Kia Sportage, From Crap to Competitor: A History

by Gabrielle DeSantis

No one wants to drive a crappy car. But Kia used to have a reputation for making really cheap vehicles. However, the ones it produces today are completely different. Take, for instance, the Kia Sportage. This compact crossover has gone from crappy to competitive seemingly overnight. Here’s a look at the Sportage‘s amazing transformation and a peek at the 2022 model.

A brief history of the Kia Sportage

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The Kia brand debuted in 1973 in South Korea and came to the United States in 1992. Initially, it had a bad reputation for cheaply made cars. The automaker worked hard to improve its quality, eventually winning an award for the most reliable brand from J.D. Power in 2016.

The Kia Sportage debuted in 1995. In its early years, the body-on-frame mini SUV suffered from the same quality and mechanical issues as other early Kia models. The first generation lasted from 1995 through 2002. After a two-year gap, the second generation arrived in 2005, this time with unibody construction. The third generation debuted for the 2011 model year, making this compact crossover “longer, wider, and lower than the second-generation” Sportage, Friendly Kia reports. The current generation came out in 2017, introducing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, more luxury, and better fuel economy.

Kia has made several safety improvements to the Sportage over the years. It added all-wheel ABS and better airbags in 1998. Dual airbags came in the 2000 model. And additional safety features debuted for the 2002 model, the National Automobile Dealers Association reports.

Other notable changes include the 1999 launch of a two-door soft-top Sportage to compete with the Jeep Wrangler. This version was available only in the first generation. In 2006, Kia added a cabin air filter and a tire pressure monitoring system as standard. And USB ports and optional GPS came in 2009.

The best and worst of the Kia Sportage

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With the issues that Kia vehicles had in the early years, it’s safest to skip over the first generation of the Sportage. The 2012 Sportage was arguably the worst. This model year suffered from severe engine issues. Problems ranged from engine noises, engine fires, and even engines that stopped while the SUV was in motion. Kia issued engine recalls for 2012 and 2013 Sportage vehicles. In addition to multiple recalls, Kia and Hyundai were involved in a class-action lawsuit over their engines.

Following the Sportage’s redesign, 2018 to 2021 model years have had few complaints reported to Though the fourth generation offers the most features, the third generation is still a good option. From the third generation, 2015 and 2016 models have drawn the fewest complaints.

What we know about the 2022 model so far

Soon, Kia will introduce the all-new 2022 Kia Sportage. The reveal is expected soon, reports. This will be the first year of the fifth generation, and production could begin as early as this June.

Official images and details, too, should be available by early June. According to, it will likely have “quirky styling” and bear the new Kia badge design. Not much else is known yet, but the new Sportage will likely share some parts with the Hyundai Tucson, which was redesigned for the 2022 model year. The new Sportage will likely have gas and diesel engine options, along with an electrified version. And it’s expected to offer front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive options.

The Kia Sportage has evolved greatly over the years. Third- and fourth-generation Sportage models are good options for buyers looking for new or used vehicles. The fifth generation is expected soon, though, so some shoppers might want to wait until that model becomes available.

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