If Kia is coming off its best year in total US sales, and if compact SUVs are now the largest car segment in the US (in terms of sales volume), one could argue that the all-new 2023 Kia Sportage is an important vehicle to the Somewhat. As Kia’s second-best seller in the US last year, as well as the longest-lived plaque in Kia’s model line, the automaker certainly acknowledges the Sportage’s role in the brand’s current and future success.
This realization is reflected in the 2023 Sportage, which benefits from a powerful transformation of its exterior design, interior design and powertrain technology, including the first plug-in hybrid and plug-in versions of the Kia Sportage. It is also the first Kia Sportage to be manufactured in the United States, at the company’s West Point, GA plant, in addition to production in Korea.
The first thing you’ll notice about the new Sportage is that it’s significantly larger than the outgoing model. Overall length has increased by 7.1 inches, with the wheelbase growing by 3.4 inches. A longer wheelbase means more interior, which Kia told us translates to class-leading second-row legroom (41.3 inches) along with a healthy bump in cargo capacity, and now also tops the class at 39.6 cubic feet behind the second row.
Internal updates continue, in the form of a new Kia Connect user interface that replaces the previous UVO system. A standard 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto Wireless and Apple CarPlay can be upgraded to a 12.3-inch “curved” display that seamlessly connects to a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster with higher trim levels. The materials and interior of the new Sportage, even on the base models, look inviting, while the high-end SX and X models create a luxurious semi-luxurious ambiance with animal-free leather seats that feature heated and ventilated air.
The Sportage’s exterior design aims to combine powerful, muscular surfaces contrasting with sharp lines – Kia calls “United Opposites”. It’s certainly bolder than the outgoing model, as Kia’s “tiger nose grille” surrounds standard LED headlights and arm-shaped daytime running lights. With so many compact SUVs on the road today, it’s not easy to stand out, but the Sportage should prove distinctive on streets full of small vehicles.
Another distinguishing feature in the small SUV segment is true off-road capability, which is gaining popularity across the sector but remains relatively rare. The new Sportage “X” rims introduced for 2023 add to the ute’s off-road proportions, providing standard all-wheel drive and better ground clearance, which increases from 7.1 to 8.3 inches on these AWD models (front-wheel drive is standard on other trims). The X Pro and X Pro Prestige models bolster the Sportage’s rock power with standard BFGoodrich all-terrain tires and re-tuned driving modes that benefit from increased grip.
We’ve tested the new Sportage Hybrid rims and Pro X Prestige rims on the streets of Palm Springs and in the mountains above a desert oasis, including a dedicated off-road track where the Pro X can demonstrate its off-road power. Climbing over deep canyons, climbing steep inclines, and steep inclines didn’t slow the Sportage Pro X, as its AWD system assessed rapidly changing conditions while reallocating torque between each wheel to maintain momentum. We’re not sure how often the Pro X versions of the new Sportage will meet these challenges, but Kia’s engineers have done their work to ensure they can.
Driving quality on the road was similarly impressive, with smoother, improved behavior and less road noise, even on tired Pro X models. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers the 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque in the standard Sportage, with throttle response that proved to be adequate, if not inspiring, along the mountain roads above Palm Springs. We wouldn’t describe the Sportage as slow, but from a dynamic point of view, it’s not as attractive as class leaders like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.
The same can be said of the hybrid model’s 1.6-liter turbo, which delivers a total of 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque with its synchronous electric motor. The hybrid’s increased power is offset by a roughly 200-pound increase in total weight, which results in similarly acceptable, rather than thrilling, acceleration. Fuel economy for the standard Sportage is rated at 28 mpg for front-wheel drive models or 25 mpg for all-wheel drive versions. The Hybrid raises those numbers to 43 mpg for the FWD LX or 38 mpg for the EX and SX-Prestige (with standard AWD). The Kia Sportage plug-in hybrid increases total power to 261 horsepower and will provide approximately 32 miles of all-electric range.
Buyers interested in the new 2023 Kia Sportage can purchase the LX, EX, SX, SX-Prestige, X-Line, X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige models from their local dealer. Pricing starts at $27,245 for the base FWD LX model and goes up to $38,045 for the X-Pro Prestige AWD version. Plug-in hybrid models will arrive by late June and start at $28,545 for the LX FWD model and go up to $37,445 for the SX-Prestige (Pricing for the plug-in hybrid Sportage hasn’t been released yet). While we might be looking forward to more power, the new Sportage is an attractive SUV, both in terms of its design and capabilities, as well as its features and value equation. We expect it to contribute even more to Kia’s continued success in this segment.