2008 Kia Sportage

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
August 18, 2008

Buying tip

The Kia Sportage is a great value, but if there's a Hyundai dealer closer than the nearest Kia store, check out the Sportage's twin, the Hyundai Tucson. Same vehicle. Closer dealer. Same warranty. More convenience. Good thinking.

features & specs

2WD 4-Door I4 Automatic LX
2WD 4-Door I4 Manual LX
2WD 4-Door V6 Automatic EX
19 city / 25 hwy
20 city / 25 hwy
17 city / 23 hwy

If you can live without top-level refinement and the absolutely latest technology, 2008 Kia Sportage is a fine little SUV, and considering its price, a genuine value.

TheCarConnection.com's team of car experts has researched reviews from around the Web to bring you this conclusive profile of the 2008 Kia Sportage. Editors from TheCarConnection.com have driven the Kia Sportage, including four- and six-cylinder models to provide firsthand advice about this compact SUV. This review also compares the 2008 Kia Sportage with other vehicles in its class to assist you in forming your own opinion.

The 2008 Kia Sportage is the company's compact crossover SUV. It's built off of the Kia Spectra (which is the same as a Hyundai Elantra) car chassis, and this is good because it gives the little SUV a smooth ride and comfortable handing dynamics. The current-generation Sportage was introduced as a 2005 model.

While more recent Kia models feature better styling, the Kia design studios hadn't quite hit the mark when they designed the Sportage back in 2002-03. Some lines are a bit off: awkward but not offensive (unlike the Pontiac Aztek that was considered awkward AND offensive). Inside, the design is much better. Curves are everywhere, and there is plenty of room.

Power comes from either a standard 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or an available 2.7-liter V-6 that produces 173 horses, either of which can be mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox. EPA fuel economy estimates range from the base four-cylinder/five-speed manual (the most efficient combination) at 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway, to the least efficient V-6/automatic that is rated at 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway.

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In terms of performance, the 2008 Kia Sportage offers its V-6 engine at a price point that competes with most competitors' four-cylinder engines, so the Kia has a lead on paper right from the start. However, Kia's V-6 isn't blazingly powerful, so it's not quite the advantage one might initially consider it to be. Acceleration is better with the V-6 than the four-cylinder, but neither one is a Corvette killer.

The 2008 Sportage rides on MacPherson struts up front, with gas-filled shock absorbers at the rear, stabilizer bars added at both ends, and 16-inch wheels and tires. Handling is secure and adequate, but not inspiring.

The 2008 Kia Sportage's long list of standard safety gear includes dual front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction, and stability control; and tire pressure monitors. Performance in government crash tests is excellent, and the IIHS side-crash results earn this crossover an "acceptable" rating.

In terms of features, the base 2008 Kia Sportage LX model comes with power windows and power mirrors; a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo; and cruise control. The EX version adds a sunroof, leather trim on the steering wheel and shift knob; remote keyless entry; and a cargo cover. A range of expected but mundane options and option packages are available, but Kia isn't making a name for itself by out-luxing or out-gadgeting the competition. Kia (like Hyundai) is focusing on offering a solid vehicle at a terrific price.

Kia also backs the 2008 Sportage with a 5-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, plus a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain. This excellent coverage goes a long way toward addressing quality concerns over the Korean SUV and shifting people's opinions.

The assembled competitors are all SUVs that focus their capabilities on the road, not off. The heavily revised 2009 Ford Escape is an excellent choice that offers more modern technology and refinement than the Kia, but at a higher price.

The Saturn Vue, all new for 2008, is one of the best compact SUVs on the market, offering a high degree of style and refinement. But, again, this will cost you. The Honda CR-V is similar in overall characteristics (being good looking and well sorted), but it also offers more cargo room than the 2008 Kia Sportage, if that's one of your concerns.

A new competitor to consider is the 2008 Nissan Rogue. The Rogue utilizes a big 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and a CVT for its powertrain, and the combination matches the performance of Sportage V-6 models. Perhaps better than any other listed competitors, the Rogue matches the Kia for value, while not lacking in design, features, or refinement.


2008 Kia Sportage


The 2008 Kia Sportage is ready for a restyling outside, but its cabin is well shaped and built.

TheCarConnection.com notes few complaints about the 2008 Kia Sportage in terms of interior and exterior styling cues.

While more recent Kia models feature better styling, the Kia design studios hadn't quite hit the mark when they designed the Sportage back in 2002-03. Some lines are a bit off: awkward but not offensive (unlike the Pontiac Aztek that was considered awkward AND offensive). Cars.com notes Kia Sportage "styling echoes the larger Sorento's, and flared wheel arches help establish what Kia calls a 'strong visual presence.'" According to Kelley Blue Book, Kia 2008's "distinctive design is modern, clean and attractive...a curvaceous, almost organic look, with a get-up-and-go attitude." The reviewer at The Auto Channel reports being "pleasantly impressed with Kia Sportage as far as looks...are concerned." Details that detract from the appearance are black bumpers on some models and a nose that seems too small for the rest of the vehicle.

Inside, the design is much better. Curves are everywhere, and there is plenty of room. Kelley Blue Book reports that "improved plastics and upholstery throughout the 2008 Kia Sportage lineup...attractive cloth upholstery gives an impression of comfort and durability...adding to the upscale appeal are aluminized accents on both the instrument and door panels." Referring to this Kia 2008 interior, The Auto Channel observes that the 2008 Kia Sportage "looks and feels a lot classier than you think it would," and while it "certainly isn't going to dazzle you with dual temperature controls, power seating or a Bose stereo, the center console and dashboard are still modern and sleek in design with basic features." Edmunds calls the interior “stylish and functional” and “attractive.”

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2008 Kia Sportage


The 2008 Kia Sportage is a fine, light-duty commuter vehicle, but little more.

The 2008 Kia Sportage performs like a frugal economy car, from its acceleration to its handling, even with available all-wheel drive.

Cars.com reports that the "Kia Sportage 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 140 horsepower, while the 2.7-liter V-6 generates 173 hp and 178 pounds-feet of torque." According to ConsumerGuide, "2008 Kia Sportage four-cylinder models are fine for light-duty commuting but lack enough power for confident highway merging and passing." They "recommend a V6 model, though they're no fireballs." Kelley Blue Book is "not overly impressed by the responsiveness of the Kia 2008 V6; it will meet consumer expectations, but we don't believe it will exceed them." They advise that the "four-cylinder should be reserved for light duty only -- no full loads, light towing and little exposure to work at high altitudes."

Cars.com reports that "a five-speed manual gearbox is standard in the four-cylinder Kia Sportage LX, and a four-speed automatic is available," while "all V-6 models come with the automatic...automatic-transmission responses are prompt, but downshifting can be sluggish when passing." ConsumerGuide says "the automatic transmission is responsive enough with either engine, though not even the V6 has abundant passing punch." All-wheel drive is an option.

EPA fuel economy estimates range from the base four-cylinder/five-speed manual (the most efficient combination) at 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway, to the least efficient V-6/automatic that is rated at 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway. ConsumerGuide reports "an AWD Kia Sportage EX averaged 19.4 mpg," noting that "V6s have a 17.2-gallon fuel tank vs. 15.3 gallons for 4-cylinder models."

The Sportage’s handling feels more like an economy car than a crossover. "On rougher pavement, the ride is well-cushioned...suspension reactions are seldom excessive, and recovery is prompt," reports Cars.com. This source adds, "maneuvering smartly and steering with a somewhat light touch, the 2008 Kia Sportage feels satisfyingly secure on rain-soaked pavement. On expressways, however, it takes some concentration to stay centered in your lane." ConsumerGuide concurs, anointing it as "among the better-riding compact SUVs." Off-road ability draws some mixed comments, however; while Kelley Blue Book acknowledges a "smooth ride, improved handling," it notes that "the trade-off is an inability to tackle the harshest sorts of off-road terrain." Jalopnik, on the other hand, says it has "off-road-worthy fish-vertebrae underpinnings...tougher than most."

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2008 Kia Sportage

Comfort & Quality

An upgraded interior helps the smallish 2008 Kia Sportage compete with a higher class of vehicles.

The 2008 Kia Sportage has adequate room, reinforced by higher-quality construction than you might expect for the price.

Cars.com reports that "the Kia Sportage seats up to five." Kelley Blue Book notes that "Kia Sportage seating position is appropriately upright and, while the standard sunroof encroaches slightly on rear-seat headroom, most adults will find either front or rear seating to be generous," adding that "the fifth passenger's area, in the center of the rear seat, is somewhat marginal." Overall, however, "legroom is adequate, and headroom is generous...both the leather and the cloth seats are comfortable, with good side-bolster support," according to ConsumerGuide.

Cars.com reports that "with the 'Drop and Fold' rear seating system, the seat cushion lowers and the backrest folds flat, yielding 66.6 cubic feet of cargo space." ConsumerGuide notes that "groceries fit fine behind the rear seats, but there's little room for large objects," and "the Kia Sportage rear seats fold easily in one motion to form a flat load floor."

Materials are above average for the price and class. ConsumerGuide reports "dashboard control dials have rubber grips, literally a nice touch," going on to note "for interior materials, [Kia] Sportage is a cut above Honda CR-V and is slightly upscale of Tucson." Kelley Blue Book praises the "quality plastics, with an almost quantum improvement in both appearance and texture."

Cars.com reports "other than a little tire noise on some surfaces, the Sportage is quiet, though the engine gets snarly at high rpm." ConsumerGuide agrees that the "4-cylinder engine is coarse and buzzy...the V6 is quiet at cruise, but it strains loudly at higher rpm."

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2008 Kia Sportage


Safety and security while riding in the 2008 Kia Sportage is definitely a cut above, but one hopes the rear visibility issue will be addressed in future models.

The 2008 Kia Sportage scores very well in crash tests, with less stellar performance in rollover resistance.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Sportage five out of five stars for front and side impact protection. In terms of rollover resistance, the 4WD version of the 2008 Kia Sportage scores a respectable four stars, but the 2WD version scores only three stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Sportage “acceptable” ratings for front and side impacts.

Cars.com reports that "all-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are standard"; furthermore, "six airbags, including side curtain airbags, are also standard."

While it crashes well, the Sportage has a design that can impede visibility. According to ConsumerGuide, "Kia 2008 rear-roof styling impedes vision to right-rear and dead astern."


2008 Kia Sportage


The 2008 Kia Sportage has the basics covered, but few of the hottest, latest features can be had even as options.

The 2008 Kia Sportage is very well equipped, even in base form, but doesn’t offer the latest entertainment and high-tech features becoming more common at its price point.

Kelley Blue Book says “the Kia Sportage enjoys an almost opulent level of equipment.”
Cars.com reports "standard Kia Sportage equipment includes power windows with one-touch-down for the driver, power mirrors, and a six-speaker CD stereo," adding that the "Kia Sportage EX adds heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, a cargo cover and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. V-6 models get standard cruise control."

The Auto Channel attests that with the Kia 2008 "sunroof, power windows, heated outside mirrors, trip computer, roof rack and keyless entry do not come as an extra cost or better known as an upgrade package, which is nice."

When it comes to options, only Kelley Blue Book has anything of substance to say: "with all that is standard the customer is left with little to add...the less-expensive 2008 Kia Sportage LX gives the customer more variables, although many of those would be dealer-installed." Kelley Blue Book does comment "on the EX, a Luxury Package includes body-colored bumpers, leather seats and trim, heated front seats, automatic headlamps and a six-disc CD changer, amplifier and subwoofer."

Bluetooth, navigation, satellite radio, HD radio, and MP3 player connectivity are not offered on the Sportage.

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Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 7
Fuel Economy N/A
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