2023 Kia Sportage Review: Class-leading Hybrid steals the show
Pros: Powerful and efficient hybrid; class-leading space; well-executed tech; distinctive design choices
Cons: Slow base engine; X-Line and X-Pro are not available as the hybrid; not exactly handsome
The term “all-new” gets thrown around liberally in the car biz, but when it comes to the 2023 Kia Sportage, it absolutely fits the bill. Kia’s oldest nameplate goes from one of the smallest compact SUVs to one of the biggest, expanding in every dimension to be far more family friendly. It now offers two hybrid options: one is an exceptional, turbocharged conventional hybrid that does double duty as a fuel economy and performance upgrade, while the other is a plug-in hybrid that should offer around 32 miles of electric-only range. Meanwhile, the interior is better-looking, better-made and packed with Kia’s latest, excellent tech.
The Sportage’s newfound practicality makes it a compelling answer to choices like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester, while it continues to deliver distinctive style and better-than-average value. There’s even a quasi-off-road model in the new X-Line and X Pro trim levels, though they do fall short in terms of ruggedness compared to the Forester Wilderness and TRD Off-Road. The new Mazda CX-50 is pretty comparable to the new Sportage, but it doesn’t offer a hybrid. For that, you can turn to the Sportage’s mechanically related cousin, the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid.
Add it all up and you have a new entry in the ultra-competitive compact SUV segment that is an absolute must-see. We would steer you toward the Sportage Hybrid, however, as its price premium is negligible, its benefits great and the base engine is disappointingly slow.
Interior & Technology | Passenger & Cargo Space | Performance & Fuel Economy
What it's like to drive | Pricing & Trim Levels | Crash Ratings & Safety Features
What's new for 2023?
The Kia Sportage is all-new for 2023, and not only that, but it’s a significant departure in terms of size and engine choice.
What are the Sportage interior and in-car technology like?
The new Sportage interior represents another advantage over the segment’s best sellers. In short, it’s cool. There’s a sense of style here you’re not going to find in a RAV4 or Forester. Beyond the design, there are red, navy and sage green interiors available depending on trim level and drivetrain, with even the EX Hybrid eligible for a particularly cool Misty Gray and Triton Navy combo (pictured above). We really like that Kia includes such aesthetic options along with Kia’s usual generous feature content on lower trim levels rather than keeping them exclusive to high-dollar ones.
Another example of this is the cabin’s main attraction: the giant curved panel housing twin 12.3-inch displays shared with the EV6. Found on every trim but the LX, it’s not only an eye-catcher for its curved design and pretty graphics, but like other Kias, the infotainment touchscreen is easy to use. Joining it from the EV6 is the unique row of touch-capacitive “buttons” that serve double duty as climate controls and infotainment menu shortcuts. It is indeed a departure from Kia’s usual ultra-functional cabin controls and we can see how it could be annoying, but they do provide a clean look and we’re definitely seeing a lot worse these days.
How big is the Sportage?
The Sportage is just about the biggest compact SUV. It’s 7.1 inches longer overall than its predecessor with an extra 3.4 inches of wheelbase. Cargo capacity, which was previously sacrificed to provide surprisingly generous rear legroom, is now a segment-best 39.6 cubic-feet. That’s better than even the mechanically related Hyundai Tucson, which aced our luggage test and bested the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. We had absolutely no problem fitting in all six bags in our luggage test with plenty of room to spare.
Backseat legroom also expands be a class leader with 41.3 inches. It really is as vast as that spec and the below photo indicates. We had no problem comfortably sitting in front of a rear-facing child seat, and also appreciated the ample amount of rear seat recline.
What are the Sportage fuel economy and performance specs?
The base engine is effectively average for the segment: a 2.5-liter inline-four that produces 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. It’s attached to an eight-speed automatic (many competitors have a less desirable CVT), and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with FWD and 23/28/25 with AWD. That latter number is awfully underwhelming, as most competitors do considerably better (the CR-V AWD gets 29 mpg combined).
The Sportage Hybrid is therefore highly recommended. This unique combination of 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four, electric motor and six-speed automatic pairs with either front- or all-wheel drive. Together it produces 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, a robust amount that is far more than other hybrids and in keeping with the turbocharged, gas-only engine upgrades of rival SUVs. It returns 42 mpg city, 44 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined with FWD and 38/38/38 with AWD. That’ll in theory save you hundreds of dollars every year on gas, but in several hundred miles of mixed driving, we only managed 32 mpg combined with an AWD EX.
The Sportage Plug-In Hybrid builds upon the conventional hybrid with a much larger battery. It produces 261 hp and 258 lb-ft. When plugged in and filled with electrons, it should return around 32 miles of range, though official EPA numbers were not available at the time of this writing.
What's the Sportage like to drive?
While most of its competitors offer a choice of either a hybrid powertrain or a higher-performance engine upgrade, the Sportage offers up something that does both: the Hybrid, pictured above left. Considering it only costs about $1,000 more than the base engine, it makes your decision even easier. Besides blowing the hybrid competition away in terms of power, the Sportage Hybrid’s conventional transmission and turbocharged engine provide a far more normal and quiet driving experience. And compared to the gutless base 2.5-liter, which is unfortunately the only way to get the X-Pro trim level (and the X-Line is unavailable as the regular hybrid), the turbo-plus-electric-motor combo makes it feel notably gutsier around town and when passing and, despite the small-displacement engine, is quieter when you punch the throttle.
Moving beyond the engines, driving the Sportage is typical for a Kia: competent, vice-free and largely forgettable. It handles well enough and the ride is comfortable enough. Want something sharper? Try a Mazda CX-50 or Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE.
Want something more rugged? Well, the Sportage has an answer for that. First, there’s the X-Line, which is really just an appearance package. It's available with the base engine or the plug-in hybrid. The X-Pro (pictured above right) builds upon that with B.F. Goodrich all-terrain tires, 17-inch matte black wheels and recalibrated drive mode settings for reduced traction conditions. Oh, and a black roof. It has the same 8.3 inches of ground clearance as every other all-wheel-drive Sportage, however. That’s not insignificant, but it’s less than the RAV4 TRD Off-Road, Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and every Subaru Forester, including the sky-high Wilderness. If you really want to get dirty, get one of those first. If not, know that you’ll be saddled with the less desirable base engine and those all-terrain tires that produce a firmer and jigglier ride, more road noise and a degradation of road holding
What other Kia Sportage reviews can I read?
2023 Kia Sportage First Drive Review | Bigger, greener, off-roadier
Dig deeper into the changes for the Sportage compared to its predecessor, plus what you can expect from the X-Pro both on road and off-road.
What is the 2023 Sportage price?
Pricing starts at $27,245, including destination, for a base LX FWD. The Sportage Hybrid LX FWD starts at $28,545, which is less than the CR-V and RAV4 hybrid entry points.
While that LX comes well-equipped, you’ll really want to start off your search with the EX, which adds a power driver seat, heated front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, a real-leather wheel, dual-zone climate control, proximity key and push-button start, blind-spot warning, wireless charging and perhaps most notably, the 12.3-inch touchscreen encased in that super-cool curved display casing. All that seems more than worth the EX’s $2,000 premium.
From there, the SX just looks sportier while adding a few token niceties like that curved display casing. The X-Line gets different bumpers, gloss black trim, exclusive wheels, raised roof rails and a tread-like pattern in its synthetic leather upholstery. It's the only trim level that can be paired with the Sportage plug-in hybrid. Basically, it looks more rugged, but functionally isn’t. The X Pro is, though only to an extent. Pictured below left, it gets B.F. Goodrich all-terrain tires, 17-inch matte black wheels and recalibrated drive mode settings for reduced traction condition.
All prices below include the $1,295 destination charge.
SX Prestige: $34,785
X-Line (AWD only): $32,085
X-Pro (AWD only): $36,285
X-Pro Prestige (AWD only): $38,085
Hybrid LX FWD: $28,585
Hybrid LX AWD: $30,385
EX AWD: $32,285 (pictured below right)
PHEV X-Line: $39,785
PHEV X-Line Prestige: $44,285
What are the Sportage safety ratings and driver assistance features?
Every 2023 Sportage includes as standard forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, rear parking sensors and a driver inattention warning system. All trim levels but the LX gain blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, and the Safe Exit Warning that uses the first two systems to warn occupants to not open their door in the event of cars or cyclists coming from the rear. Kia’s excellent Highway Driving Assist adaptive cruise control system with lane-centering steering assist is included on the SX and X-Pro trim levels.
The 2023 Sportage had not been crash tested by a third party at the time of this writing.
2023 Kia Sportage video review
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