kia retona gainst blue background with title throwback thursday kia retona

Flashback Friday: Kia Retona

Kia Retona Model History and Photos

(Note: With Thursday being reserved for our Weekend Local Events roundups during the spring and into the early summer, we’re shifting our Throwback Thursday series to Fridays).

Perhaps a fair criticism about current trends in automotive design is that they’re trying to cram too much into one vehicle. Many crossovers and sedans are chunky monuments to compromise, doing everything okay but nothing particularly outstanding.

We could go into how that may be symptomatic of many American’s inability to afford more than one vehicle or manufacturers having to balance omnipresent public critique with safety regulations and branding, but the truth is that for 95% of people, a car that is safe, comfortable and has enough capability for confident all-weather driving is good enough.

What about that other 5% though? Those in the group of people who are willing to sacrifice ride height for performance or comfort for massive towing find their field of options increasingly small. Off-roading aficionados are one group that have been okay making sacrifices to have a vehicle with one-focus – traversing unforgiving terrain at 3mph.

The modern Kia lineup doesn’t really feature a vehicle dedicated solely to off-roading, but it used to.

The Kia Retona was a compact SUV (read: not crossover) that was built to look like and copy the functionality of Kia’s K 131 military jeeps.

Kia Retona History

We’ve said it before, but the way Kia appeared when it came to the United States market was not wholly indicative as to their presence on the global stage. While Kia’s early models in the United States were known for strictly being budget-friendly alternatives to more reliable and feature-packed brands, their badge flowed throughout the European and Asian markets tied to everything from family movers, fast cars and infrastructure vehicles.

These days, we know Kia has so much more to offer.

[READ MORE: Throwback Thursday – Kia Spectra]

Debuting in 1997 for the 1998 model year, the Kia Retona would have been a shoe-in for our Kias You Can’t Buy series. The Retona was available solely on the Asian and European markets. Not a ton of information about this unique Jeepish vehicle is available, but it’s clear that the Retona was Kia’s attempt to deliver a clever off-roading experience underscored by Kia value and reliability.

The name, in fact, was a witty portmanteau of “Return To Nature.”

The Retona shared its platform with the first-generation Kia Sportage. Not just any Kia Sportage, though, the Kia Sportage CONVERTIBLE. That’s right, the first-generation Kia Sportage was available as a sharp, two-door convertible. Because of this, the Retona benefited from Kia’s 2.0L 4-cylinder engine or a 2.0L diesel with a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual transmission available.

While the Sportage used the platform for a more refined image, the Retona was happy to be less refined – like Samantha and Serena from the old sitcom Bewitched.

Kia Retona Photos

Seeing a Kia-branded compact off-roader no longer shocks us the way it would have 15 years ago. After all, Kia’s brand has moved upmarket and is now offering luxury sedans like the K900 and Cadenza, a stylish minivan and the monstrous Kia Stinger sports sedan.

Here are our favorite photos of Kia’s take on small, truck-frame off-roading. Please note that clicking through to Instagram may expose you to inappropriate content and we aren’t responsible for anything that happens on that journey. Instagram, we know, tries hard to keep their site friendly to all, but some things do get through.

Anyway, enough lawyer talk. Meet the glorious Retona:

A post shared by merynik (@mery_nik) on Jan 3, 2015 at 2:49pm PST

A post shared by Stan (@stanislav_kelly) on Jul 13, 2017 at 7:47am PDT

A post shared by John Steele (@johnsteelephoto) on Apr 17, 2017 at 3:29pm PDT

A post shared by Sonny Mundo (@sonnymundo) on Apr 17, 2017 at 1:49am PDT

REturn TO NorthAmerica?

How likely are we to see the Retona ever come back/break into our market? Not very likely. Truck-frame built, off-road-focused SUVs aren’t a big enough segment in North America and don’t carry the margins to make it a wise business decision. That’s just our take, though. To many people, the Stinger didn’t make sense either and yet we have it and we’re thankful Kia didn’t listen to them.

Although not recommended for off-roading, the 2019 Kia Sorento of all vehicles recently conquered one of America’s most imposing off-road obstacles in Moab. Check out the video!

For more information on Kia vehicles like the Sorento, or if you’ve managed to get ahold of a Retona and want to come by and show it off, be sure to contact us today!

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