Tough and refined: 2023 Kia Sportage gets a bumper-to-bumper update
If you still consider the Kia Sportage the entry level in the compact crossover market, you’ll probably be surprised by the all-new 2023 model. It gains in size, plush features, new hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains and off-road oriented X-Line and X-Pro models.
A strong wind blows over the ridge, stirring up the dry dust as I head for a first test drive of the new X-Pro. It’s one of many variants available with the 2023 Kia Sportage. Already one of the most popular models in the Korean automaker’s lineup, Kia is betting it can boost the SUV’s appeal by offering buyers a range new options.
The X-Pro and X-Line models target the growing number of American motorists who seek the ability to handle at least moderate off-road experiences. But Kia is also adding hybrid and plug-in hybrid options with the launch of the fifth-generation Sportage.
To get a feel for what the smaller of the two big Korean automakers has to offer, I flew to sunny Palm Springs. After an early morning briefing on the new Sportage, I jump into the new hybrid and start heading west, up the winding Route 79 out of the Coachella Valley.
2023 Kia Sportage Review
Kia will eventually offer three different powertrains, although the plug-in hybrid won’t be available at launch. The conventional hybrid relies on a 1.6L turbo-four paired with a single electric motor and a 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, it develops 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.
While it could use a bit more off-line grunt when you slam the throttle, it’s a reasonably peppy option. And that’s all the more impressive when you consider that it delivers up to 43 mpg combined in front-wheel drive and up to 38 in all-wheel drive.
The Palm Springs outing provides a great place to experience the new SUV’s steering and handling, with steep climbs and tight turns. The new Sportage rises to the challenge.
The steering feels both precise and predictable and, even when I push through the tightest corners, there’s surprisingly little body roll. In terms of handling, this new crossover is a marked improvement over the model it replaces.
Longer, wider, roomier
It also has many other benefits. The 2023 Kia Sportage increases by seven inches in overall length, the wheelbase stretched by three inches. It’s now two inches taller, with up to 8.3 inches of ground clearance in the all-wheel-drive version. (Front-wheel-drive models have 7.1 inches of ground clearance.)
What was once one of the smallest entries in the compact SUV segment is now among the biggest, with 39.6 cubic feet of cargo space and a surprising amount of rear legroom.
The cabin isn’t just bigger, it’s noticeably more sophisticated, with mid and upper trim levels featuring the kind of expansive video display you’d normally expect only on a luxury model. Technically, this consists of two 12.3-inch screens, a reconfigurable gauge cluster and a touchscreen infotainment system. They are both hidden under a single sheet of glass and seem to blend together.
High Tech, High Touch
Another new feature is the secondary touch panel below this infotainment screen. It can be activated to easily operate the climate control system or to access key touchscreen functions, such as the navigation system.
More premium fabrics add to the luxury look and Kia has opted for soft-touch materials on all surfaces an occupant would be likely to touch.
Meanwhile, the new model adds plenty of other high-tech touches, from wireless charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to an assortment of advanced driver assistance systems.
Lane-keep assist and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking are standard features. Blind-spot assist, remote park assist and 360-degree surround view join the smart tech options.
Sportage X-Pro: Off-Road
An hour from Palm Springs, the navigation system leads me down a side road and onto a ridge where the wind has blown. Swapping into one of the new Sportage X-Pro models, I’m headed down a wandering course the automaker has laid out.
No, it does not compete with what you might find in Moab or on the Rubicon Trail, but that’s more than a match for what the typical buyer will likely experience. And that quickly demonstrates the capability of the more off-road-oriented package.
It has more than enough ground clearance to straddle a cinder block, my guide points out as we maneuver around the course. The Sportage handles bumps and bumps with ease, and the X-Pro makes steep hills easier with added features like Hill Descent Control, plus a larger BFG. All terrain tires and a retuned suspension. With the push of a button, you can also activate a differential lock.
If you’re not in the market for something as sturdy as a Jeep Wranglerit’s a more than viable option for the wave of new off-road lighting offerings hitting the market, such as the Subaru Forester Desert and Mazda CX50.
Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, Kia only offers the X-Pro with the base Sportage engine. It’s a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. For 2023, it gained six ponies to deliver 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet. Fuel economy also increased by 2 mpg to a total of 28.
It might look underpowered compared to the turbo, but Kia engineers felt it provided a better base for off-roading and after spending time on the track it was hard to argue against that. logic.
Plug-in hybrid Sportage coming later
Unfortunately, the automaker hasn’t made the third powertrain in the Sportage lineup available in 2023. The plug-in hybrid uses the same gasoline engine and engine combination as the conventional hybrid but, with its lithium- ion larger, it allowed Kia to increase power to 261 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
As is becoming increasingly common these days, the PHEV will become the most powerful version in the Sportage lineup when added later in the 2023 model year.
The plug-in will also give an owner the ability to drive around 32 miles in pure electric mode. You’ll be able to keep the battery fully charged, allowing you to choose where to switch to all-electric mode. The reality is, for most drivers, the 32-mile range should handle most typical day trips.
2023 Kia Sportage Price
Despite the added features, the 2023 Kia Sportage remains one of the most affordable entries in the compact crossover market. The base LX package starts at $25,990 in the front-wheel-drive model, and the all-wheel-drive version jumps to $27,790. A well-equipped Prestige package climbs to $33,490 in front-wheel drive and $35,290 in all-wheel drive.
The X-Line starts at $30,790, the X-Pro at $34,990 and the X-Pro Prestige at $36,790. All “X” models are offered in all-wheel-drive configuration only. The Sportage LX with a hybrid engine is $27,290 in FWD, $29,090 in AWD. The Prestige is offered only in all-wheel drive with the hybrid, at $36,190. (Add $1,255 in shipping and handling to all of these numbers.)
Pricing for the plug-in version of the Sportage has yet to be released.
Sportage 2023 review: Final thoughts
All trims except the PHEV are now available in Kia’s US showrooms, although initial inventory is low. But, since this is the first version of the Sportage to be built in the United States, Kia hopes to have plenty of products in showrooms over the next few months.
Kia’s outgoing Sportage was a reasonable choice for compact SUV buyers. With the launch of the new 2023 model, there’s a lot more to love. It’s bigger, roomier, introduces new features and expands the range of powertrain options.
For those looking for a modest level of off-road capability, you now have options. After spending a few days driving different versions of the 2023 Kia Sportage, I came away impressed with the improvements and market competitiveness.
To build your own 2023 Kia Sportage, check out Kia’s website.