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Honey, I shrunk the Sportage: Kia to leap into the compact crossover segment

Kia wants a slice of the lucrative compact crossover segment. The South Korean firm has all but confirmed that it’s busily developing an entry-level soft-roader built on the same platform as the next-gen Rio that’s set to make its debut next year.

Visually, the crossover will stay true to Kia’s current design language with styling cues such as the company’s trademarked “tiger nose” grille, swept-back headlights, and a tall belt line. Its cabin will offer seating for up to five passengers, like the Rio’s, but it will boast a higher seating position, more space for the rear occupants, and a bigger trunk.

The Rio on stilts will launch with a gasoline-burning, four-cylinder engine. Front-wheel drive will be the only configuration available because sales figures show that buyers in the market for a compact crossover are rarely interested in all-wheel drive. A four-banger, an automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive sounds like par for the course in the segment, but Kia has another trick up its sleeve.

British magazine Auto Express has learned that the crossover could get a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid drivetrain a little later in its production run. The electric bits and pieces — including a compact electric motor integrated into a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission — will be borrowed from the brand new 2017 Niro (pictured), but the 1.6-liter will be replaced by something smaller.

Read more: Kia shows its European side with the first-ever Optima Sportswagon

The yet-unnamed crossover will reportedly land a few months after the Rio, which is tentatively scheduled to debut during next year’s edition of the Geneva Auto Show. That means the soft-roader could break cover at the 2017 edition of the New York Auto Show, and go on sale shortly after in time for the 2018 model year. Pricing will start in the vicinity of $20,000, which will put it in the same price bracket as the Nissan Juke, the Jeep Renegade/Fiat 500X cousins, and the Honda HR-V.