its first offerings was a good one, as the Sportage was introduced when the SUV boom was in full swing. The little truck looked decent and was priced right, way down at the low end of the SUV price spectrum. While it was new to Canada in 2000, it had already been on sale in the United States for a number of years.

This first-generation Sportage only lasted three model years in Canada, from its 2000 introduction until 2002. Even if you’re not familiar with the original one, you probably recognize the name, thanks to the 2005 revival of the Sportage as a twin to the also-new-for-2005 Hyundai Tucson.

With short front and rear overhangs, short wheelbase and a true four-wheel-drive system that included low-range gearing, the original Sportage looked, on paper, like it had at least some credentials for off-road driving. It was a little lackluster in the engine department, though: its 2.0-litre four-cylinder, at 130 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque, was better suited to duty in a subcompact sedan rather than the 1,500-plus kilogram Sportage. Design-wise, the Sportage followed in the footsteps of the Suzuki Sidekick and Vitara (and its Chevrolet and GMC clones), with body-on-frame construction.

Its dimensions (2,649 mm wheelbase, overall length of 4,326 mm, width of 1,730 mm and standing 1,651 mm tall) were a little more generous than those of the Suzuki-built trucklets, and were actually very close to those of the Jeep Cherokee.

2002 Kia Sportage
2002 Kia Sportage. Click image to enlarge

The Sportage was a well-equipped little truck. To start, four-wheel-drive was standard, no matter what the trim level. In 2000 and 2001, driver and passenger airbags and knee airbags were standard equipment, as was an anti-theft system. The EX model added air conditioning, cruise control and a CD player. ABS was an option on either model. In 2002, air conditioning was made standard on both base and EX models. ABS became standard on the EX but was unavailable, even as an option, on the base model.

Its low price drew people into Kia showrooms, and many ended up behind the wheel of one of these little trucks because of that reason. However, they got what they paid for.

While Consumer Reports doesn’t have enough data on the Sportage to give it a concrete reliability rating, it does recommend strongly against purchasing a used one based on its noisy, unrefined powertrain and poor ride and handling.

And while Internet forums may not be the best place to look for objective opinions on cars and trucks, it’s telling that there are not many positive comments to be found about the original Sportage on the various automotive related forums on the web.

A used Sportage can be found for cheap considering the features it offered, but for the prices quoted in the Canadian Red Book, you’d be surprised what you could find for similar money.

A loaded 2002 EX model (which had air, cruise, ABS, dual front airbags and knee airbags as standard equipment) is worth $13,925 now, or 58 per cent of its price when new. To compare, a 2002 Ford Escape with a four-cylinder engine and two-wheel-drive is worth $14,275 (66 percent of its original MSRP). Or, you could look for a 2002 Suzuki Vitara four-cylinder, with a Red Book value of $12,875. While neither the Ford nor the Suzuki is likely to have as many goodies as the Kia, either would be a better choice as a daily driver.

The Sportage didn’t get great fuel economy despite its small engine. In 2000, Natural Resources Canada reported ratings of 11.3L/100 km city and 10.3 L/100 km highway for a Sportage equipped with a manual transmission. For 2001 and 2002, city fuel economy dropped a little to 11.8 lL/100 km, while highway economy improved slightly to 9.7 L/100 km.

For a point of reference, a Ford Escape (introduced in 2001) equipped with a 200 hp 3.0-litre V6 was rated at 11.8 L/100km city and 9.8 L/100 km highway. The 2000 Honda CR-V, equipped with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, achieved ratings of 11 L/100 km city and 8.9 L/100 km highway.

The Sportage was last crash tested by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1997, when it earned three stars for both driver and front passenger safety in front impact tests. It was never tested for side impact protection.

Despite all the marks against it, the Sportage is not a worthless vehicle. It might be a consideration for someone who lives on a farm, for example, and needs a four-wheel-drive vehicle for venturing out to the far reaches of a large property. Or you might consider one as an affordable second vehicle, especially to keep a nicer car off the road during winter’s worst.

On-line resources:

4x4wire.com – An off-roading forum with a section dedicated to the Kia Sportage and the newer Sorento. Features a section for technical topics related to Kia SUVs, and a general Kia discussion section.

StreetKiaz.com – A Kia online community, featuring a forum dedicated to both first and second generation Sportage models.


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004294; Units affected: 5578

2000: On certain vehicles, the front seat belt buckles may not latch properly, even though they emit a clicking sound during latching. Improperly latched buckles would not provide passenger restraint and could pull out at any time, especially during a collision. Correction: Dealers will replace the front seat belt buckles.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000095; Units affected: 5466

2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with Regulation 6 – Statement of Compliance. The outer circle of the National Safety Mark was omitted and the vehicle type was not stated in both official languages on the compliance label. Correction: A correct National Safety Mark will be affixed to affected vehicles. An adhesive label, which indicates the vehicle type in both French and English, will be affixed to the permanent compliance label.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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