Kia Motors has confirmed the name of its new compact Sportage-replacing SUV will be the, er, Sportage when it hits showrooms worldwide in second half of 2004.

The Korean carmaker, whose larger Sorento SUV, introduced a couple of years ago, is impressive and still earning plaudits from critics around the world, said it was keeping the good name of the previous Sportage, which is a synthesis of the words “sports” and “portage”.

The new version is described as a 3-in-1 vehicle suitable for both city and off-road driving that boasts the exterior styling of an SUV, the sedan-like ride and handling of a passenger car, and the utility of a wagon.

The original Sportage, first introduced in 1993, became Kia’s best-seller globally, with 559,000 units sold worldwide (95,000 units in the domestic Korean market and 464,000 units overseas). In its latter days, right hand drive versions were criticised for a lack of safety equipment, such as airbags, though the LHD versions had them.

Following a comprehensive review of name connotations, public opinion polls, and effectiveness as a global brand, Kia Motors said it decided to keep Sportage as the name for its latest SUV and “plans to unify the different emblems that have been used in the domestic and overseas markets in conjunction with the release of this latest model in order to further strengthen its corporate brand identity” – whatever that means.

“The soon-to-be-released new Sportage is completely different than its predecessor in nearly every respect,” said Kia COO Yong-Hwan Kim. “But since an entirely new name sometimes runs the risk of failing to capture customers’ attention, we have decided to continue to use the Sportage name in consideration of the brand power that it has accumulated over the years in many markets across the world.”

The new Sportage will be a five-passenger SUV equipped with 2.7-litre V6 or two-litre four cylinder petrol engines or two-litre, four-pot turbodiesel. This is the same engine offering as parent Hyundai is rolling out in its similarly-sized new Tucson SUV – including an automatic option for the turbodiesel, a choice still rare in Europe.

“Designed as a compact SUV to satisfy sophisticated consumer tastes in the major export markets of North America and Western Europe, the new Sportage offers modern refinement and neo-sensual styling, an ideal ‘fun to drive’ size, advanced common rail diesel engine technology and state-of-the-art safety features,” added Kim.