1998 Kia Sportage
Four-wheel drives are not
fashion accessories, oh dear me no, not at all,
The Great Indoors
Australia gets the four-door Sportage, a 3-door, short wheelbase model also being available in Korea, with interest from the USA. Australia is unlikely to get the SWB according to local representatives. The four-door seats two in the front and three in the rear in principle, but the rear centre position is really only suitable for short trips. It is a "wheel at each corner" car so interior room is good for the overall dimensions; it is only the rear load-space that has to be described as modest. The front seats have adjustable lumbar supports but they could do with being higher up for tall people. The driver has a good view of the car's corners despite the bonnet falling away in an aerodynamic shape and the car is easy to park sighting on that nudge-bar.
Interior goodies and features on the test car included radio / cassette player (a CD player is optional), electric windows, electric adjustable door-mirrors, remote central locking and engine immobiliser. That immobiliser does immobilise the engine if the doors have been open for more than a couple of minutes without the engine running. To reset it, the doors must be locked and unlocked. This is a bit of a nuisance if you stop on a steep hill, for example, and leave the vehicle parked in gear while jumping out to inspect the track or whatever. By the time you get back in it is probably immobilised. And if a stall-start in reverse is necessary on a severe hill, make sure that the electronic watchdog is reset first.
The rear-mounted spare wheel carrier is standard (at least in Oz)
and nice and sturdy it is too.
There are separate releases for the carrier and for the rear door,
one on the floor, the other on the dashboard;
it would be better if the two releases were together.
Further, you do have to enter the driving compartment to release
the carrier before you can open the rear to put the shopping away;
the key operates the door but not the carrier.
The Kia Sportage's vroom-factor comes from a delightful 2-litre 4-cylinder 16-valve DOHC cam' engine that loves to rev' but will also pull from 1500rpm, hot or cold, and even down to 1200rpm, although grumpily by then. It is joined to 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic gearboxes, thence to a two-speed, part-time four-wheel drive transfer case. The top three gears on the 5-speed are "just right" for the engine, making overtaking on the highway and punting it around winding roads (Black Spur, Great Ocean Road, ...) a real pleasure. Of course one consequence is that the engine is turning at 3200rpm at 110kph in 5th gear and can be heard doing so. Just a little bit of transmission noise can also be heard at certain speeds. First and second gears are rather low and with a wide gap between them. Probably the thinking was "this is a 4WD and it must have a crawler gear"? It might have been better, certainly more fun, to raise 1st gear in particular and compensate by making the transfer case's low-ratio lower still.
The automatic tranmission has a "hold" function
to do just that, hold it in a certain gear
which is useful for starting off on slippery surfaces
and for climbing 4WD tracks when a change is not wanted at
an embarrassing moment.
Front suspension is independent with double wishbones and coil springs. Rear suspension is by a live-axle with four links (left and right radius arms, upper link and Panhard rod) and coil springs. The road holding is good; of course the rear end can be made to jump out under power on corrugations, particularly when in two-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive (high) can be engaged on the move at up to 25kph, the free-wheel hubs locking automatically. Low-ratio must be engaged at a stop.
The steering is power assisted and quite light -
ideal for parking but too light (like most modern cars) at speed.
It is also rather vague in the straight ahead position which
does detract from that hot-hatch experience.
Front brakes are discs and rear brakes are drums;
they are not over assisted.
The test car had the optional rear anti-lock brakes (ABS).
They saved the life of one Kangaroo that hopped into our path unscripted;
they work and pulled the Sportage up nice and straight.
The hand-brake (parking brake) acts on the rear drums.
It will not hold the car unaided on a 1 in 2 hill but anything less is
The Sportage is a small four-wheel drive, not a Hummer! It has 15" wheels with 70% profile tyres giving an overall diameter of 26" so if it is taken along wheel ruts where the crown of the track has been skimmed by the diff' of a Nissan Patrol on 7.50x16 (31" o.a.d.) tyres it is going to be left hanging a couple of inches up in the air. So with that qualification the Sportage is a "proper" four-wheel drive with a ladder chassis and two-speed transfer case. It is plenty strong enough for its intended applications. On sand, snow and bushtracks it will perform fine, just meeting its limits a bit before the bigger (and heavier and more expensive) 'Cruiser, Patrol and Defender do. Wheel travel is good and there is no sign of body-flex when cross-axled.
The Sportage's closest competitor is the Suzuki Vitara which now offers a 2-litre 4-cylinder motor and a 2.5-litre V6. These two also face the car-based 4WD's such as Toyota RAV4 and Land Rover Freelander which have monocoque construction and no low-ratio transfer case.
If you want to buy a smaller four-wheel drive,
the Kia Sportage is good value from $25K+orc.
Kia Sportage '97 / 1998
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