August 8, 2010

The only Sportage worth knowing about

Kia Sportage brochure from 2000, back when it was
half-way decent for off-roading.

Kia is in the throes of introducing a new-generation Sportage, but who cares? The only decent Sportage, for off-road enthusiasts, was the first one. This was the model that helped establish the company in New Zealand and, partly because it had low-range gearing, was quite good off-road. Certainly it was good enough to cause consternation over at Suzuki, which pretty much owned the light 4WD sector with its Vitara. Judged by today’s standards both fit and finish of the original Sportage were poor, but it was reasobably strong, had a separate chassis, decently short overhangs until the longer Wagon Plus (top vehicle in the brochure) appeared … and possessed a secret weapon that won it a slightly unearned reputation. The New Zealand specification included open differentials, but unbeknownst to the local office, the factory was fitting a limited-slip unit in the rear. Maybe something got lost in the translation. In some conditions, this gave the Sportage a real advantage over the open-diffs Vitara and people used to marvel at how the Korean could outperform the hairdressers’ car when the going got tough. It was ages before Kia finally twigged as to why the Sportage went so well.

Sportage was developed in the days of the Ford-Mazda-Kia alliance and much of the vehicle was based on Mazda components, including the engine, gearbox and differentials. The brochure pictured above, from 2000, quotes power of 98kW and 175Nm of torque way up there at 4700rpm. By the time it was printed, the company had acknowledged the limited-slip differential in the specifications. The DLX curbed at 1455kg and sat on a 2650mm wheelbase. It was 4125mm long, 1735mm wide and 1655mm tall – a nice size for our tracks and trails. The original was replaced in 2002.


  1. I owned an early Sportage and it was great. They look a bit agricultural compared to today's ones, but then so do most 14 year old vehicles. Kia now has no vehicles with lo-range gearing.

  2. The build quality was not good, but they stood up quite well. A guy down the road has a late 90s one and it's in quite good nick.