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Flashback Friday: First-Generation Kia Sportage

First-Generation Kia Sportage Model History and Photos

We’ve often used our Flashback Friday (formerly Throwback Thursday) segment to show the massive gulf in between who Kia was in the late 1990s and early 2000s and who Kia is today. When you compare models like the first-generation Kia Optima, Kia Spectra or Kia Amanti to their current iterations or incarnations (like the 2019 Kia Optima, 2018 Kia Rio or 2019 Kia K900 respectively), reveals an evolution that would take most brands forty to fifty years at full speed.

We say it all the time on this blog: Kia isn’t like other brands.

While most of the first-generation models are inexpensive and often low-feature shadows of what the models would grow into or be replaced with, the earliest Kia Sportage was a different story. Unlike the current zippy and personality-filled compact crossover we know and love today, the first-generation Kia Sportage was a truck-frame-based SUV that had off-road enthusiasts on the edge of their seats.

Kia Sportage Model History

The Kia Sportage began its life like many Kia and Mazda and Ford products of the day – with a confusing blend of each manufacturer’s parts, engineering and manufacturing. Designed on top of the Mazda Bongo platform, the first-generation Kia Sportage was manufactured between Germany, South Korea and Russia between 1993 and 2005.

Using two gasoline engines (both 2.0L 4-cylinders, one with DOHC) and one diesel engine, the first-generation Sportage wasn’t a powerhouse. In fact, the most power you’d see out of a first-generation Kia Sportage was 130 horsepower from its 2.0L DOHC powerplant.

However, its body-on-frame construction and available 4WD made it an ideal vehicle for off-roading enthusiasts who were looking for a less-expensive alternative to vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee and Chevrolet Blazer.

Another interesting thing about the first-generation Sportage? It was available as a convertible! That’s right, you could get the short-wheelbase Sportage in a three-door convertible form, making it the perfect all-terrain trail-hopper.

Sadly, various safety issues and reliability problems (including a rear axle that didn’t always like to stay with the rest of the Sportage), led to its discontinuation in the United States in 2002. When Kia picked up the model name again for the second-generation in 2006, it had changed considerably. The second-generation Kia Sportage is the proper ancestor to the current 2019 Kia Sportage, featuring unibody construction and a focus on balancing off-road capability with a luxurious, safe and cargo-friendly driving experience.

Kia wouldn’t return to body-on-frame construction for almost a decade, debuting the Kia Borrego SUV a little too late for its attractive exterior and incredible value to stick to a market that was already beyond SUVs.

[READ MORE: Read all about the Kia Borrego – an SUV that was too beautiful for this world]

First-Generation Kia Sportage Photo Gallery

We had a really challenging time finding any photos of this model. Unlike other past Kia vehicles that have been bragged about with various hashtags on Instagram, the earliest Kia Sportage seems to have gone underappreciated.

That said, here are the two we could dig up. If you have a first-generation Kia Sportage and would like to bring it in for a photo shoot, get in touch with us!


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A post shared by Autoexpert (@auto_redkost) on Sep 7, 2018 at 2:38am PDT


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A post shared by CARS + LyrICs=carsic (@car.sic) on Sep 14, 2014 at 11:15am PDT

first generation kia sportage convertible

first generation kia sportage four door

First-Generation Kia Sportage Legacy

The first-generation Kia Sportage lives on in our hearts as an aspirational vehicle that showed Kia’s passion for delivering a comparable experience to more expensive models with a lower price tag. Did it succeed? Well, a one-star safety rating from Australia’s IIHS-equivalent ANCAP might seem like a big “no.” However, the 1993 – 2005 Kia Sportage set the tone for Kia as a company moving forward.

These days, the Sportage is a respected leader in its class, seeing top safety and reliability ratings accompany some of the best value pricing on the market. It’s also fun and can go anywhere with its available Dynamax, fully-active all-wheel-drive system.

Have questions about the current Kia Sportage or a model you would like us to dive into in a future Flashback Friday? Click the button below to let us know!

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