The Kia Sportage is a medium sports utility vehicle (SUV) per FCAI classification. In the Euro passenger car segmentation, it is referred to as J-segment SUV, which is equivalent to compact or small SUV in US EPA classification. It was designed and built by South Korea’s oldest automaker, Kia Motors Corporation, following the success of the Kia Sephia (aka Kia Mentor) in the US and other parts of the world.
1st Generation: NB-7 (1993–2004)
The first-generation Kia Sportage was a product of a joint undertaking between Ford, Mazda, and Kia, with the use of Ford and Mazda’s technology and Kia’s facilities. Thus, the Sportage was developed from a Mazda Bongo platform with a sporty look and off-road capability.
July 1993 saw the launching of Sportage in Asia. From 1995 to 1998, the Sportage was built by Karmann Gmbh in Germany for the European market. Meanwhile, the South Korean production facility continued to serve the rest of the global market.
Initially, the Sportage NB-7 series was available either in a 3-door soft-top convertible or a 5-door standard-length SUV station wagon. Then sometime in 1996, Kia made possible an extended-length version aptly called “Sportage Grand” or the “Grand Wagon” and added three main features, to wit:
1. 305-mm longer body using the same Bongo wheelbase
2. increased luggage capacity (from 1,570L to 2,220L)
3. relocation of the spare tyre from the tailgate to underneath the luggage floor
Moreover, Kia Sportage was available in three Mazda-sourced engine variants, namely:
1. 2.0L FE-DOHC I4 petrol engine; power rated at 95 kW – in North America, this engine was rated at 97 kW and was offered with optional 4-wheel drive
2. 2.0L RF I4 diesel engine; power rated at 61 kW – restricted to the European market
3. 2.0L FE-SOHC I4 petrol engine; power rated at 87 kW – restricted to the European market
Just an interesting trivia: The 1997 Kia Sportage was the world’s first ever production car to be outfitted with knee airbags.
After almost a decade, however, the first-generation Kia Sportage saw its slow decline because of various setbacks. It suffered low sales even on its turf in South Korea. There were a couple of recalls due to rear wheels dismounting while mobile and failed seat belts. Plus, the Sportage scored dismally—one out of five stars—in crash tests conducted by the Australian ANCAP.
Thus, Kia was forced to discontinue production of the Sportage in 2002, first in South Korea and then in North America. It remained on sale, however, in some third-world countries, but by the year 2003 most international dealerships had ceased marketing it all together.
2nd Generation: JE/KM (2004-2010)
Kia’s second-generation Sportage emerged strong. It was built based on Hyundai Elantra’s platform, the same one used in the 2005 Hyundai Tucson.
The new Sportage model sported a powerful 129 kW V6 engine with 241 N·m of torque, was significantly larger and roomier than the earlier model and had a very much improved overall finish and quality. In the United Kingdom, a 2.0L straight-4 diesel engine was also offered as an option.
A couple of facelifts were introduced to keep the Sportage JE/KM series attuned to times. The first was in May of 2008, and the next was in early 2009.
In 2009, it earned a few feathers in its cap, namely;
1. A 5-star rating in crash tests conducted by Australia’s National Highway Traffic Administration
2. Chosen as one of the most reliable vehicles in a 2009 Consumer Reports reliability study
3. Ranked second in the list of “20 Least Expensive 2009 Vehicles to Insure” by Insure.com
However, the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) saw the safety offered by the Sportage as merely satisfactory in terms of a frontal- and side-impact crash. Its roof strength in case of a rollover was also rated poor.
3rd Generation: SL (2010-2015)
The third-generation Kia Sportage (SL series) was released to international markets in the following order:
1. April 2010 – Asia and Europe
2. August 2010 – North and Central America
3. October 2010 – Australia
The Kia Sportage R—another name for the SL series—was released by Dongfeng Yueda Kia in China on October 2010. It was manufactured and sold together with the earlier generation.
The third-generation Kia Sportage was powered by a 2.0L Hyundai R diesel engine with a power of 137 kW. A 2.0L Theta T-GDI petrol engine was also available to customers.
The 2014 model acquired a facelift and was refurbished with stylish grille, flashy fog lamps, trendy new headlamps, and more.
These were great years for the Kia Sportage, having received several awards and accolades from various global award-giving organizations and agencies. Several months after the third-generation Sportage was produced, it received the “2011 Car of the Year” award in Slovakia and was nominated as “Truck of the Year” in the International Car of the Year competition.
It also topped the American-based JD Power Survey for 2012, being the only contender to rack up five stars through all categories, from mechanical reliability to customer satisfaction and to ownership costs.
In addition, the Kia Sportage captured the 2013 Standard Bank People’s Wheels Award for “SUVs and Crossovers – City and Suburban.”
To top it all, the Kia Sportage obtained a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It was quite a redemption compared to the previous generation’s poor showing in terms of safety involving roof strength.
4th Generation: QL (2016-Present)
The fourth-generation Kia Sportage (QL series) debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September of 2015. It displayed its jet-fighter-inspired edges and slick exterior looks. It came with the following engine variants:
1. 1.6L petrol engine with 97 kW/161 N⋅m
2. 2.0L petrol engine with 120 kW/200 N⋅m
3. 2.4L petrol engine with 138 kW/241 N⋅m
4. 1.6L T-GDi turbo-petrol with130 kW/265 N⋅m; with optional 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
5. 2.0L turbo R-series diesel engine with 136 kW/400 N⋅m
Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations were also made available to customers.
In North America, the Kia Sportage is sold in three attractive levels—the LX, EX, and SX—which can be had with two inline-four engine options:
1. 2.4L engine, 135 kW/237 N⋅m
2. 2.0L turbocharged engine, 180 kW/350 N⋅m
Both engines perform well with either an FWD or AWD configuration and are fitted to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Kia KX5 (China)
The fourth-generation Kia Sportage is marketed as the Kia KX5 in China along with the third-generation Sportage R model and the second-generation Sportage (JE).
In 2019, the Kia KX5 received a restyled front fascia, grille-integrated headlamps, and an altered rear end.
As with the preceding generation, the 2017 Kia Sportage enjoyed another “Top Safety Pick” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Finally, it also bagged the Red Dot Design Award based in Essen, Germany.