2023 Kia Sportage review
JAMES RISWICK: This is the all-new 2023 Kia Sportage. Now, this is by far the most substantial overhaul of the Sportage since '09, when it went from looking like this to this. But it's not just about aesthetics this time around, although it does look pretty different. And frankly, (WHISPERING) I think it's a little ugly.
But really, it's what's underneath that's the game changer. First, it's a lot bigger, most notably, 7 inches longer than before. And in total, it brings the Sportage from one of the smallest compact SUVs to one of the largest and more directly able to compete with the Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, and all the really family-friendly options.
It also clears it well beyond the Kia Seltos. Before it was pretty much the same size. The cargo area, it is a lot bigger, the largest in the compact segment. Back seat space-- 41.3 inches ties it with its Tucson cousin for best in the segment.
Now, besides being bigger and therefore more family friendly because of it, there are a lot more options under the hood and under the floor and at the electrical plug. Base engine nothing really to write home about. It's new, but it's a 2.5 liter, naturally aspirated, 4 cylinder, good for 187 horsepower. Has an eight-speed automatic available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
But there's this, the new Sportage hybrid combo of a small turbo engine, electric motor, and a six-speed auto. The available all-wheel drive system is a mechanical system as well, not just a second motor at the back. Total output? 227 horsepower.
So the great thing about the hybrid, besides the snazzy blue interior, is that because of that six-speed automatic transmission, it just drives like, well, normal. It doesn't have a CVT that's mooing along like the Toyota system or an engine that's coming on at random times like the Honda system. No, this just feels normal.
And because it's turbocharged, it's layering on low-end torque on top of low-end torque that's inherent from the electric motor. And when you lay into it, yeah, it-- it really goes. This feels like a performance upgrade. So when you add that, you know, improved drivability to it being a performance upgrade, and then you add on to that the 43 miles per gallon combined with front-wheel drive or 38 miles per gallon with all-wheel drive, you're looking at a win-win-win.
There's also going to be a new Sportage plug-in hybrid, good for an estimated 32 miles of electric range. Now, I didn't drive it here in Palm Springs. And there are more details to come. But given our experience with the Tucson plug-in hybrid, should be pretty good.
So the hybrids, they're arguably the ones to get. But there's a wrinkle. You can't get either of the hybrids as this, the new X-Pro. And it's kind of the coolest one. BFGoodrich all-terrain tires, matte black 17-inch wheels, and recalibrated drive modes make it the quasi-Forester Wilderness of the Sportage lineup.
But those are the extent of the upgrades, hence quasi. There's nothing mechanically different. It even has the same 8.3 inches of ground clearance as every other all-wheel drive Sportage, including the also new X line, which is sort of a quasi-quasi. It shares the X-Pro's more rugged design cues but doesn't have the tires and wheels. But that will be available on the plug-in hybrid.
All right. So this is the X-Pro. Now, that thing that does make it cooler, that does make it nominally better off road, the all-terrain tires, also makes it worse on road because those tires, they're harder. They're nobbier. And that means that the ride's rougher. It's louder in here. And the handling gets worse.
Now, I will say that the steering, it's still pretty precise, still nicely weighted, unlike a lot of vehicles that do have off-road tires. But still, you are signing up for quite the trade-off for this versus one of the other trim levels. And when it just doesn't come with, you know, extra off-roading equipment, say, like a Forester Wilderness, it-- I just don't think it makes sense.
Now, that ground clearance is still pretty good for a compact SUV. And when off road, the X-Pro can almost certainly do a better job of getting you past an obstacle or two on the way to a campsite than one of the other Sportage trim levels. The interior is, well, exactly what you'd expect from a Kia, a unique design, nice-enough materials, and really great technology that doesn't get in the way of you actually using things.
Now, the wraparound pairing of 12.3-inch touch screens, they're the real showstopper in here. And it's found on all the trims but the base LX. So this new Sportage undeniably far better than it was before. But more importantly, it's a lot more competitive than it was before.
It's no longer this weirdly sized alternative to vehicles that were smaller and bigger than it. No, it's fully aimed right dead at the center of those bestsellers. And in many ways, it is better than those, specifically the hybrid. So if you're in the market for one of these compact SUVs, well, the Sportage, just like its Telluride and Sorento siblings, definitely is one to look at.