The Kia Sorento and Sportage Might Be Overlooked Cheap Off-Road Gems

Early 2000s Kia products were pretty junky, including the Sorento and Sportage crossover SUVs, but now they seem kind of cool.

Kia’s gone from being an automotive afterthought with unrefined cars for desperate people to actually making desirable products in a pretty short span of time. Early 2000s Kia products were pretty junky, including the Sorento and Sportage crossover SUVs, but now they seem kind of cool.

The Kia Sorento made its way onto the scene as a direct competitor for the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 in 2003. Sure, it was about the same size, but it was never really on the same level of refinement. The next generation was a huge glow-up; Kia really pushed refinement on all corners and today’s Sorento is a solid midsize crossover offering. Same with the Kia Sportage – it’s come a long way.

The modern Sportage and Sorento are crossovers. Despite some rubber trim, and Kia’s attempt to convince you that those big wagons are actually off-road beasts, they aren’t. Listen, the little bit of extra ground clearance and all-wheel-drive can give you some confidence in the snow or mud, but it ain’t a rock crawler. I thought that all the Sportages and Sorentos were like that until I was exposed to the wonders of “upyourkia.com.”

Wait, what? 

The Kia Sorento and Sportage Might Be Overlooked Cheap Off-Road Gems

Uh, I knew that the Sorento and Sportage were rear-wheel-drive based, but I never really made the connection that these cars could be easily reworked into off-road beasts!

Check out some of these Kia wheeling videos from the last [checks links] decade or so:

And another one:

And another one:

Come to think of it, why wouldn’t they be able to go off-road? Both the early Sportage and early Sorento were body-on-frame, solid-axle designs. They both even came with honest-to-goodness 4WD with low range, from the factory.

Damn, these cars are a mild lift kit and some chunky tires away from challenging a lot of much more expensive rigs. Because people have regarded early Kia products as complete crap (kind of deserved) Sorentos and Sportages can be had for dirt cheap. Rust proofing on these models weren’t the greatest, so make sure those frames underneath don’t have big holes.

The Sorento and Sportage both came with a stick-shift and 4WD, although I think an automatic might be preferred for rock-crawling type stuff.

Unfortunately, aftermarket parts availability tends to be somewhat limited compared to a Jeep or Ford, or even an older Isuzu. There’s a few owners forums on Facebook and elsewhere of guys lifting and running their old Sorentos and Sportages. This afore-mentioned website offers an overview of mods to lift your 1995-2002 Kia Sportage. The site itself is super old, and was last updated in 2010, so I’m not sure if the guy is still selling his $185 lift kit, but did specify what shocks and springs to buy. This forum post says from 2018 says that UpYourKia is still in business, so who knows. Parts for the Sorento is a bit trickier, since it was kind of a slow seller until it was redesigned as a crossover. This link at Amazon for a lift kit from Daystar says it’ll give 2 inches of lift, and it seems to have decent reviews. Old Man Emu also makes a complete lift kit for the 2003-2006 Sorento, complete with spacers, shocks, and springs.

I don’t know that much about off-roading or overlanding, that goes to our EIC Andrew Collins. Both of us think an old Kia could be an interesting and uncommon build. I’m not the only one that thought this, since Crankshaft Culture wrote about the same thing, back in 2016.

Time to start trolling Facebook Marketplace for a cheap Sportage or Sorento!

Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams

Kevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.