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I’ve had the privilege of driving a 1998 Kia Sportage 4x4 for the last few weeks.
Actually, I should say that I’ve had the DISPLEASURE, as every time I get behind the wheel I find something else to hate about this, Korea’s weak attempt to bring Americans a Sport Utility Vehicle that Does Not Suck.
They failed miserably, of course.
The Sportage is a small SUV, capable of holding one driver, one front-seat passenger, three rear seat passengers, and a bit of cargo in the very back. The cargo space is limited; though the rear seats DO fold down to give more storage space.
The spare tire is affixed to the outer door of the vehicle by means of a metal bar, which frees up a bit of room for groceries, building equipment, and all the other strange things my family and I have hauled around town in this vehicle. The tire cover – a great big vinyl zippered affair – features the Kia logo and a large “4x4” emblem below it: Obviously we want the entire universe to know exactly what we are driving.
To open the rear door (a hatch much like any minivan), you must depress a lever to allow the tire storage rack to swing out of the way; unlock the rear door, and open.
That’s fine and dandy.
To shut the stupid storage rack, you must slam it as hard as you possibly can. Lightweights and small females such as myself need not apply, as it IS a real b**ch to close. Trust me.
*Important Things To Know About This Vehicle
First of all, the seats are uncomfortable as hell. They adjust fully (you can move the seats forward and backward, adjust the angle, et cetera) but they are stuffed with something absolutely horrible. I cannot help but feel that, when my bony rear end slides into the cloth-covered driver’s seat, I am in all reality sitting on somebody’s corpse. The Kia feels just like that…morbid…and stiff. Perhaps the corpse is really the last person who had the unfortunate luck as to be made to drive this thing. I don’t know. Whatever the case, I’ll be glad to give this vehicle back to its rightful owner as soon as possible.
The Kia in question is a dark mocha color, with a glittery undercoat so that the paint job looks better than it really is. It’s fairly difficult to see in contrast to the dark gray paving on these backwoods roads I drive on, and it’s about as ugly as those old Cadillacs my grandmother used to drive. Before she got the Dodge Neon and began drag racing on access roads at 70 MPH, that is.
The model I am driving also features a molded plastic luggage rack, which is capable of holding 100 pounds worth of equally-distributed weight. I don’t fancy myself strapping snow skis or baggage to the vehicle anytime soon, so it’s really just an added feature that probably cost the original buyer several hundred unnecessary dollars.
This vehicle refuses to travel below 35 MPH. If I’m in a low speed zone, I have to ride the brakes to ensure that I do not get caught by a policeman for inadvertently breaking the speed limit. Acceleration is quick despite its small engine (2-liter) and gas mileage is decent at best. Incidentally, the lever next to the driver’s seat (to open the gas tank cover located at the rear of the vehicle for fueling) was broken when I got this vehicle. Evidently the wiring between the lever and the tank cover is either really crappy, or the last driver didn’t know how to be delicate with such things. Whatever the case, it’s not working, so I have to pry open the little hinged door with the key to the ignition.
All four of the Sportage’s doors lock when the driver door’s lock is depressed. They all lock when the door key (the same key as the ignition key, incidentally) is used. This is annoying in some cases, but it makes locking up the entire vehicle a lot faster most of the time – thus, I am really not complaining about it. It’s not my vehicle anyway, so let the real owner get the headache over it.
Right. Now, as for actually DRIVING the damned thing.
It sucks more and more each time I get behind the wheel. I can make myself somewhat comfortable with the various adjustment levers, but anything past that is a living nightmare.
My passengers have “oh sh*t” handles above their door frames so that they can hold on for their dear lives when I am making a turn: Somehow, in the Sportage, even the most boring and mundane of turns makes one wonder if they are going to remain upright in their seats or not.
The control panel (gas gauge, tachometer, all that good crap) is hard to read because of its angle.
The turn signal, high beam switch, and window washer levers are all wrong. They aren’t logically placed: In other words, it’s totally different from any other car I’ve ever been in, and it just plain sucks. Who ever heard of having to push and pull the high beam lever, which just happens to double as the turn signal lever? That’s just crap, and I’ve never been in a vehicle that has this particular setup.
Steering the vehicle proves to be a pain in the ass when crosswinds are present: It does not have the best center of gravity in the world, apparently, and likes to drift from one lane to the next unless the driver is actively fighting with it. That might sound a bit far-fetched, but if you don’t believe me get behind the wheel of any cargo van (especially older Chevrolets) and take it out for a drive when the wind is blowing against the side of it. Right. Now you see what I mean.
Four wheel drive: It’s a joke with this vehicle. It’s not nearly heavy enough (the vehicle itself, I mean) to actually function properly when the four wheel drive is engaged (which is done by pulling to a complete stop, shifting into Park, adjusting the gearshift beneath the automatic transmission gearshift, and then putting the vehicle back into Drive). There is a high gear and a low gear, as well as the two-wheel drive option used for roads that are not muddy, snowy, or otherwise difficult to get through without all four wheels spinning and working to pull you through the mess.
Half the time the four wheel drive actually gets me stuck worse than if I had not used it at all – especially on unpaved roads that are more mud than dirt. I realize four wheel drive isn’t meant to make off-road driving such as rally car racing possible, but it IS supposed to help the driver get through a few mud puddles, or a wet hayfield. Right. My aching ass.
All in all, the Kia Sportage is a piece of crap. The one I am driving has extra features such as air conditioning; AM/FM stereo with one-disc CD player (which doesn’t read discs half the time and leaves a straight-line pattern of scratches on my discs); power windows; more airbags than humanly necessary, and a cupholder that broke the first time I tried to put a twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew into it. The actual retail price for a new version of this: Less than twenty thousand dollars, which is a great deal if one is only seeking a decent means of getting from point A to point B, and then back, safely and efficiently.
The model I am driving, with seventy thousand miles on it and the particular options it features, appraises at approximately nine thousand dollars according to the Kelly Blue Book (kbb.com). For a 98 model SUV, that’s actually a pretty good deal, but it’s not quite sweet enough to make me purchase the damned thing.
In the future, I believe I shall avoid the Kia Motor Company if I can possibly do so. The Sportage is fine if you are looking to travel on paved roads (without crosswinds), but if you are on a long journey, or if you have to go through mud / snow / wet fields, this is going to be a bigger pain in the ass than it really ought to be.
For more information, browse to http://www.kia.com or – better yet - simply avoid the entire company like the plague.