A blue 2020 Kia Sportage is shown as a man puts a surfboard in the rear cargo space.

Keeping Up With the Kia Sportage: 28 Years of Setting the Standard

For many drivers in the United States, Kia is still a “new” brand. In the grand scheme of things, that is true. Kia started its US journey in 1992, while Toyota and Nissan have been selling cars here since 1958. And we can’t forget Detroit’s “Big Three,” who, despite their latest iterations and associations, have been part of the driving community for over a hundred years. Still, when we say that Kia Sportage dealers have been slinging the small SUV for nearly 30 years, there’s quite a bit of nostalgia in that statement.

While most of us don’t wish to admit that the 1990s were actually that long ago, there’s also something to be said about a vehicle that hit the Pacific Northwest in 1995 and hasn’t left. The Kia Sportage is all new for 2023 and already winning the praises of experts and critics. At the same time, the same experts and critics agree that you don’t need a brand new Kia Sportage to have a pretty excellent vehicle. Take a look at where the Kia Sportage has been and how a used version is definitely the right way to go if you’re looking for a vehicle that has its own unique approach to drivability and the SUV segment.

The Dawn of the Kia Sportage

A lot of things have changed since 1995. To step back in time, imagine a world in which Windows ‘95 is brand new. Word processing applications still have a “Save” button that must be clicked several times while writing a document. There is no Google, only AltaVista.

Things are very different behind the wheel of a car, too. Compact vehicles are very trendy, but so is capability. Vehicles like the Geo Tracker and Suzuki Sidekick are hot, with their “go anywhere and do anything” attitude. Removable roofs and panels demonstrate their commitment to freedom, while their small stature gives a sense of responsibility and economy.

Enter the Sportage, which was small and truck-like. It had the finesse of a larger SUV of its time, which is to say it drove a bit on the loud-and-clumsy side. But by 1995 standards, that was pretty normal. Our understanding of SUVs at that point included Jeeps, Suburbans, Broncos, and Blazers, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker that the Sportage wasn’t as refined and civilized as a RAV4 or a CR-V. At least, not yet.

Despite offering a carefree soft-top version in 1998, the first generation of Sportage didn’t take off quite as Kia had anticipated, and it was taken off the market for a few years for a quick re-evaluation. When the Kia Sportage returned to the market in 2005, it was no longer a mini-truck but a car-based small SUV. No longer sporting a body-on-frame chassis, it was smoother, more spacious, and enjoyable to drive. And though critics weren’t exactly sold on the idea, the Sportage stuck around.

A gold 2019 Kia Sportage is shown parked outside of a Kia Sportage dealer.

The Modern Kia Sportage

Over the years, Kia has made all the right moves to help the Sportage grow into a vehicle modern drivers can love and appreciate. One particularly beloved model year is the 2017 redesign. Equipped with a 2.4L or 2.0L turbocharged engine, this version of the Sportage was all about style, inside and out. A six-speed conventional transmission allows these small SUVs to respond smoothly and without question, providing a firm yet responsive ride. Furthermore, it’s roomy inside, allowing passengers to spread out comfortably.

Kia thoughtfully piled the best features into the all-new fourth generation, as well, including climate-controlled seats, solar-control glass, and a power-operated liftgate with programmable height adjustment among the options as drivers climbed the trim levels. Drivers looking for the ultimate used Sportage experience might search for the top SX-trim, which includes a Harman-Kardon audio system and panoramic sunroof, features that many of the most recent small SUVs lack.

What’s the Best Year Used Kia Sportage?

The answer to this question has a lot to do with your budget and personal preferences. If you’re the kind of driver who likes the idea of a mini-truck with part-time wet-only four-wheel drive, the 1995 version might be calling your name. For drivers who are looking for an uncomplicated, enjoyable small SUV with all the features we’ve become accustomed to in more recent years, perhaps the 2020 refresh model is just right for you. Earning the spot of #5 among Best Compact SUVs of 2020 by Kelley Blue Book, the 2020 Sportage received a full style makeover and a whole lot of extras.

The new-for-2020 S model includes paddle shifters and roof rails to put the “sport” back in “Sportage,” and the SX Turbo model includes a sport-tuned suspension to get the most out of its 240 horsepower turbo inline-4 engine. Both of these zippier models get a flat-bottom steering wheel, too, to round out the package.

All-wheel drive is also an option for all 2020 Kia Sportage trims. No longer made for wet roads only, Kia’s modern approach to traction is engineered with a locking differential and provides a greater level of traction when slippage is detected. Standard safety features across the lineup include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane-keep assist, again offering more than many base model SUVs three years younger.

Functionality is still one of the tenets of the modern Sportage’s existence, too. Providing 30.7 cubic feet of cargo room with all five seats occupied, or 60.1 cubic feet with the rear seats stashed, this little Kia SUV has plenty of room for all sorts of things, from weekend trip gear to an array of backpacks and science projects. Furthermore, Kia’s dedication to usability extends to allowing drivers traditional knobs and buttons to twiddle in addition to upscale touchscreen functionality.

Drivers who are looking for a very modern Kia Sportage without paying a brand-new price may choose to look at fourth-generation models, especially those that have been produced since the 2020 refresh. While not the latest and greatest, these models continue to impress experts on the used market.

Buying a Used Kia Sportage

There are many options available when it comes to small SUVs, so for the Kia Sportage to have enjoyed nearly 30 years of production, it’s clear that the winning recipe includes a comfortable ride, a peppy enough engine that balances overall economy, and features that drivers can’t find anywhere else. In these regards, the Sportage is doing its job very, very well. Small SUVs are one of the most rapidly-growing segments in the automotive world, so naturally, there are a lot of choices for drivers who are currently shopping in this arena. However, when examining the Kia Sportage, especially the most recent generation, one thing stands out among the others––the amount of car you get for the price you pay.

Naturally, the price range will fluctuate based on your location, the model, and the condition of the exact vehicle you’re considering. Still, if you’re looking for as many features as you can possibly afford, the Kia Sportage has well earned its reputation for having the most bells and whistles for the money. When shopping at your Kia Sportage dealer, be sure to take the time to read the entire list of features and functions…not because there might be something strange lurking in the list, but because you might just be amazed at how much is offered.