9 August 2004

The week that Hyundai's compact Tucson goes on sale, little brother Kia has released the first pictures of its junior SUV alternative - the new Sportage. Underpinned by the same platform as the Tucson, and making its official debut at next month's Paris Motor Show, the Sportage will commence deliveries across Europe this October. It is expected to undercut the Tucson on price, which itself will retail from a very competitive £14,995 when it is launched on Friday.

The Toyota RAV4-rivals are very similar under the skin, even if their exterior styling has played down the resemblance (see gallery). Like the Tucson, the Sportage will be offered with 2.0- and 2.7-litre petrol engines and a 2.0-litre diesel, and with a choice of five speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. Kia has yet to reveal whether there will be a cut-price three-door version; like the Tucson, a five-door only looks likeliest, in two distinct equipment and trim levels - probably a basic XE model and a better-equipped, more expensive XS.

Six airbags and electronically-controlled part-time four-wheel drive with traction control will come as standard; an electronic stability program will feature on higher specification cars. Like the Tucson, the Sportage boasts a flexible rear seating concept allowing a square-sided, flat loading area to trade space with a versatile rear bench and it is also equipped with a separately opening rear screen for better access to the boot.

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