The Kia Sportage 2023 has become serious. Look at this face. With such an unconventional design, Kia clearly had to work to make the new Sportage attractive to buyers. I actually think it looks pretty good, even better on a personal level. But the typical cross shopper is, let’s say, boring. So Kia had to prove the basics.
The media event for the all-new 2023 model was the first time I had driven a Sportage in a very long time. I hardly ever thought of the old model, and the new Sportage made me say something I didn’t think I’d say: I’d actually consider buying one.
(Full disclosure: Kia invited me to Palm Springs to try the all-new Sportage. The company put me in a beautiful hotel, fed me constantly with chef-prepared food brushes, and gave me access to wine and their CEOs.)
What is that?
Can you believe that the Sportage is the longest nameplate bearing the Kia name? It was an original Kia model when the company arrived in the United States, and has been around since 1993. While the last generation Sportage was the smallest crossover in Kia’s lineup, the Seltos, introduced in 2021, was in the Same space – both vehicles were just a few inches apart in overall dimensions. So Kia decided to make the Sportage even bigger.
Built on Kia’s all-new N3 platform, the Sportage has been grown to fit the space between the Seltos below and the Sorento above. It’s now one of the largest mid-size crossover SUVs around, featuring third-row seats in a rare class. The biggest gain in legroom in the second row: the BMW 7 Series has 41.4 inches of legroom in the rear. The new Sportage has 41.3. Cargo capacity starts at about 40 cubic feet and grows to over 74 cubic feet with the second row folded.
I was able to drive both the best-in-class Sportage X-Pro Prestige and the lesser Sportage Turbo Hybrid. The X-Pro Prestige starts at $36,790, and is charged. In addition to all the other standard features like over two feet of screen on the dashboard, you get a panoramic roof, LED interior lighting, and a smart tailgate that you can open by doing a simple jig with your foot. The standard engine on the Sportage is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, 2.5-liter engine making 187 horsepower, paired with an eight-speed automatic. He’s kind of racy, but he can use more power. Don’t expect to win any races that stop at this thing. If you want power, efficiency is the only way to get it.
Because the big power option in the Seltos lineup is the Turbo Hybrid, with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and 1.5 kWh battery, paired with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. to thank God They didn’t give her a CVT. Total combined production is 227 hp. It’s efficient as hell: In a short 17-mile ride to the hotel, I got nearly 47 mpg in the hybrid. A more powerful Sportage will come later in the year in plug-in hybrid form with 261 horsepower and 32 miles of electric-only range.
The Elephant in the Room: Design
Well, let’s get into it. It is polarizing. Kia designers call them “unifying opposites,” where powerful and futuristic design elements come together to create a distinctive design. I can’t argue with that. But the result is a little bit all over the place. The DRL lever arms look good, and work with Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille. But then you get to the C-pillar, with what Kia describes as the “pixel removal effect.” I don’t understand the significance of it, but it is there.
At the rear, there’s a feature I wish the designers would stop doing: The lower bumper has two synthetic tailpipe shapes. It’s stupid, but everyone does it now.
The interior is very well designed and very well matched. Almost every surface I touched was soft-touch plastic. And it’s a screen city here. The dual 12.3-inch screens make up one huge panel that’s about 25 inches wide and two-thirds of the way across the dashboard. (The lower edges get a 12.2-inch infotainment screen and a 4.2-inch instrument screen.) Another small screen sits between the HVAC control knobs. It has two pages: one for the climate controls, the other showing the “buttons” that control the audio source, scan/page, channel width, etc. Overall, it’s a comfortable place to be with great features, including easy access to USB ports in the seats, a feature more automakers should adopt.
How do you drive?
Let’s get one thing out of the way: everything in this segment is very nice in terms of driving dynamics. Sportage road etiquette is good for what it is. What got me for the loop was the X-Pro version. You know the saying, expect the unexpected? This sums up the X-Pro.
The world of crossovers and light SUVs is full of outward looking models with fairly good performance off the pavement. Kia wants it in that direction, and the X-Pro gets it there. I popped in thinking this was just another poser machine, looking off-road with nothing to back it up. But X-Pro means business.
It all comes down to one simple addition: BFGoodrich Trail-Terrain tires. All-terrain rubber, in a way more aggressive than you’ll find on most family crossovers. And Kia did not stop there.
The X-Pro gets a locking rear differential, off-road cams, hill descent control, and front skid plates. Although it is not an off-road vehicle, it offers more capacity than most buyers need.
Kia prepared a full off-road course to test the X-Pro parts. This course is definitely a Kia-designed course, and they’d be fools to build a road their car couldn’t beat. The Sportage had plenty of suspension joints to get through the deep ruts, and while we didn’t test that, a Kia representative told us the X-Pro has enough ground clearance to get past an ash block.
Unfortunately, low-speed off-road driving is the only place the base engine’s 187 horsepower feels good. On the road, the Sportage needs the extra Turbo Hybrid power. I know what you’re wondering, and I asked: There are no plans to put a hybrid drivetrain in the X-Pro. I asked a Kia product manager if the company would ever release a turbocharged four-cylinder engine K5 GT in Sportage. While he admits that would be fun, it doesn’t.
But the Turbo Hybrid drivetrain is not without flaws. Fuel economy was impressive, but power delivery was very poor, and I felt somehow slower than the X-Pro with the base engine. The Hybrid also comes with low-rolling magnet-like tires for grooves in highway pavement, causing the car to roam. In the hybrid car, the entire driving experience was psychedelic. It didn’t leave any impression on me.
Kia says the new Sportage is already the brand’s number one seller, just two months after it was brought to market. It’s easy to see why: Sportage offers a huge range of trim levels ranging from an entry point of around $27,000 (with destination and handling) all the way up to a $35,000 higher model.
The assortment reflects key inputs from consumers, said Derek Tay, Senior Director of Product Planning. Pricing starts at just $25,990 for the base LX; The mid-tier EX starts at $27,990; Pricing for the loaded X-Pro Prestige starts at $36,790. Turbo Hybrids start at $27290; The EX model I drove starts at $30,990 with the production Hybrids at $36,990 for the Turbo Hybrid SX-Prestige.
I have no doubt that the Sportage 23 will be sold in droves. This is just good. But I have to wonder who the X-Pro is supposed to attract. It’s kind of a mystery – buyers in this segment generally don’t use these off-road vehicles, but then again, everyone seems to love a solid-looking vehicle.
Despite some scratching decisions, the Sportage overall is an impressive and impressive machine. The 2023 models are for sale now.