Sportage is sluggish if you don't use the accelerator well, which has lots of play. If you own one, treat it like you own it. If you want good pick up, run it to 4,500-5,000 RPMs, and you'll realize where the power is. Not inspiring, but not bad either.
It's not in the same class as other mini-utes, as the price will attest.
Buy one used and you'll save $6-8K over a comparably equipped CR-V. I got my 2000 Sportage for $12K and I'm completely happy with its performance, fit and finish, and utility.
I've had no problems with it. It's a fun car to drive. I feel I'm on vacation every time I step in.
It rides more like a truck because it is. You can do serious off-roading, while most of its competition will have to be relegated to paved or smooth dirt roads.
Don't compare it to other mini SUVs that are $5K more expensive. If you want to spend $5K more, then of course you'll get a better product.
The Sportage's poor reputation hurts its resale value, which I used to my advantage. I'm more than satisfied with it, and I paid about $4k-$5k less than a new one. This little truck does everything I want it to and, so far, I've had no troubles with it.
For 2000, I think KIA worked out most of the kinks the earlier model years were plagued with. Great little rig.