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When first it arrived in theU.S., Kia carved out its niche doing passable knock-offs of Japanese vehicles. The Sportage SUV was one of the Korean company’s first models, on sale in 1995, and was one of its dependable sellers until the whole company was swallowed by Hyundai earlier this decade. It wasn’t the best vehicle in its class, but it was among the least expensive — and that won over plenty of buyers.
In the interim, a lot happened to Kia. Their cars got bigger, plusher, and a lot better. The same happened for its SUVs: the Sorento arrived with all the goods found in an Explorer. But for two years, the Sportage went incognito.
What was happening? The Sportage was busy transforming itself from a tiny trucklet into the more sophisticated, semi-crossover SUV you see here today. It’s made the move to front-wheel drive (or four-wheel drive), and now shares an architecture with the similar but not identicalTucsonfrom Kia’s corporate cousins. Both are derived from the current Kia Spectra’s floorpan; theTucsonhas been on sale since late last year, while the Sportage is just arriving in showrooms, delayed mostly because it’s so popular inSouth Korea.
In the process, it’s become a far more formidable competitor for the likes of the Honda CR-V, Jeep Liberty, and Ford Escape. Not only does it outsize them in many ways and underprice them, too, the Sportage outclasses them in terms of interior sophistication. It seems odd to write at first, but the Kia is clearly the ritziest vehicle in its class, and one of the best all around.
The mission of the new Sportage, according to Kia, was to be smooth on the road, capable off-road, and roomy enough to take stuff to both places.