First Drive: 2023 Kia Sportage


Parked outside the Rowan Hotel in the bright sun of a Palm Springs morning, it might be easy to confuse the new Kia Sportage with some of the more luxurious SUVs sitting in the valet circle. What was once among the smallest and least stylish compact crossovers has taken on an entirely new — and decidedly more upmarket — appearance.

2023 Kia Sportage - gray parked on trail
Once among the least stylish compact crossovers, the Kia Sportage has taken on a new — and decidedly more upmarket — appearance.

The 2023 Kia Sportage has also grown larger and roomier, and it adds an array of game-changing features and options. Buyers will now have the choice of three different powertrains, including two electrified packages. They’ll also have two new off-roadable trim packages to pick from.

Overview

Kia has completely redesigned the Sportage for 2023 and it’s got plenty to win over new buyers, as well as longtime fans. The new model is larger than the old SUV, features a tauter, more sporty look, with a broader “Tiger Nose” grille and new boomerang-shaped running lights. It also picks up some of the design cues found in the South Korean carmaker’s new EV6 battery-electric vehicle, notably in the rear liftgate.

If anything, even more versions of the Sportage will be available for the 2023 model year, from the base LX to the Sporty X-Line and upscale SX-Prestige. Kia is adding all-new, “off-road ready” Sportage X-Line and X-Pro trims, and even a sporty GT-Line is expected at a later date.

The automaker is also rolling out two electrified models, both a conventional hybrid, as well as a plug-in hybrid that should be able to handle the daily commute for many American motorists on battery power alone.

2023 Sportage X-Pro
The new model is larger than the old SUV, features a tauter, more sporty look, with a broader “Tiger Nose” grille.

Exterior

The 2023 Kia Sportage shifts to the same N3 platform as the bigger Sorento, and grows a full 7.1 inches in overall length, even though the wheelbase has been stretched just 3.4 inches.

The new Sportage also stands 2 inches taller than the outgoing model. And ground clearance jumps to 8.3 inches with all-wheel-drive versions, 7.1 inches with front-wheel drive.

The fifth-generation Sportage adopts Kia’s latest “Opposites Unite” design language which gives it a more striking and luxurious appearance. There is, of course, the brand’s familiar “tiger nose” grille, here topped by the newest take on the Kia logo and framed by standard LED headlamps. The Sportage also features new, boomerang-shaped LED running lamps.

Subtle details, such as the chrome stripe running nearly the full way around the roofline, as well as the “deconstructed” texture of the D-pillar, help the Sportage stand out in a crowded market of compact crossovers.

Interior

2023 Kia Sportage - wheel up on trail
The Sportage may not be Moab-ready, but it’s surprisingly capable off-road.

The new Sportage design is more muscular outside, and more upscale inside. The SUV now offers a panoramic curved display that pairs a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 12.3-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system. It’s an option on lower trim packages, standard on models like the Prestige.

Angular air vents add to the technical feel of the instrument panel. The asymmetric center console places buttons closer to the driver and now features a new rotary e-shifter.

The seats now feature real stitching and, for higher grades, adopt vegan “leather” surfaces.

The increased exterior dimensions translate into a substantially bigger cabin. Where the Sportage was once one of the smallest — and most cramped — offerings in the compact class, it’s now among the roomiest. Kia claims the compact utility vehicle now offers segment-leading rear cargo capacity of 39.6 cubic feet. The 2023 Sportage also adopts a dual-level rear cargo floor.

Powertrain

2023 Sportage X-Pro touchscreen
The SUV offers a panoramic curved display that pairs a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 12.3-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system.

The 2023 Kia Sportage offers a choice of three different powertrain options, starting with a base 2.5-liter inline-4 rated at 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. It’s available in both front- and all-wheel drive, the latter providing an extra 1.5 inches of ground clearance compared with the outgoing Sportage. Despite the increase in the overall size of the 2023 Sportage and the boost in engine output, the naturally aspirated four-banger gains an extra 2 mpg, rising to 28 combined.

The 2.5-liter engine is the only package available for the Sportage X-Pro — and then only in all-wheel drive. Here, the AWD system adds electro-hydraulic coupling with a center-locking differential to improve power distribution when dealing with low-grip pavement and off-road conditions. X-Pro models also come with a larger, off-road wheel and tire combination.

With other trim packages, buyers can opt for either a hybrid or plug-in hybrid. The HEV system pairs a 1.6-liter turbo-4 with a single electric motor and a 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Power is directed through a 6-speed automatic and is offered either front- or all-wheel drive. The FWD package delivers up to 43 miles per gallon combined, the AWD system up to 38.

The PHEV uses the same engine and motor pairing but boosts output to 261 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque by drawing from a larger lithium-ion battery pack. While final numbers haven’t been validated by the EPA yet, the 13.8 kWh pack is expected to deliver enough energy to clock 32 miles between charges.

2023 Sportage X-Pro interior
The new Sportage offers plenty of new, more refined touches, including seats with real stitching.

Safety and Technology

While base models offer a conventional analog gauge cluster and 8-inch touchscreen, it would surprise no one if the majority of customers upgrade to the twin digital displays. They provide a far more upscale appearance and additional features. The only drawback, oddly enough, is that the 12.3-inch touchscreen loses the wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But plugging in is a minor inconvenience.

You’ll still get wireless cellphone charging and other useful features, such as a WiFi hotspot that can connect to as many as five devices simultaneously

There’s also a navigation system that, depending upon model, can keep maps up-to-date using over-the-air updates. The cloud-based system is able to revise routing on the fly, as well. And it allows Kia to remotely update much of the software on the 2023 Sportage, too.

The new crossover also boasts a broad line-up of advanced driver assistance systems, including Lane-Keeping Assistance and Forward Collision Alert with Automatic Emergency Braking. Blind-Spot Assistance, remote parking assistance and 360-degree surround view are available as options on low and mid-range trim packages, and standard on high-trim versions.

2023 Sportage X-Pro cargo area
The new Sportage is 7.1 inches longer than its predecessor, meaning more interior room for cargo and people.

Driving Impressions

In two days driving between Palm Springs and Los Angeles I had the opportunity to clock significant mileage in both the 2023 Kia Sportage Prestige Hybrid and Sportage X-Pro Prestige models.

The Prestige Hybrid’s gas-electric drivetrain delivers solid acceleration and was more than competent heading out of Palm Springs on California Route 79. That’s a torturously narrow and fast-climbing mountain road that can leave uninitiated drivers with clammy hands and cold feet.

The powertrain is responsive, if not overwhelmingly quick. More impressive were the crossover’s steering and handling. It made easy work of the state route’s tight turns, showing surprisingly little body roll despite its overall height and added mass. Steering was precise and predictable.

Midway through my first day behind the wheel I got to switch to the new X-Pro model and experience a high desert off-road course Kia set up. Though far from the extreme conditions one might experience in a place like Moab, the course still provided a chance to see how the X-Pro could handle different off-road conditions, including moguls, deep ruts, steep climbs and loose dirt. It showed itself well, especially with the center differential locked and, where needed, Hill Descent Control activated.

2023 Kia Sportage Specifications

Dimension L: 183.5 inches/W: 73.4 inches/H: 65.4 inches/Wheelbase: 108.5 inches
Weight 3,375 pounds
Powertrain 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine; 8-speed transmission and FWD/AWD
Fuel Economy 25 mpg city/32 mpg highway/28 mpg combined
Performance Specs 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque
Price Base price: $25,990; As tested: $36,790, plus $1,255 destination charge
On-Sale Date Available now

Wrap Up

Since the COVID pandemic struck, millions of Americans have taken the opportunity to set out on America’s back roads and trails. In turn, automakers have launched an assortment of more off-road-oriented model lines — like the new Wilderness series from Subaru.

2023 Kia Sportage - driving rear 3-4 on trail
The new Sportage offers plenty to like, including a revamped interior and plenty of capability on and off-road.

In reality, most motorists will never experience anything much rougher than a gravel road. For those who aren’t going to challenge something like the Rubicon Trail, the Sportage X-Pro line is a solid choice. No wonder Kia expects it to generate nearly a third of the nameplates sales going forward.

For more conventional driving conditions, Kia offers plenty of other options, including the hybrid model that I used on my second day’s drive back to Los Angeles. It’s an equally impressive package, especially when you factor in the added fuel economy.

I’m looking forward to driving the plug-in hybrid at a later date. Expect that version of the 2023 Kia Sportage to reach showrooms by the third quarter of this year.

When it comes to pricing, there’s a 2023 Kia Sportage for pretty much every budget. The crossover starts in front-drive LX trim at just $25,990, with the all-wheel-drive version jumping to $27,790. At the upper end, the all-wheel-drive-only Prestige Hybrid starts at $36,190. The X-Pro — also limited to AWD — ranges from $30,790 to $36,790. (Add $1,255 for delivery fees to all these figures.)

While the 2023 Kia Sportage may not be the bargain basement option it was in part generations, it no longer needs to be. It’s grown bigger, more luxurious and far more competent. It’s also a lot more fun to drive, on-road and off. And that should have competitors like Subaru, Honda, Mazda and Toyota looking over their shoulders.

2023 Kia Sportage ­— Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Kia Sportage a reliable vehicle?

Kia routinely scores at or very near the top in the J.D. Power Initial Quality and Vehicle Dependability Studies. The Sportage, in particular, is among the most reliable of compact SUVs.

Where is the 2023 Kia Sportage built?

While some versions of the fifth-generation Sportage will continue to be imported from South Korea, the majority of the 2023 models will shift production to the Kia plant in West Point, Georgia.

Which versions of the 2023 Kia Sportage offer all-wheel drive?

All versions of the fifth-generation Sportage will have all-wheel-drive options. The X-Pro packages and the Prestige Hybrid will only come with all-wheel drive.



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