Kia Motors America goes unibody with its new ’05 Sportage.

The small cross/utility vehicle, which made its North American debut this week at the California International Auto Show in Anaheim, CA, fills a void left when the previous-generation body-on-frame Sportage SUV was dropped from the U.S. lineup after the ’02 model year.

Kia says the new-from-the-ground-up Sportage will hit U.S. showrooms in January, but the importer is withholding pricing information until closer to the sales launch.

Available in either front- or all-wheel drive, the Sportage will be powered by a choice of a 2L 16-valve 4-cyl. or 2.7L 24-valve V-6. The base engine delivers 140 hp and 136 lb.-ft. (184 Nm) or torque, while the V-6 generates 173 hp and 178 lb.-ft. (241 Nm) of torque.

New Kia Sportage

A 5-speed manual transmission is standard with either engine, and a continuously variable transmission is optional with the 4-cyl. engine. A conventional 4-speed automatic is available with the V-6.

The AWD system is electronically controlled and automatically delivers up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels as needed. A locking center differential allows drivers to ensure torque is split 50/50 between the two axles at speeds up to 20 mph (32 km/h).

The new model is bigger than the previous-generation Sportage at 171.3 ins. (435.1 cm) long, 70.9 ins. (180.0 cm) wide and 66.7 ins. (169.4 cm) high, and it features 7.7 ins. (19.6 cm) of ground clearance.

A new “Drop & Fold” seating system, in which the seat cushion lowers and the backrest folds flat, provides 66.6 cu.-ft. (1.9 cu.-m) of cargo room. The front passenger seat also folds flat.

Standard safety features include front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and traction and electronic stability controls. Base models also come with power windows and mirrors, a roof rack, cruise control and 6-speaker stereo with CD player.

The Sportage will be imported from South Korea, where it is built at Kia’s Kwang-Ju plant.