What Is It?
The Sportage is the longest running nameplate in the Kia lineup, premiering as a small crossover almost 30 years ago. Now Kia introduces the fifth generation of this popular SUV, and not only does it receive fresh styling with more interior space and improved off-road capability, the 2023 Kia Sportage adds hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions to the lineup.
Path to Electrification
“The new Sportage Hybrid SUV marks yet another step in Kia’s advance on sustainable mobility, as part of our global ‘Plan S’ efforts,” said Sean Yoon, president and CEO of Kia America, Kia North America. “In addition to paving a new pathway to electrification, the Sportage Hybrid also delivers superb driving dynamics, cutting-edge design, and a vast array of technology for a world-class in-car experience,” noted Yoon.
Largest Sportage Ever
The Sportage has grown with every generation, and this newest version is the largest thus far. Compared to the previous generation, the new Sportage is 7.1 inches longer with a 3.4-inch longer wheelbase. The bolder new styling gets further enhanced by a slightly taller and wider body. This translates to a much more spacious rear seat with additional cargo capacity with the seats in place or folded flat.
Kia calls the Sportage’s new exterior design “Opposites United” with smooth, soft surfaces combined with sharp, modern elements. At the front, the Tiger Nose grille has a floating design positioned above a blacked-out grille that spreads across the front fascia. The sharp angles of the “boomerang” daytime running lights push the uniquely shaped headlights to the outer corners, giving the new Sportage a wide stance.
The crisp styling continues in the Sportage’s silhouette with a strong shoulder line that starts at the rear door and flows into wraparound taillights. Pronounced fender flares give the Sportage a bold look.
At the rear of the 2023 Kia Sportage, the stylish LED taillights are connected via a dark line that spans the rear hatch that adds to the vehicle’s wide stance. A large KIA logo clearly identifies the brand (although some say this logo looks more like the letters KN than KIA). The rear fascia hides the exhaust outlets for both hybrid and non-hybrid variants — perhaps in anticipation of the eventual battery-electric version that requires no exhaust outlets.
For the 2023 model year Kia adds an X-Pro variant to the lineup, designed with more off-pavement adventure in mind. This version harkens back to the original Sportage that successfully raced in the extreme Paris-Dakar Rally and Baja 1000 off-road races. And even though the X-Pro may not be ready to head to Baja, with standard four-wheel drive and 8.3 inches of ground clearance the X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige stand out with 17-inch matte black wheels fitted BF Goodrich all-terrain tires, as well as LED fog lights and available LED projector headlights (standard on X-Pro Prestige).
For 2023 Kia splits the Sportage lineup into two groups: the LX, EX, SX, SX Prestige have more of a street presence, while the X-Line, X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige have a more rugged appearance. The LX, EX and SX-Prestige are also available with the new hybrid powertrain, while the coming plug-in hybrid will be offered on X-Line and X-Line Prestige trim levels. The X-Line, X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige come with active all-wheel drive as do the EX and SX Prestige hybrids. The rest of the lineup is front-wheel drive with the option of adding all-wheel drive for an additional $1,800.
Kia Sportage LX
At a base price of $25,990, the LX is the entry point of the Sportage lineup. Standard equipment includes cloth seat trim, an 8-inch touchscreen display, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, Bluetooth connectivity, one USB-C charging port, a dual-level cargo floor, a rear decklid spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Kia Sportage EX
The EX is priced at $27,990 and upgrades the LX with SynTex artificial leather trim, a power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a 12.3-inch touchscreen display, wireless charging, pushbutton start, dual rear USB-C ports, blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and safe exit warning, The EX also stands out with 18-inch alloy wheels and a gloss black radiator grille.
Kia Sportage SX
Priced at $31,490, the SX adds to the EX with a 12.3-inch curved driver display, an LED map light, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof and a Harmon Kardon premium audio system. The SX also gets satin chrome exterior trim with gloss black garnish and gloss black roof rails. Added driver assistance features include smart cruise control with stop and go, forward collision avoidance with junction turning, and navigation-based cruise control.
Kia Sportage SX Prestige
At a base price of $33,490, the SX Prestige adds SynTex premium synthetic leather seats, a power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, a surround view monitor, blind view monitor, LED projection headlights, LED fog lights and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Kia Sportage X-Line
Slotting between the EX and SX, the Sportage X-Line has a starting price of $30,790. In addition to its standard all-wheel drive, the X-Line features SynTex premium synthetic leather seat trim, hydrographic interior wood trim, a unique gloss black grille, a lower front fascia trimmed in silver, a gloss black roof rack and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Kia Sportage X-Pro
The new X-Pro trim has a retail price of $34,990 and upgrades the X-Line with the curved display integrating the 12.3-inch driver screen and 12.3-inch center infotainment display. The X-Pro also gets a heated windshield, a panoramic sunroof, a Harman Kardon premium audio system, a smart power liftgate, LED fog lights and 17-inch alloy wheels shod with all-terrain tires.
Kia Sportage X-Pro Prestige
The top trim in the Sportage lineup, the X-Pro Prestige is priced at $36,790. Aside from the X-Pro line design elements and the all-terrain tires, the X-Pro Prestige gets all the features included on the SX Prestige.
The Sportage LX Hybrid FWD is priced at $27,290, while the EX (AWD only) runs $30,900. The top level SX-Prestige Hybrid AWD costs $36,190.
Under the Hood
Powering the non-hybrid 2023 Kia Sportage is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 187 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque, teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It may not be a hybrid, although the setup delivers impressive fuel economy rated at 25 mpg city / 32 mpg hwy / 28 mpg combined. All-wheel drive versions drop a bit in efficiency, rated at 23 mpg/ 28 mpg / 25 mpg, respectively.
Sportage Hybrids get a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that produces 177 horsepower, teamed with a 59.3 horsepower permanent magnet synchronous drive motor and a 17.4-horsepower starter generator for a total of 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The system gets teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 42 mpg city / 44 mpg hwy / 43 mpg combined. AWD Hybrid variants get 38 mpg / 38 mpg / 38 mpg, respectively.
Kia has done an excellent job taking a relatively inexpensive crossover and giving it the feeling of a much more premium model. Except for the base-level LX, all Sportage trims feature the brand’s synthetic leather trim SynTex, which is as soft and comfortable as leather. The vents on either side of the displays carry the same boomerang shape as the LED running lights — a subtle design tie-in.
Adding to the Sportage’s premium look is a large, curved screen that blends the digital driver display with the infotainment system. The center touchscreen is easy to navigate with intuitive controls.
In an interesting use of space, the primary controls for map, audio and setup are soft touch and can be toggled with climate controls. It seemed strange at first, but we quickly found it to be easy to use. Our only complaint is that the knob functions also toggle between adjusting temperature and changing volume – on several occasions we forgot that the controls were set on climate and adjusted temperature rather than volume.
The 2023 Kia Sportage offers a satisfactory amount of space for storing small items or devices in the center console. In addition to covered storage, Sportage has cupholders that retract when not in use, adding more flexibility to the storage area. Multiple USB ports and wireless charging also add convenience.
The larger dimensions of the new Sportage translate to a much more spacious rear seat. Even taller passengers will find the decent legroom and headroom and seats that are comfortable. The middle seat is a bit stiff but certainly usable without feeling cramped. Higher-level trims come with dual USB-C ports — one in each front seatback — to keep devices charged.
The 2023 Kia Sportage offers plenty of utility for hauling gear, groceries or other items. Owners will appreciate plenty of cargo space — certainly enough room for multiple pieces of luggage. Levers in the rear area release second-row seatbacks that quickly fold flat to provide considerable additional capacity.
On the Road
We had the opportunity to drive both hybrid and non-hybrid Sportages on roads outside Palm Springs, California. And even though both variants possess similarities in handling and style, the two are noticeably different when it comes to overall performance.
Not only does the hybrid offer more power and torque than the non-hybrid, the delivery is more crisp and satisfying. As a hybrid it can cruise at low speeds on electricity alone, which makes for smooth acceleration from a stop. At initial throttle input, this Sportage uses electric power to get rolling and then the gas engine seamlessly joins the party. Quick acceleration while exiting turns on winding mountain roads outside of Palm Springs made the Sportage Hybrid fun to drive. The hybrid runs much quieter than the gas-only variant; even under full throttle it doesn’t make a fuss.
During our drives we were less enamored with the Sportage powered by the 2.5-liter engine. At full throttle the engine is loud and buzzy without performance to match. Responses to throttle inputs were so slow enough we wondered if we were driving with a CVT rather than an 8-speed automatic transmission. Once at speed the 2.5-liter engine works well, and we did see the display read more than 30 mpg on the trip computer. Given the choice, we recommend the hybrid.
Even though the 2023 Kia Sportage is no sports car, handling is surprisingly good with precise steering and a smooth, predictable ride. Brakes are excellent, and even the X-Pro with all-terrain tires holds its own without any drama. During our test drives we discovered we could push the little crossover pretty hard — likely more than most owners would — without any issues.
During testing in California, Kia set up an off road course with steep inclines and declines as well as faster turns in loose dirt to showcase the new Sportage X-Pro, and the small crossover certainly held its own. With additional grip from the all-terrain tires and the 8.3 inches of ground clearance (Sportage AWD models all get 8.3 inches of ground clearance, up from 7.1 inches on FWD variants), the Sportage performed all requisite tasks well.
Perhaps the most impressive feat during off-pavement driving was crossing deep ruts that would put two opposing wheels off the ground. With constant, smooth throttle, the all-wheel-drive system would put the power to the wheels that had traction, and thus Sportage would easily continue forward. Granted, most Sportage owners will not be taking their vehicles into any severe terrain, although it’s nice to know that these vehicles perform off-pavement as anticipated.
Right for You?
Compact crossovers comprise one of the most crowded automotive segments in America, and the new Sportage is certainly a strong competitor. With exterior styling that stands out from the crowd as well as a spacious interior that has a high-tech, premium vibe, the Sportage provides great utility and comfort in a small crossover. Add in the capable new X-Pro and fuel efficient yet powerful hybrid variants and the Sportage should continue to be one of Kia’s most successful nameplates. Look for the plug-in hybrid Sportage to arrive later this summer.
Pros: Standout styling; spacious interior; powerful, efficient hybrid.
Cons: Non-hybrid less enjoyable to drive; no permanent volume knob; off-road tires have rougher ride at higher speeds.
Bottom Line: The fifth-generation Sportage adds efficiency, performance, utility and luxury to this long-running popular crossover.
The post 2023 Kia Sportage: First Drive Review appeared first on autoNXT.net.