Celebrating 30 years of the Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage - five generations

We head off for a trip down memory lane, taking all five generations of the Kia Sportage for a spin…

Originally launched in 1993, the Kia Sportage has been the backbone of the South Korean brand’s remarkable success story.

The popular family-sized SUV’s evolution perfectly reflects the manufacturer’s rapid rise since its single-model debut in 1991.

Just to put that into context – in year one the little Kia Pride achieved 1,786 sales. In 2022, Kia passed the important milestone of 100,000 sales per year, and 2023 is on track to be even better.

Kia Sportage 1 and 5
Kia Sportage: First and fifth generations

Over that time, Kia has developed a solid reputation for quality, reliability, design flair and innovation.

What’s more, the brand has become a driving force in the switch to electrification with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and 100% electric models in its line-up.

To mark the Sportage’s 30th birthday, Kia gave us the opportunity to sample all five generations. A fascinating day driving the models back-to-back, and here’s what we thought…

Kia Sportage - first generation

First generation (1993-2003)

UK sales: 10,897

The Kia Sportage was first launched in the Asian car market in 1993, reaching the UK in 1995. The example from the Kia heritage fleet we drove is a special edition all-wheel drive 2.0-litre XSE from its final year of production. It may look boxy and dated, but it’s surprisingly spacious and refined. Yes, the handling is wallowy, the gear change is a tad notchy and the seating position is particularly high in the rear, but it’s powerful enough and compares well with a Toyota RAV4 of the same vintage.

Kia Sportage - second generation

Second generation (2005-10)

UK sales: 23,371

Following a two-year break, the Sportage returned in 2005. Bigger and more grown-up, it featured mod cons such as central locking, adjustable wing mirrors and a CD player. Gaining a reputation for reliability over its production run, there was also extra space in the rear, a noticeable uplift in quality and a more composed feel on the road. The Sportage was going places. The heritage model we sampled was an XE 2.0-litre diesel (CRDi) all-wheel drive from 2007 – the year production of the Sportage moved from South Korea to Zilina, Slovakia, where the Sportage is still built today.

Kia Sportage - third generation

Third generation (2010-16)

UK sales: 95,626

With another big leap in quality, the Sportage bulked up and became a major player in the SUV market. Little quirks were finally ironed out (the indicator moved from the right to the left-hand side of the steering wheel), there was yet more space in the back for passengers, and it picked up a prestigious 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating. More comfortable than ever, modern touches include a USB port and a remote key fob, no less. The KX-3 AWD we drove dated from 2011, and though the 2.0-litre petrol engine lacked some of the punch of the diesel from the previous generation, the car itself handles well and has stood the test of time well and is still a solid second-hand SUV choice.

Kia Sportage - fourth generation

Fourth generation (2016-22)

UK sales: 197,547

Kia hit the jackpot with the curvaceous fourth-generation Sportage, which is still a cracking car. Surprisingly dynamic to drive for an SUV, it was also comfortable and spacious. The first Sportage to be offered with an electrified option (a mild hybrid model joined the petrol and diesel options in 2018), the Mk4 is so good that it could still be on sale today. In fact, the only age giveaways are the manual handbrake, the modest infotainment screen and a liberal dose of buttons and dials.

Kia Sportage - fifth generation

Fifth generation (2022-)

The best just got better. The latest version of the Sportage was launched in 2022, delivering a winning blend of striking looks, hi-tech interior, practicality, top safety features, driving engagement and big bang for your bucks. Crowned What Car? ‘Best Family SUV’, it’s available as a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV), Hybrid Electric (HEV) and Mild Hybrid (MHEV). In PHEV form it has a theoretical fuel economy of 252mpg, and an emissions-free EV driving range of up to 43 miles. And as ever, the Sportage offers peace of mind because it’s backed by Kia generous seven-year warranty.

So, Kia has now established itself as one of the top five car brands in the UK – a brilliant feat in just three decades. In fact, since its 1991 debut, it’s sold some 1.5 million cars in the UK alone.

And in July 2023, Kia UK reached the 50,000 EV sales milestone, an important step in its journey to having nine EVs by 2027.

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