Kia Motors, which features both Ford and Mazda as significant minor shareholders, and which builds a version of the Mazda 121 - called Kia Pride - is South Korea's oldest car-maker. The company was established in 1944, producing bicycle parts. By 1952 it was building its own bicycles, moving into motorcycles in 1961. The following year, Kia launched a three-wheel truck but it was 1974 before it began producing passenger cars, the dreadful Brisa. It was only in 1988 that the one-million mark came up - late by any standards - but Kia had ambitions and by 1993 the Sportage sports utility was launched. A model similar to Toyota's RAV4, or Honda's ostentatious CR-V, the Sportage is powered by a two-litre, 139PS, DOHC engine. While the engine is much the same size and develops a similar output as its competitors, the Sportage is vastly overweight when compared to its Japanese rivals: the Korean offering comes in at 1,583 kilograms, the RAV4 well under 1,200kg. No figures are given for the Honda, but it is surely lighter than the Sportage. Kia claims to have accelerated research into weight-shedding, in order to curb emissions and improve efficiency. A great deal of plastic has been adopted towards this end, including a fibre-reinforced spring, plastic fuel tank and other lightweight items. And still the Sportage is a hefty 1.5 tonnes. The latest RAV4 - now available with either three or five doors - was one of the first off-roaders to incorporate 4x4 technology with sporting hatchback performance and road-holding. It is equally at home on-or off-road. Few people actually take their 4x4 anywhere remotely difficult as far as the terrain is concerned; it is more about image and versatility. In this, the RAV4 excels. The styling of the Sportage is, bluntly, ugly. Rarely has there been a car with such odd proportions, with various even uglier appendages here and there. Even the soon-to-be outlawed bull-bar on the front looks out of place. Its saving grace is a snazzy, leather interior which gives it an air of luxury. In the same vein, the Honda CR-V needs to be driven by an extrovert, its loud and obvious styling saying little about the vehicle but much about its owner. Coming next year is a new Land Rover sports utility vehicle (SUV), a 4x4 in the British off-road manufacturer's proudest tradition, but more of a RAV4 rival than any threat to Land Rover's excellent and world-beating Discovery, still the standard by which off-roaders are judged. Early reports of the new SUV indicate it will have a rear soft top behind the sturdy roll-over bar, and unlike the existing Discovery and Range Rover which are both built on a ladder-frame chassis, the new three-door Land Rover will be of unitary construction. When it is eventually launched in Hong Kong, it will probably feature Rover's award-winning and highly acclaimed 2.5-litre KV6. Although not scheduled to hit this market until 1998 at the earliest, the new car will be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. A new Land Rover - currently code-named Heartland - will surely dent much of the existing market, purely on Land Rover's reputation as the originator of 4x4 motoring. The sports utility sector of the market is growing rapidly and inevitably there will be casualties among the manufacturers of such vehicles along the way. Some will survive; some will even prosper as more and more customers switch to SUVs. Hopefully, by then Kia will have realised what an awful car the Sportage is and will have replaced it with something a little more modern and, dare I say it, a little more efficient.