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2002 KIA SPORTAGE Review - Base Price $14,645

Tough little SUV with new standard features.


2002 kia sportage Review

If the Kia Sportage looks like a tough little truck, it's because that's exactly what it is. Kia's Sportage is built like a truck, on a separate ladder frame; and it uses a truck-like four-wheel-drive transfer case that locks the front and rear axles together for serious off-road slogging. Yet its passenger compartment is roomy, and it comes with a reasonable list of car-like appointments.

The list of standard features grows with the 2002 model year. Not changed is Kia's Long Haul Warranty that includes five years or 60,000 miles of basic coverage and 10 years or 100,000 miles for the powertrain.


Front-seat roominess is one of the best attributes of the Sportage. Front legroom (44.5 inches) and headroom (39.6 inches) are generous. The Sportage is roomier up front than some larger SUVs. (Isuzu's Rodeo, for example, gives front passengers 42.1 inches of legroom and 38.9 inches of headroom.)

While the Sportage rear seat has limited legroom (31.3 inches), it still offers 37.8 inches of headroom, making back-seat accommodations more tolerable for tall passengers.

When it comes to hauling cargo, the Sportage holds its own, offering 25.8 cubic feet of space with the rear seat up and more than twice as much (54.4 cubic feet) with the seat folded. The spare tire carrier locks out of the way when fully opened, which is a blessing when loading groceries or baggage through the rear door.

Interior details enhance comfort. The top of the center console slides forward to provide a comfortable armrest. Both front bucket seats recline, and the driver's seat has an adjustable lumbar support.

In addition to dual front airbags, the Sportage comes equipped with a smaller airbag intended to protect the driver's left leg and knee.

The well-proportioned greenhouse allows good visibility in all directions. Controls are well placed and easy to operate, and instruments are easy to read. Air conditioning in our test vehicle cooled the cabin is short order on warm Southern California afternoons. Kia's AM/FM/CD stereo is straightforward and easy to operate.


Its utilitarian looks and proportions give the Sportage a cute, capable look. The design of the Kia Sportage is rugged and functional, however. Short front and rear overhangs improve its ability to clamber over rugged terrain.

Choosing an SUV depends a lot on what you want it to do. Right now, the market offers several compact sport-utilities with tough-truck looks, but hiding beneath their tough exteriors are the hearts and souls of passenger cars. Built on passenger-car platforms, with car-like unitbody construction, they usually feature a full-time four-wheel-drive system that's a real plus on snow-covered roads. But many of them lack real off-road capability. When the tough get going, they're better off staying in the parking lot. These include the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute.

The Kia Sportage is not a car-based SUV. Its body-on-frame construction is a true truck-style design. Its ladder frame has six cross members for increased rigidity.

For 2002, Kia has redesigned the latch on the rear hatch of four-door versions. Also new for 2002 is a two-tone option package that includes contrasting-color body cladding, bumpers, fender flares, roof rack and a hard spare tire cover.


The compact size of the Sportage is a blessing in heavy traffic, able to slip through the herd with an ease larger SUVs can't match.

All 2002 Kia Sportage models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 130 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 127 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. This engine was developed by Mazda and adapted by Kia. Sportage offers considerably more power than the 1.6-liter engine used in two-door versions of the Suzuki Vitara and Chevy Tracker, and similar output to the 2.0-liter engine found in four-door Vitara and Tracker models.

There's enough power to push the Sportage down a straight and level freeway with relative ease, but there's a lack of gusto on moderate grades. It's useful to build some speed before you start climbing a steep grade. You need to plan passing maneuvers ahead of time and start working the accelerator a little sooner than you would with a bigger engine.

When it comes to getting the most from the Sportage, the manual transmission is much better than the automatic. If your commute makes the manual an acceptable alternative, we highly recommend it.

The Sportage has a slightly raw feel in its ride and handling, a result of its truck-based design. Indeed, this back-to-basics quality is part of its charm. Just don't expect the chassis sophistication, the handling response or the vibration dampening you might get in larger SUVs, or in those based on cars, such as the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

The payoff for this trucklike ride is greater off-road capability: Sportage 4x4 models use a traditional part-time four-wheel-drive system that is better suited for muddy terrain than an all-wheel-drive system, such as that found in the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute. Sportage 4x4 models are also equipped with a low-range transfer case for when the going really gets tough. This enables the Sportage to go places unreachable in a CR-V, Escape or Tribute. The rougher the terrain, the more of an advantage the Sportage offers. 4WD Sportage models have vacuum-operated, auto-locking front hubs, eliminating the need to climb out of the truck when the driver selects four-wheel drive.

On wet, slippery pavement, the Sportage lacks traction at its drive wheels when in 2WD, even during normal acceleration from a stop sign. A flick of a lever put us in 4WD and solved the problem. The Sportage was suddenly more sure-footed. However, part-time 4WD systems are not designed for wet pavement as the driveline will bind up on tight parking lot maneuvers. An all-wheel-drive system, such as what's found on the car-based SUVs is better for wet pavement.


The 2002 Kia Sportage offers the space and utility of an SUV for the price of a compact car. Those whose hobbies actually take them off the road may appreciate the superior off-road capability of the Sportage when compared with the more expensive, more carlike mini-SUVs from Honda, Ford and Mazda.

A four-door Sportage goes for about the same price as a two-door Vitara or Tracker, both of which offer a smaller engine, less passenger space, and a lower level of standard equipment than the Sportage. Starting at slightly more than $18,000, the four-door, four-wheel-drive Sportage offers a good value.

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