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Return of the Sportage

Kia stopped selling its Sportage SUV in the U.S. about three years ago because the body-on-frame design couldn't economically be updated to meet tightening safety and competitive standards.

Kia stopped selling its Sportage SUV in the U.S. about three years ago because the body-on-frame design couldn't economically be updated to meet tightening safety and competitive standards. The 2005 Sportage, on the other hand, uses a modern unibody it shares with Kia's Spectra , and bears little resemblance to the original 1994 "cute ute."

Obsessed with NVH and safety, Kia engineers developed a stiff steel bodyshell with four structural rings that encircle the vehicle at the A,B,C and D pillars. Key attachment areas (e.g. the floorpan joins at the rear wheel arches and the rear apron attaches to the D pillar) are reinforced to further boost rigidity and eliminate resonant sounds. The front subframe bridges the left and right front chassis stampings, is part of the frontal impact structure, and works as an NVH filter to keep road noise from entering the passenger cabin. Further noise reductions come from stamping curved shapes into the floorpan to absorb vibration, lining the rear wheel arches with sandwich panels, and using a reinforced front bulkhead covered with six layers of sound-deadening material.

Making good on its promise to be a leader in affordable safety, Kia deploys an impressive array of safety features to the Sportage. These include front and rear side curtain airbags, dual front seat-mounted airbags, four-channel ABS, electronic brake distribution, traction control and electronic stability control. Two engines are available, a 140-hp 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder with variable valve timing, and an optional 173-hp 2.7-liter V6 that Kia expects 85% of Sportage buyers to choose. The Sportage's base price is $15,900.—KEW