Kia’s new Sportage, due to be unveiled later this year, has lost its trademark rear-mounted spare tyre.

For the first time, the small SUV will have a clean rear end with lift-up tailgate and separately opening glass pane.

The Sportage will be shown at the Paris Motor Show in September and goes on sale in Europe next year. It will be available with two- or four-wheel drive powered by two-litre four-cylinder and 2.7-litre V6 petrol engines or a two-litre diesel.

Pitched against such rivals as the Toyota RAV-4 and Honda CRV, the new Sportage has a much improved, more youthful look.

Showing off the new model, codename KM, to global distributors in Seoul, WJ Cho, director of Kia’s overseas product marketing group, said the Sportage, built on the same platform as parent Hyundai’s new Tucson, has increased passenger and luggage space and easier loading through the rear door.

Safety features include a side curtain airbag and the car is expected to gain a four-star European NCAP rating. The new Sportage has larger headlamps, flared side panels and will ride on 215×16-inch tyres with the option of 235×16-inch for a slightly more sporty appearance.

Production start-up is scheduled for August this year and the name is definitely here to stay Cho said.

“Sportage has been one of our most successful ever names – it evokes both a sporty image and portage, the ability to carry people and luggage. The new model retains its SUV exterior styling with a sedan-like ride along with wagon utility.”

At Paris, Kia will also be showing off its JB concept, a preview of the Rio replacement due in late 2005 or early 2006.