In December 1994, Korean carmaker Kia introduced a 4-door sport/utility vehicle to the United States marketplace. Named Sportage (rhymes with "portage"), the car was 6 inches shorter than a Jeep Cherokee but had a longer wheelbase. As such, it fell somewhere between the mini and compact classes and competed with the Isuzu Rodeo, Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Cherokee, and as of late 1995 for the 1996 model year, the Toyota RAV4. Although some of the drivetrain hardware was based on Mazda's older, Japanese-built B-series pickup trucks, the Sportage sported unique 4-door bodywork.
The original 1995 Sportage featured a 2.0-liter Four with a cast-iron block and aluminum cylinder head. While some details were still fuzzy, early vehicles had a sohc version of the engine producing "about 98 hp" and an unspecified amount of torque. After the first couple of months, a dohc version of the engine appeared with 139 hp and 133 ft.-lb. of torque, which was appreciated in a truck that weighed about 1000 pounds more than a Suzuki Sidekick.
Similarly, the first vehicles all had 5-speed manual transmissions, and later Sportages were available with an optional electronically controlled 4-speed automatic. All vehicles had part-time 4-wheel drive with a 2-speed transfer case. The Sportage had a separate body on a ladder-type steel frame, just like the big boys. Brakes were disc/drum, with standard rear ABS. Kia dealerships have started to spread eastward from their beachhead on the West Coast, but were still not located in all 50 states.
For its first year, the 4x2 Kia Sportage contained 94 horsepower, while the 4x4s contained 139 hp. The 4x4 Sportage went on sale January 3, 1995, and the 4x2 Sportage went on sale in April 1995.
The initial 4-door 4wd Sportage incurred few changes for '96. However, it was due to be accompanied by a sportier 2wd sibling early in 1996.
The base-level engine -- a 2-liter sohc inline 4 cylinder -- was found in 2wd versions. Four-wheel-drive models came with the higher revving 2-liter dohc inline 4-cylinder. The base-level transmission was a 5-speed manual. The optional transmission was an electronically controlled 4-speed automatic. Four-wheel-drive versions had a 2-speed transfer case for shift-on-the-fly operation at speeds below 15 mph.
There were two trim levels: Sportage and Sportage EX. Standard equipment included power windows, dual power remote outside mirrors and intermittent windshield wipers. Optional equipment included air conditioning, power door locks, cruise control, a remote electric tailgate opener and limited-slip differential.
A CD player was added as a new option for the 1997 Sportage.
Many improvements were given to the '98 Sportage, such as a new grille, new alloy wheels, tilt steering wheel, passenger-side airbag, and a 4-wheel ABS.
A new 2-door convertible was added to the lineup. It was powered by the same 130-hp 2-liter engine, but the wheelbase and length shrunk nearly 1 ft. Also, the rear section of the roof was removable.
As of December 29, 1994:
- $14,495 (1995 Kia Sportage 4x4)
- $15,495 (1995 Kia Sportage EX)
As of February 13, 1995:
- $13,495 (1995 Kia Sportage 4x2)
- $15,295 (1995 Kia Sportage 4x4)
- $16,195 (1995 Kia Sportage EX)