AUTO REVIEW: Larger, More Lavish, and Eco-Friendly, the 2023 Kia Sportage Proves Far More Fascinating

By Larry Printz

2023 Sportage X-Pro. (KIA/TNS)

(Tribune News Service/TNS) — If vehicles like the Kia Telluride, Sorrento and Soul have proven anything, it’s that Kia is hitting its stride. If you are still put off by the brand that once sold its vehicles using rapping hamsters, your image of the brand is more than a decade old. 

It’s hard to overstate the transformation that has overtaken the brand in the last few years. You probably didn’t notice until the Telluride debuted, causing consumers to consider Kia for the first time. And with the launch of the all-new redesigned 2023 Kia Sportage, the queues at the Kia stores are about to get longer.

A compact SUV, the 2023 Kia Sportage plays in the heart of the current new vehicle market against a slew of mainstream competitors, including the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. And with the possible exception of the Mazda, the newest Sportage beats the big boys in this segment.

Offered in three trim levels — LX, EX and SX-Prestige — as well as an off-road X-Pro model, the 2023 Sportage rides on the N3 platform used for the bigger Sorento. While still a compact, it’s 7.1 inches longer and 2 inches taller than before, which makes for a remarkably roomy cabin. There’s more than 41 inches of legroom in both rows, while the cargo area has grown 28% to 39.6 cubic feet, so there’s room for you, your friends and family, and your stuff. So, yeah, it’s practical.

But the 2023 Kia Sportage also proves to be far more stimulating than the demure vehicle it replaces.

Certainly, designers cranked the visual volume, with a graphically dissonant face that lacks the conservative certainty of a Telluride. Designers also added detailing on the roof pillars as well as the rear, which proves visually more cohesive than its face.

Inside, you’ll find a mixture of hard and soft surfaces typical in this class. What proves surprising is the Sportage’s two 12.3-inch displays, one for the instrument cluster, the other for infotainment. They’re integrated into a wide horizontal panel similar to those used by many high-end automakers. High-end tech design at a Kia price? Way to go, guys. Cue the dancing hamsters; we’re psyched about that.

And there are other bits of cool tech as well, such as the thin horizontal touchscreen framed by two knobs. Tap it, and you have climate controls. Tap it again, and you’ll have infotainment screen controls. It’s novel, yet it contributes to the cabin’s minimalist interior vibe.

So, what’s it like to drive? Better than before.

Kia offers three different powertrain options, with base models getting a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission with front- or all-wheel drive. Opt for the off-road ready Sportage X-Pro, and you’ll get this engine and standard all-wheel drive along with B.F. Goodrich tires and an extra 1.5 inches of ground clearance.

2023 Sportage X-Pro. (KIA/TNS)

But unless you’re going off-road, the best choice is the Sportage Hybrid, powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four mated to a single electric motor and a 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. It delivers more power than the base engine — 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque — while delivering superior fuel economy. Paired to a six-speed automatic with either front- or all-wheel drive, the hybrid returns a combined 43 mpg with the former, 38 mpg with the latter.

Kia will also offer a plug-in hybrid, which pairs the same powertrain and a larger lithium-ion battery pack. This not only provides even more power — 261 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque — it also provides 32 miles of pure electric driving.

Sampling both the normally aspirated X-Pro and the Hybrid models, the more fuel-efficient powertrain proved worth the minimal extra cost. Kia expects some 70% of buyers to pick the base 2.5-liter model, and certainly power is adequate, but it’s no more impressive than its many competitors. Fuel efficiency is decent, at 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway with front-wheel drive and 23/28 with all-wheel drive.

For a small premium, the Hybrid is the far better option. The electric motor provides low-end punch and the driveline feels livelier at all speeds, making for a far more enjoyable driving experience. Add in the superior fuel economy, and it makes for the Sportage’s most enticing model. There’s more than enough power, although at passing speeds, you may wish for a somewhat quicker response.

The Sportage’s dynamics are good, but don’t expect the enticing sportiness of a Mazda CX-5. The Sportage delivers a more equalized driving experience, balancing agility with comfort without extracting the ride penalty of some compact SUVs. Steering is precise, and you’ll find modest body roll when tackling the twisties, despite its height and added mass. If you’re opting for the Sportage X-Pro, you’ll find it has the requisite cameras that make off-roading far easier. Its tires and driveline are capable enough for most off-road situations, but don’t expect the lively responsiveness of the hybrid.

The Sportage has matured into a larger, more lavish vehicle, one that delivers great fuel economy and a pleasing driving experience. With prices starting at less than $26,000, it will have you wondering why you’d ever pay more for another SUV that delivers the Sporatge’s virtues.

2023 Sportage X-Pro. (KIA/TNS)

2023 Kia Sportage

Base price: $25,990-$36,190

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged hybrid powertrain

Horsepower/Torque: 227/258 pound-feet of torque

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 38/38 mpg

Fuel required: 87 Octane

Length/Width/Height: 183.5/73.4/66.3 inches

Ground clearance: 8.3 inches

Payload: 1,053 pounds

Cargo capacity: 00 cubic feet

Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds

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