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1999 4x4 of the Year: Kia Sportage

1999 Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage

•Good power at speed
•Low buck

•Low buck
•Itty-bitty stereo buttons
•Chrome rollbar

Kia had the dubious honor of entering the cheapest vehicle in this year's competition, as well as having one of the lowest priced in the test's history. In fact, you could buy nearly four Kias for the price of one Lexus LX 470-it's practically gum money at $40,871 less than the luxo. But rather than pummel the Sportage for what it doesn't have, here's what you get in an economy-size 4x4 with a base price of $14,495: a vehicle that handles great, has direct and precise power-assist steering, has a 2.0L four-cylinder with good upper-end power, and is a perky sand-duner and an eager hillclimber.

The two-door convertible was expected to be the penalty box of the group, but it was full of surprises. For instance, it ranked six notches better than the Mercedes-Benz in Ride & Drive. It clawed the hillclimb better than the Toyota Land Cruiser. It got the second-best spot in the brake test and mileage. And, of course, we're back to that price.

Unfortunately, the price as tested added nothing to its off-road prowess, which is really what this test is about. Besides having only 6 1/2 inches of ground clearance, the littlest bump on fire roads made it reach for the sky, although its landings were very controllable. Despite having notable approach and departure angles, the lack of a limited slip or a traction device coupled with gutless low-rpm oomph did not a rockcrawler make. And having to wedge the 4-Lo lever down into the seat cushion was not the best ergonomic design.

Around town, the pint-size was easy to maneuver and park, but on the highway, being petite hurt it-there were complaints of squirrelliness, shimmy, and wandering. Those assigned to it on those long freeway jaunts whined about uncomfortable seats, having fingers too fat to use the radio buttons, no cruise control, some visibility problems because of the soft top, possibly the worst headliner in automotive history, and no space for storing stuff. The Sportage was the only vehicle in the test to come equipped with a knee airbag, but we'll leave it for you to decide whether that's a plus or a minus.

Bottom line
You get what you pay for plus a decent engine and a sporty ride.


Manufacturer Kia
Model Sportage Convertible
Base Price $14,495
Price as Tested $16,799
Options as Tested Air conditioning;
alloy wheels; AM/FM/CD; carpeted floormats.

Type DOHC inline four-cylinder
Displacement (liters/cubic inches) 2.0/121.9
Bore & Stroke (inches) 3.39x3.39
Compression Ratio 9.2:1
Induction Type Multiport, electronic fuel injection
Fuel Requirement/Capacity (gallons) 87 Octane
Unleaded regular/14
SAE Peak Horsepower 130 @ 5,500 rpm
SAE Peak Torque (lb-ft) 127 @ 4,000 rpm

Type Four-speed manual
Model Getrag
Ratios First: 3.717:1; Second: 2.019:1; Third: 1.363:1;
Fourth: 1.00:1; Fifth: 0.804:1; Reverse: 3.445:1

Transfer Case
Type Part-time two-speed syncromesh
Model Kanda
Low-Range Ratio 1.981:1

Front Type IFS
Rear Type Solid
Hubs Automatic
Ratio 4.30:1

Front Double wishbone/coil springs with strut damper
Rear Four-link/coil springs with strut damper

Type Ball -and-nut with power assist
Turns Lock-to-Lock/Ratio 3.75/15.2:1
Turning Radius (feet) 32.15

Size (inches) 15x6
Material Alloy

Size P205/75R15
Brand Kumho Radial 798

Brake System
Front 11-inch vented discs
Rear 10-inch drums

Advertised GVWR (pounds) 4,156

As Tested (mpg) 16.66

Standing 1/4-mile (seconds @ mph) 19.19 @ 70.95

60-0 mph (feet) 114.04

Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase 92.5
Overall Length 156
Overall Width 77 .125
Overall Height 65 .75
Front/Rear Track 57/57
Front/Rear Overhang 15.125/20
Minimum Front Ground Clearance 6.5