What to Look for When Buying a Used Kia Sportage


The Kia Sportage is a compact crossover that’s been around now since as long ago as 1993, although most people will probably have become aware of it in 2010 when the nameplate was transformed beyond all recognition for the third-generation. Because it’s been around for a while there are plenty of used ones out there, so let’s have a look at what you have to look for when buying a used Kia Sportage.

The third-generation that launched in 2010 and onwards is where you need to be looking for the very best examples of the Kia Sportage. Early models with low mileage are a very cheap way of getting very good compact crossover SUVs for those buying used on a tight budget.

The areas we’re going to look at include:

  • First-generation Kia Sportage
  • Second-generation Kia Sportage
  • Third-generation Kia Sportage
  • Fourth-generation Kia Sportage
  • How much should you pay for a used Kia Sportage?
  • What’s special about the Sportage?
  • Potential issues to look out for
  • The competition
  • Should you buy a used Kia Sportage?

First-generation Kia Sportage (1993-2005)

2001 Kia Sportage

By today’s standards, the first-generation of the Sportage isn’t much to shout about, to be honest. It was the first incarnation of the cheap-as-chips Kia and it was in production from 1993 and 2005. Sales in Europe and the US commenced in 1995, and under the hood of US versions was a 2.0-liter gas engine that came mated to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The thing is though, the first Sportage wasn’t even an SUV as it was sold as a five-door station wagon and three-door convertible.

As a used buyer, you’re not going to find too many of these out there unless you are at an auction or a junkyard. Although they weren’t the worst vehicle out at the time, they were designed and sold as cheap and cheerful and these models really don’t stand up to scrutiny these days. If you want the cheapest Sportage you can find you really need to be looking at the second-generation at the very earliest.

Second-generation Kia Sportage (2005-2010)

2009 Kia Sportage

The second-generation Sportage arrived for the 2005 model year and it shared the same platform as the Hyundai Elantra and Hyundai Tucson. Although it still looks a million miles away from the Sportage we know today, you won’t be as embarrassed to be seen driving one of these as you would be with a first-gen model.

This one is still classed as a five-door station wagon and not an SUV, although the three-door convertible had been dropped by this point. Kia didn’t exactly hit the mark with this one either though, as the second-gen Sportage was larger than its predecessor and didn’t even have its relatively limited off-road capability.

What did improve with this generation was the fit, finish, reliability, and overall quality of the Sportage. The second-generation got a notable facelift in 2008, but it then got another one less than a year later. A good sign for the future of the Sportage nameplate came about in 2009, which is when the Kia was named as one of the most reliable vehicles of the time in the Consumer Reports reliability survey.

If you come across a late model first-generation Sportage with reasonably low miles on the clock you’ll have a pretty decent vehicle on your hands. However, you’re unlikely to want to buy a second-gen model when you see them alongside the third-gen models that might not cost you a whole lot more.

Third-generation Kia Sportage (2010-2015)

2011 Kia Sportage

To say the third-generation was a game-changer for both Kia and the Sportage nameplate would be something of an understatement. As well as winning industry awards all over the world, the second-generation Sportage came out on top of the 2012 JD Power Survey as the only vehicle in the survey to score a full five stars across all categories.

This extremely successful model arrived for the 2011 model year in the US and it took non-luxury compact SUV styling to a new level, especially at the price. It was available in base, EX, LX and SX trim levels, and all but the base model were available with the option of all-wheel-drive.

Under the hood was a standard 2.4-liter inline-four that develops 176 horsepower, but there’s also a 2.0-liter turbo-four to look out for that developed a much more lively 274 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission was standard, but most of the models you’re likely to find on lots will be equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission instead.

Although this Sportage was one of the more compact models in its compact SUV segment, it was still a pretty spacious vehicle for four adults with more cargo space than any previous vehicle bearing the Sportage name.

2011 Sportage Interior

A facelift model was released for the 2014 model year, but the changes were fairly minimal and it shouldn’t put you off opting for a pre-facelift example at the right price. While the NHTSA gave the second-gen Sportage a full five-star rating for overall safety, the folks at the IIHS weren’t as convinced and only deemed it “adequate.” However, if safety is a big issue for you with a used vehicle you’ll be pleased to know the third-gen Sportage got five stars from the NHTSA and was also rated a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.

The third-generation Sportage is still a fine-looking crossover with very attractive styling, good reliability and impressive safety ratings, and you can pick a decent 2011 model up from as little $6,500.

Fourth-generation Kia Sportage (2015-present)

At first glance, the fourth-generation Kia Sportage looks radically different from its predecessor, but the overall size and shape aren’t all that far removed from the previous generation. What is radically different is the front fascia, and it’s fair to say it wasn’t to everyone’s taste when it was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2015.

This model has a much more aggressive look with bug-eyed headlights and a wide-mouth grille, and some models have “ice-cube” front fog lights that set it apart from any of its rivals. It didn’t come to market in North America until 2016 as a 2017 model year, but by then everyone seemed to have got used to the new design and it continued to sell just as well as the game-changing third-generation had.

Base models come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 181 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, but you’ll be much happier with the 2.0-liter turbo-four alternative that delivers a much more likable 240 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The 2017 model year trim levels start with the EX and go through EX Premium, EX Technology, LX, LX Popular and the SX that then gets you that 2.0-liter turbo-as part of its standard specification.

The slightly confusing trim level lineup was trimmed a little the following year, so if you want a 2018 Sportage you’ll be able to choose between the EX, LX and SX Turbo, and all of them were available in front- or all-wheel-drive.

For 2020, the trim levels were revised again. This means you’ll find 2020 Kia Sportage models in EX, LX, S and SX Turbo trim levels, and all are available with front- or all-wheel-drive.

How much should you pay for a used Kia Sportage?

If you look for a used first or second-generation Sportage you’ll find their prices are holding up remarkably well, so you’ll probably want to look for an early second-gen model instead of a late first-gen Sportage as the price is almost identical. I’ve just had a quick look at Edmunds.com and there’s a 2001 Sportage with 142k miles priced at $2,991, but you can also find on the same page a 2010 Sportage LX with 78k miles for just $3,280.

Used prices for decent first-gen Sportage models start at just under $3,000 and go up to as much as almost $6,000. A good second-gen model with reasonable miles for its year will start from around $2,500, but you can pay as much as nearly $11,000 for a 2010 model.

I’d ignore the first and second-gen Sportage models and look straight to the third-generation as my first port of call. Good 2011 models start from just a shade under $5,000, and the more expensive end of the third-generation will cost you somewhere in the region of $20,000.

If you’d like the more aggressive styling of a fourth-gen Sportage instead, you can pay as little as $9,000 or less for an LX with more than 100k miles. If you want one with more reasonable mileage, the same car with around 44k miles will set you back from just under $11,000.

What’s special about the Sportage?

2018 Kia Sportage

Although it might not be the sexiest feature of the Kia Sportage, the warranty you get with a new one id what probably makes it stand out in its segment even more than the way it looks. Every new Sportage comes with a 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and staggering 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Don’t worry if the Sportage you’re looking at buying is outside of the original warranty though. You have to think that if a manufacturer is prepared to put an extra two years of warranty on its new vehicles than its competitors, it has to be pretty confident in its reliability.

Aside from that, the Kia Sportage is just a fantastic compact crossover that’s staggeringly good value for money both new and used. It looks great, it drives well, there’s plenty of room inside for people and cargo, and it comes extremely generously equipped at all trim levels.

Potential problems for buyers to look out for with a used Kia Sportage

To be honest, apart from the kind of thing you’d look for with any used vehicle such as wear and tear items, the known problems with the Sportage are fairly minor.

AC Compressor – The air conditioning compressor can be defective due to the compressor’s clutch assembly, which can make an unusual noise or even begin vibrating when the AC is turned on. This has been reported to happen from 15,000 miles right up to 260k miles, and if it’s not covered by warranty when it goes the cost of replacing the compressor can be between $680 and $980.

Engine light ­– You might hear about “dreaded” engine light coming on with the Sportage dated between 1995 and 2000, but most of the time it’s likely to be the throttle position switch (TPS). This might come on at the same time as a stumble occurring when accelerating, but the cost of repair won’t be much more than a hundred bucks.

DCT – I owned a 2016 Kia Sportage for two years, and the only issue I had was the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) getting stuck in the wrong gear. It only happened a couple of times and it could be quickly rectified by stepping off and on the gas. However, if not addressed, it could become something to be concerned about in later years.

The competition

There are plenty of rivals the Kia Sportage has serious competition for these days, but the further back you go towards the 2011 model year the bigger the Kia advantage is over its rivals. Today you might want to consider the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape and it’s South Korean stablemate the Hyundai Tucson.

For me, if you go back to the early years of the third-generation, the Kia Sportage is a much more attractive buy than most of its rivals and much better value for money most of the time.

The levels of standard equipment get better and better as model years get closer to the latest new model, and I honestly can’t speak as highly of any crossover SUV for the money as the Kia Sportage.

Should you buy a used Kia Sportage?

You won’t often hear me say this, but if you are thinking of buying a used Kia Sportage and you are teetering on the brink, just go ahead and do it. There are only two vehicles I’ve ever owned in my life that I would happily buy again, but the Sportage is one of them. The other one I won’t name here, but it’s a much more expensive luxury model that doesn’t compare in any way to the Kia when it comes to value for money. If you’re considering something like a Ford Escape or even low-spec Audi or BMW compact crossover, do yourself a favor and go check out how much Kia Sportage you can get for the same money you are thinking of spending on one of the Kia’s rivals.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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