21 July 1995

Two off-roaders in from Korea

KOREA is having a busy year in the highly competitive world of 4×4 off-road motoring, with two major UK launches within 12 weeks.

First came the Mercedes-powered Ssanyong Musso, and from July 22 another Korean name will make its debut in UK showrooms – the Kia Sportage.

Targeted at the mini-4×4 sector currently dominated by Suzukis Vitara and the Toyota RAV4, the Sportage will only initially be available as a five-door and powered by a Mazda-derived petrol engine. A three-door will follow in 1996, and a diesel motor – from either Peugeot, Mazda or Kia itself – should be available by 1997.

For now, the 1995 Sportage comes in three guises – SLX, GLX and GLX SE – and like most Oriental manufacturers, Kia offers a generous standard spec on even its base model: Power-assisted steering, electric windows and limited slip diff are standard equipment on the SLX (£13,150); the GLX (£13,950) gets anti-lock braking and a better stereo; while the GLX SE (£14,950) has air conditioning.

All three are powered by the same high-revving 2-litre, 16-valve petrol engine, which puts out 126hp at 5300rpm; top speed is claimed to be 104mph and 0-62mph time is 14.7sec.

Disappointingly though, the engines max torque figure of 129lb ft arrives all too quickly; the rev needle only has to drop to 4700rpm before perky performance starts to fade. This adds up to plenty of gear shifting and a heavy right boot on bends and slopes to get the best out of what is potentially a lively unit. Towing capacity is rated at 1.8t (braked).

On the plus side, the cabin is spacious, the ride is comfortable and shifting the twin gear/ratio/4WD selection levers is no struggle.

These merits, along with the line-ups competitive pricing, should be enough to give the Sportage 4×4 a niche on farm; only time and sales will tell.

&#8226 For full Kia Sportage and Ssanyong Musso tests, look out for future issues of Country Car.

Kia Motor Corporation is owned:

&#8226 68% Korean government and public ownership.

&#8226 12% Kia staff.

&#8226 10% Ford.

&#8226 8% Mazda.

&#8226 2% Itochu.

NB: Itochu is a Japanese trading company.

The Kia Sportage 4×4 is less of a play thing than its name suggests. Combination of wheel-at-each-corner chassis, limited slip diff and hi/lo ratio box gives genuine off-road capability.