- Kia's popular compact SUV is totally redesigned
- Larger and loaded with more tech than the current model
- Gas-only available now with hybrid powertrains coming in later in the model year
- Launches the fifth Sportage generation for 2023
Perception might not be everything but it's definitely important. Kia has long been seen as a value brand. However, the perception about value brands is that they can be cheap. Kia is out to change that view by having you look at it as a brand that offers excellent value. You can see that in the midsize Telluride — the Edmunds Top Rated SUV three years in a row — the versatile three-row Sorento and now the redesigned 2023 Kia Sportage.
The Sportage is Kia's compact-class SUV. Its key competitors are the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5, so it's no wonder that it can get lost in the shuffle for a lot of shoppers. The 2023 Sportage retains its comfortable seating, broad set of tech features, and class-leading warranty from the previous generation and then adds even more technology, expanded cargo capacity and some off-road chops.
Both Kia and parent company Hyundai have been expanding powertrain lineups for their small SUVs, so it should come as no surprise that the Sportage is available with a variety of engines.
The standard motor is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 187 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque on tap. The Sportage is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and offers a choice between front- and all-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive comes standard on the new X-Line and X-Pro trim levels, which are aimed at off-road enthusiasts, or at least those who are curious. The X-Line merely looks the part, with unique front and rear fascias, gloss black exterior styling elements and a roof rack. The X-Pro goes even further, with all-terrain tires, additional traction modes and drivetrain tuning that accounts for the all-terrain tires, plus useful features such as LED foglights and a heated windshield. All Sportages with all-wheel drive get a lifted stance and 8.3 inches of ground clearance, which isn't too far off from the outdoorsy Subaru Forester and its 8.7 inches. The front-wheel-drive Sportage has a more typical 7.1 inches of clearance.
Electrified versions, which come in the form of a hybrid and plug-in hybrid, will be available in Q2 (of 2022). The hybrid comes with a 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder engine that is paired with an electric motor and produces 227 hp combined. That's pretty strong for a hybrid SUV, and its fuel economy is attractive, too: an EPA-estimated 43 mpg in combined driving with front-wheel drive, or 38 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The plug-in hybrid information is not yet available, but it's worth noting that the Tucson and the Kia Sorento — the Sportage's big brother — are both available with a 261-hp plug-in hybrid powertrain. We believe this to be the exact powertrain that will make its way into the Sportage as well.
During our first drive of the all-new 2023 Kia Sportage, we were able to sample the X-Pro Prestige AWD and the Hybrid SX Prestige AWD. The Sportage Hybrid's ride was smooth and well isolated from most road imperfections. It felt stable and in control when going around turns too. The hybrid's powertrain accelerated up to speed nicely.
The X-Pro Prestige AWD, with its non-hybrid 2.5-liter engine, wasn't as impressive on the road. Acceleration was noticeably slower, for example, and the body rolled more when taking a turn. But it was more in its element off-road. We were able to drive it up steep inclines and some pretty harsh trails and it felt pretty capable. It also smooths out ruts and minimizes the discomfort when you're tackling rough trails. It's definitely a notch above what you'd normally expect from a small crossover SUV.
Starting off with the latter, the hybrid was very roomy inside, providing ample space for all occupants in the front with good room in the rear seats with rear legroom increased to a class-leading 41.3 inches. The seats are comfortable and provide a good cushion for your back while offering nice bolstering for lateral support. The interior is very quiet, with the exception of mild wind noise from the front mirror, and evokes a very premium feel with the materials and wide layout of the center stack and controls.
The 2023 Kia Sportage benefits from a full redesign and an increased overall length and wheelbase. The new Sportage is a bit bigger than the Honda CR-V — the current reigning champ of passenger and cargo capacity.
The available digital instrument panel and wide 12.3-inch center touchscreen are joined in one housing unit, giving the impression of a single uninterrupted screen. It's a similar layout to the Sorento's, which we think is one of that vehicle's interior highlights. The SX-Prestige that we had for our first drive was adorned with premium materials for the seats and trim. It is a very nice place to be in especially since it has so much room for both front and rear passengers. Three full-size adults in the rear could be a bit tight since it's still a compact SUV after all
The Sportage offers several features that are hard to find in rivals, including ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a surround-view camera and a Wi-Fi hotspot. The Sportage also comes with a number of advanced driving aids as standard. Forward collision alert with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, rear parking sensors and lane centering assist comes on every Sportage. Upper trims models are outfitted with blind-spot monitoring, a blind-spot camera, and an adaptive cruise control system that can automatically reduce speed when you enter a zone with a lower speed limit.
Kia also added an interesting cluster of controls to the new Sportage. It's the slim digital display located underneath the center touchscreen that's further complemented by two control knobs. In photos, you might see it with climate control buttons, say for fan speed and temperature control. Or maybe a photo is showing it displaying controls for navigation. In fact, it serves as a reconfigurable control interface for the Sportage's climate, navigation and audio systems. Passengers can toggle between all three.
In our initial testing, we found it to be a clever way to free up space on the dash and help give it a sleek look. However, there's no haptic feedback to the screen buttons, so it can be hard to tell whether you've actually pressed one of the buttons or not. The extra attention needed to operate the screen's controls means more of a chance for driver distraction.
Kia's new Sportage comes with plenty of interior storage for small personal items. The door pockets are nicely sized and the center console area's cupholders are configurable so that you can place cans or bottles or configure it to hold a tablet. The real improvement is in the class-leading rear cargo area, which offers 39.6 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats. That beats the Honda CR-V, the former champ, and its 39.2 cubes. The Sportage has a nice, lower liftover height and a deep and wide space that swallows almost anything except long, large TVs and lumber. You can always drop the rear seats to fit those.
The outgoing Kia Sportage isn't terrible, but it's not a standout either. The redesigned 2023 model is much more competitive than its predecessor and should be a key model to focus on if you're shopping for a small, value-packed SUV.