Compact SUV; Built in South Korea
  • 2-door convertible
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear- or 4-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,000 – $3,500*

1997 Kia Sportage

1998 Kia Sportage 2-door convertible

2000 Kia Sportage interior

2000 Kia Sportage

1999 Kia Sportage 2-door convertible

  • Instruments/controls
  • Maneuverability
  • Visibility
  • Acceleration (4-door)
  • Interior materials
  • Limited shift-on-the-fly 4WD
  • Noise
  • Ride

Looked at in terms of long-term value, a CR-V or RAV4 would be the better choice. Those two also are more pleasant to drive and better built. Worse yet, Kia has ranked near the bottom of the list in consumer surveys of reliability and customer satisfaction.


A compact sport-utility vehicle, the Sportage was the second product offered in the U.S. market by Kia, a Korean manufacturer. After Hyundai, Kia was South Korea’s second-largest vehicle maker, and Sportage was the first South Korean SUV sold in the U.S. Designed as an enclosed passenger vehicle, not based on a pickup truck, Sportage aimed squarely at U.S. buyers who sought a roomy vehicle for their active lifestyles. The SUV went on sale in January 1995, only in Western and Southern states that had Kia dealerships. Four-wheel-drive Sportages used a 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam engine, which produced 130 horsepower. Rear-drive models got a single-cam 2.0-liter engine, rated at 94 horsepower. Only a 5-speed manual transmission was available in the 2WD version, but 4WD Sportages could be equipped with an optional 4-speed automatic. The part-time 4-wheel-drive system was intended only for use on slick surfaces. Rear antilock brakes operated only in 2-wheel-drive mode. Power steering was standard. At first, the Sportage had little direct competition, apart from the Suzuki Sidekick and its Geo Tracker equivalent. Within a couple of years, Toyota and Honda would be giving Kia some serious competition.

Yearly Updates

1996 Sportage
A driver’s airbag went into 1996 models at midseason, but little else was changed. In addition to the conventional airbag, mid-year models gained the industry’s first knee airbag, which inflated simultaneously to keep the driver from sliding under the dashboard. Base and better-equipped EX models were available, the latter offered only with 4-wheel drive.
1997 Sportage
Not much was new for 1997, with the exception of a fresh grille. EX models could now have either 2-wheel drive or 4WD. All Sportages now had power door locks, a theft-deterrent system, and a full-size outside spare-tire carrier. Newly optional was an AM/FM stereo system with built-in CD player. A 4-speed automatic transmission could now be installed in 2WD models as well as 4x4s. All Sportages used a 130-horsepower, dual-overhead-cam engine.
1998 Sportage
Sportage wagons got a mild facelift, and a 2-door convertible model was added. Both were available with either rear-drive or on-demand 4-wheel drive. Wagons and convertibles shared front sheetmetal and the 2.0-liter engine, but the convertible was shorter both in wheelbase and overall. In addition, the soft-top Sportage seated four, to the wagon’s five. Like Isuzu’s larger Amigo (resurrected in 1998), the convertible had a manual-folding soft top over the back seat and a metal roof up front. Wagons came in either base or EX trim. By now, rivals included the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4, as well as the Chevrolet Tracker.
1999 Sportage
No change was evident on Kia’s best-selling product in the U.S. market.
2000 Sportage
Changes for 2000 were limited to a bolder-sounding horn, driver’s left footrest, and newly optional remote keyless-entry system.
2001 Sportage
Changes for 2001 were limited to an added luxury trim option and longer warranties. EX wagons got an optional Limited trim/equipment package that included premium 6-speaker audio, remote keyless entry, unique alloy wheels, color-keyed bumpers and cladding, chrome roof rack, and hard-shell spare-tire cover. Basic warranty coverage was extended to 5 years/60,000 miles, powertrain coverage to 10 years/100,000 miles, and roadside assistance to 5 years/unlimited miles. Corrosion was warranted for 5 years/100,000 miles.
2002 Sportage
New for 2002 was an optional exterior-trim package that includes 2-tone body cladding and a hard-face spare-tire cover. Sportage discontinued at the end of the year.


longitudinal front-engine/rear- or 4-wheel drive

A dual-overhead-cam 130-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine went beneath all Sportage hoods after 1996. Earlier 2WD models were equipped with a single-cam engine that produced only 94 horsepower. Either a 5-speed manual gearbox or a 4-speed automatic transmission might be installed.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/122
Engine HP 130
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 127
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic

ohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/122
Engine HP 94
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 114
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual


Road Test

Handling with the Sportage wagon or convertible is a pleasant surprise, not unlike that of a good sporty small sedan. For its size, Sportage has a fairly wide track (width between wheels on the same axle), so stability in tight turns is good and body lean surprisingly modest. Springing is tight, though, so the ride is more “trucky” than carlike, with moderate bounce and pitch on patchy pavement.

Even the manual-shift Sportage wagon feels sluggish in routine driving, especially when going up steep grades. Acceleration is even worse with the optional automatic transmission. Passing power ranks as adequate. Noise levels are fairly high from all sources, even in gentle highway cruising. The engine is exceptionally loud and gruff when worked even moderately hard. A new Sportage averaged 19 mpg in 4-wheel drive with a 5-speed, which was slightly less than a CR-V or RAV4 wagon.

The wagon is shorter than most compact SUVs, yet provides adequate room for four adults. Head clearance is particularly good, even for 6-footers, though rear leg and knee space are limited. Easy entry/exit is another plus, thanks to rather large doors and relatively low step-in height. The convertible’s back seat is best left to children. The driver enjoys a well-arranged dashboard with carlike instruments and controls, plus a clear view to all quarters–although the available outside spare tire gets in the way when looking directly aft. At least that outside spare frees up useful cargo room inside, and the wagon’s rear seat easily folds to increase the space. Actually, getting decent cargo space in either body style requires folding of the back seat.


Model Tested: 2001 Kia Sportage Limited wagon w/4WD

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 1
Fuel Economy - 5
Ride Quality - 2
Steering/Handling - 2
Quietness - 2


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 4
Room/Comfort Rear - 2
Cargo Room - 7


Value - 2

Total: 33


2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
92.9 148.0-156.4 68.1 65.0
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
39.4 14.0 4
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.6 38.2 44.5 31.0
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
104.4 159.4-170.3 68.1 65.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
55.4 15.8 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.6 37.8 44.5 31.1
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 Sportage 4-door wagon


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
Front Passenger Injury - 3

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 115
Injury 171
Theft 131

Trouble Spots

Dashboard lights
Description: The ABS and brake warning lights are activated due to a faulty brake-proportioning valve and may not set a trouble code. (1995)
Engine noise
Description: Noisy hydraulic lash adjusters in DOHC engine may be due to aerated oil. Replacing with a revised oil pump corrects problem. (1995)
Transmission leak
Description: Some 1995 Sportage models with automatic transmissions may be experiencing fluid leaks from the automatic-transmission cooler line. The fluid may be leaking through small cracks in the flared end of the cooler lines at the transmission which develops because of cooler-line vibration (1995)
Description: The wiper blades come off the pivots on the arms. (1998)

Recall History

Description: Nuts attaching rear-axle bearing oil seal retainers and brake-backing plates may be undertorqued, causing units to loosen or fall off; could cause oil leakage, rear-brake damage, or separation of rear wheel/axleshaft from vehicle.
1996 EX
Description: Accelerator-pedal assembly could bind or stick.
Description: Rear hatch-lock microswitch can malfunction, causing power door locks to unlock inadvertently.
Description: Wires at C123 and C124 connectors can be put under tension by engine movement, loosening them, which can cause engine stalling.
1998-99 w/o antilock braking
Description: Steering intermediate-shaft coupling can contact hydraulic brake pipe, causing fluid leakage.
Description: Front seat belt buckles may emit clicking sound during buckle-up process, even if it is not being latched.
Description: Jump-start instructions depict the cables attached to the wrong polarity terminals.
Description: Engine heat may damage the blades of the cooling fan. Dealers will replace the engine cooling fan with a fan made of improved material.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.

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