2023 Kia Sportage First Drive Review: Whatchu Lookin' At?
|187 hp, 78 lb-ft
|US fuel economy (MPG):
|CAN fuel economy (L/100KM):
|Starting Price (USD):
|$27,235 (inc. dest.)
|As-Tested Price (USD):
|N/A (see text)
|Starting Price (CAD):
|$30,295 (inc. dest.)
|As-Tested Price (CAD):
|$42,895 (inc. dest.)
How do you stand out in the biggest, most crowded sector of the car market? You get a little weird.
The 2023 Kia Sportage certainly qualifies. Looking positively alien in the appropriately otherworldly surrounds of Vancouver Island, Kia’s latest crossover looks like nothing else, either on the road or even within the Korean automaker’s stable.
Weird is good, Like dipping fries in your chocolate shake. There needs to be substance behind it though: weird for weird’s sake just won’t cut it. Luckily, Kia has crafted its own tasty concoction here. The latest Sportage offers up a sweet and salty blend of space, style, and tech, all wrapped up in an intriguing and outlandish shape. No longer hiding in the background, it’s aiming for nothing less than class leadership.Get a Quote on a New 2023 Kia Sportage
A dramatic new look, to start. We won’t pretend it’s going to be to everyone’s taste, especially the busy front end, but nobody can accuse the Sportage of blending in. The main headlights are quite a ways down the nose, with the boomerang-shaped DRL slicing between them and the grille, and climbing up over the front fender. The flanks clean up nicely, with a generous swell to the rear arch, rising window line, and black trim along the lower door panels visually lowering and lengthening the whole body. The rear three-quarter is Sportage V’s best angle, with multiple horizontal lines—bumper, tailgate crease, full-width taillight strip, integrated spoiler with clever hidden wiper—emphasizing its width. A range of intricate wheel designs, ranging from 17 to 19 inches, give the Sportage suitably modern rolling stock.
The one you see here is the X-Line, the latest in the crowd of crossovers with some off-road styling add-ons, but no significant mechanical changes. A skid plate-style molding and ladder-style roof rails mark it out, along with two unique paint shades: a matte gray and a very cool green.
This fifth generation of the Sportage has had a dramatic growth spurt, turning it from one of the smallest entries in the class into the largest. The recent addition of the not-quite-compact Seltos allows for this, meaning the Sportage can now more readily size up to the rest of the class. Length is up roughly half a foot, to 183.5 inches (4,660 millimeters). A little over half the increase (3.5 inches / 85 mm) goes into the wheelbase, paying dividends in rear passenger and cargo space.
Initially, the new Sportage will be available only in internal combustion engine (ICE) form, pairing the brand’s familiar naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with an eight-speed automatic. Horsepower stands at 187 hp; maximum torque is 178 pound-feet. As before, buyers will have the choice of front- or all-wheel drive. Starting shortly after this article’s publishing time, hybrid models will begin showing up in dealerships. These swap out the atmospheric four for a 1.6-liter turbocharged unit, while the transmission drops two gears. A 44.2-kW electric motor joins the party, drawing juice from a 1.49-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Combined outputs are 227 hp and 258 lb-ft; AWD is optional in America, and standard in Canada.
Wait until summer and Kia will begin offering the Sportage plug-in hybrid (PHEV). A larger battery pack and more powerful electric motor bump the pony count to 261 hp, with AWD standard on all models. Kia expects a 32-mile (52-kilometer) electric range. We’ve already sampled the PHEV drivetrain in the larger Sorento PHEV and thoroughly enjoyed its mix of power and parsimony.
2023 Kia Sportage interior and comfort
The transformation continues inside. Kia’s latest interior design language is smart, an appealing mix of sharp angles and complementary materials. A curved glass panel dominates the dashboard, housing a pair of screens each measuring 12.3 inches in this range-topper. Faux wood trim looks and feels convincing; only tapping it gives things away. Similarly, the plastic along the top of the doors feels a little cheap, but every other part of the door panel, including the important touch points, is soft and high quality.
A black interior is standard fare, though Kia will also offer buyers a red or sage green synthetic leather option, depending on trim. The former is a cool brick-like hue; the latter sounds good, but appears more gray than green. A huge panoramic moonroof lets in plenty of light. Down in the center console, Kia has added its retractable cupholders, which allows for larger item storage when not in use.
How has that stretch affected the cabin? It’s incredibly roomy now, with rear-seat legroom almost exactly matching the space up front: a single millimeter separates them. Folks in the back can recline the seats by around 10 degrees, further opening up headroom. Up front, the seats are super supportive, with a wide range of (power) adjustments making it easy for drivers of various sizes to get comfortable. Couples will appreciate the new driver’s memory feature too.
Cargo capacity is up too, with a best-in-class 39.6 cubic feet (1,121 liters) with the rear seats up; a 40-percent improvement over the outgoing model. Drop the 60/40 folding bench flat and that figure balloons to 74.1 cubic feet, second only to the Honda CR-V in the two-row compact crossover bunch. Opting for the hybrid will cut into that figure slightly, but either way, you’re ending up with a capacious load-lugger.SEE ALSO: 2022 Kia Sorento PHEV Review: Plugging the Gap
2023 Kia Sportage technology and features
There are two different sizes for both the screens in the Sportage, and three combinations therein. The standard setup includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen, along with a 12.2-inch instrument display. Since the dials don’t change on the latter, Kia calls it a 4.2-inch screen, referencing the multi-function section between the dials. Higher trims graduate to the 12.3-inch touchscreen seen here, while the customizable IP in the same size is saved for the highest trims. Kia still only offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the smaller screen, not the larger one. There’s no timeline on when that will change, and a rep told us the discrepancy is due to “quality.” Okay then. No complaints about the clever USB-C ports mounted on the backs of the front seats, however: they’re easy for young ones to reach, and they’re even useful for the front-seat passenger to avoid a tangle of wires near the shifter.SEE ALSO: Hyundai Tucson Hybrid vs Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Comparison: Fuel-Sipping Family Haulers
The user interface is the same one found in all modern Kias. The consistent design looks good, though the all-purple-everything color scheme and small font can make it hard to navigate via peripheral vision. Response times are snappy, however. The pop-up messages in the IP that are tied to wiper settings earn the Sportage (and all Hyundai Motor Group cars) bonus points. How come nobody else does this?
That’s balanced with the frustrating climate and media controls, which use a touch-sensitive panel shared with the EV6. Only one set of controls is displayed in the main section at a time; users have to press a small button to toggle between media controls, and the full climate ones. We’re sure exposure would increase familiarity, but it still means an extra button tap for basic functions.
This loaded tester features a robust suite of tech goodies that are rare in this segment. The Around View Monitor offers up a high-res camera feed all around the Sportage, including a third-person view users can swipe to look around. It makes parking in tight underground garages—or avoiding errant tree stumps—easy. Kia’s clever Blind-Spot View Monitor is also on the roster, as is reverse parking avoidance, safe exit warning, and an upgraded automated emergency braking assist, now capable of handling left turns at junctions. These are all in addition to the standard suite of driver aids, including lane keep, lane follow, and hill-start assists. Adaptive cruise control shows up mid-level and up.
Kia has also expanded its Kia Connect app functionality. While I wasn’t able to test it on my own phone, my drive partner was able to check on fuel amount, door and window status, and start the engine remotely.
2023 Kia Sportage driving impressions
Our test route loops around the southern part of Vancouver Island. It’s a characteristically damp day to start, but the sun does poke out from the clouds from time to time, giving us brief patches of dry tarmac.SEE ALSO: Mazda CX-5 vs Nissan Rogue Comparison: Heart and Head
Uneven, pockmarked logging roads show off a well-damped, buttoned-down suspension tune. The Sportage is remarkably well-mannered, building driver confidence with its smooth, predictable steering. There are a few nasty bumps hiding out here, but even hitting them at speed results in more of an audible disturbance than anything else. Maybe it’s the rally stage-like drive route. Maybe it’s the inconsistent weather. But the Sportage is … whisper it … kind of fun to drive.
The ICE lets the side down slightly. It’s a fine enough motor for what the Sportage is, and its on-paper numbers drop it right in the middle of the pack. Uphill passing can leave it feeling wheezy, making more noise than forward progress. Its biggest issue is that the hybrid powertrain exists: we’ve tried it in various other Hyundai and Kia products and its blend of more accessible power and better fuel economy is an appealing one. The only reason we can see for getting the gas engine is if you’re really sold on the X-Line look. Or, as we’re predicting based on the continued wait lists for the RAV4 and Tucson hybrids, you just can’t get your hands on one in time.
Speaking of fuel economy, the Sportage AWD scores a disappointing 25 mpg combined, split between 23 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Canadian figures are 9.5, 10.4, and 8.5 L/100 km, respectively. Those are amongst the lowest scores in the segment; the Nissan Rogue matches the Sportage’s highway figure in the city. To its credit, it hewed very close to those quoted figures during our test drive.
2023 Kia Sportage pricing and competition
As expected, the 2023 Kia Sportage sees a price increase over the outgoing model. Pricing starts from $27,235 ($30,295 CAD), including destination, for a front-drive LX model. It’s a reasonable $1,970 ($2,650 CAD) jump from the 2021 model, especially considering the extra size, improved engine, increased standard safety kit, and better tech suite.
The trim walk varies pretty extensively between the US and Canada this generation. We spent the day driving the X-Line Limited ($42,895 CAD) model, the top trim in the land of poutine. Its closest analog south of the border is the Sportage X-Pro ($38,045), which shares much of the creature comforts, but eschews the road-biased 19-inch alloys for chunkier 17-inch all-terrain tires. A company spokesperson told us the availability of X-Pro in Canada comes down to suppliers: almost all American models are built in the US, whereas Canada gets its supply from Korea.
The Sportage no longer has a major sticker advantage over the rest of the field. It still maintains a value edge, however, thanks to a long list of standard kit.SEE ALSO: Hyundai Tucson Hybrid vs Ford Escape PHEV Comparison
Final Thoughts: 2023 Kia Sportage First Drive Review
Barely a month ago, we said “ Kia has done it again.” It was in reference to the excellent new EV6 at the time, but the same applies for the 2023 Kia Sportage. The Korean brand has a laser focus on crafting smart, high-quality vehicles that thoroughly address customers needs, be it EVs or compact crossovers.
More than that, the Sportage stands out. A surprisingly athletic driving experience, robust tech suite, and yes, those unusual looks all make Kia’s latest hard to ignore. We feel confident saying we’d prefer the hybrid, but even in pure ICE form, the Sportage is a class act. Weird is good.
How much does the 2023 Kia Sportage cost?
The new model starts from $27,245 USD for a front-wheel-drive LX trim model, including the $1,255 destination charge. In Canada, the LX FWD kicks off the lineup at $30,295 CAD, including the $1,900 destination charge.
When can you buy the 2023 Kia Sportage?
Purely gas-powered models are already in dealerships, and hybrids should be there before the end of April. The plug-in hybrid model will arrive later this summer.
Does the 2023 Kia Sportage have a third row?
No it does not; you’ll have to move up to its Sorento big brother for that.
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- Smart, roomy interior
- Well-judged ride
- Strong value proposition
- Meh ICE powertrain
- Disappointing fuel economy
- Switchable climate/audio controls
Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.
More by Kyle Patrick