Introduction

Before CR-V and RAV4, there was Sportage. Yep, believe it or not, the Kia Sportage was one of the first small import SUVs sold in the United States. However, being first doesn't always lead to sales success. While Honda and Toyota's models have gone on to become incredibly popular, the first Sportage never attained critical mass, suffering from being underpowered, somewhat crude and too small on the inside.

A few years ago, the Sportage was completely redesigned. With the redesign came a switch to a car-based architecture and an emphasis on features and value. It was a welcome change, and for 2008, the Kia Sportage stays the course. As with its corporate twin, the Hyundai Tucson, the Sportage boasts a handsome cabin with quality materials, great ergonomics and a smartly designed split-folding rear seat.

As is common for the segment, buyers can choose between four- and six-cylinder power. But compared to rivals, the Sportage's power plants are both down on power -- the V6 makes only 173 horsepower, not much more than competitors' four cylinders. Furthermore, the Kia must make do with a four-speed automatic, while some other compact SUVs offer five-speed automatics.

With so many choices available for small SUVs these days, the 2008 Kia Sportage's detriments keep it from being one of our top picks. It's not as quick as the RAV4 V6, as sporty as the Mitsubishi Outlander or as refined as the CR-V. However, its roomy passenger quarters, strong warranty and high value still make it worth considering, especially if you're on a tight budget.

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