The Kia Sportage, now on a 1-year hiatus, will return to the U.S. in mid-2004 with a unibody structure, company insiders tell Ward's.

The first-generation Sportage is a body-on-frame compact SUV, but many of its competitors, such as Toyota RAV-4, have favored a car-based offering.

The Sportage replacement, due sometime after June 2004 as an '05 model, likely will keep its name. Its size will not change dramatically, as it will continue to slot beneath the Sorento SUV in Kia's lineup. It will be available with 2- or all-wheel drive.

Kia blames the year-long gap between generations on an inability to coordinate the new model with the phase-out of the existing vehicle.