By on May 3, 2022

I’ll admit it – I sometimes forget Kia’s Sportage exists.

That’s not because the current-generation Sportage is a bad vehicle. No, it’s because it competes in a crowded class and certain stalwarts and newcomers have commanded the market’s attention in recent years.

Enter the 2023 Kia Sportage. Thanks to a major redesign, this five-seat crossover is ready to ram its way back into the spotlight, for better or for worse.

There’s a plethora of choice when it comes to this new Sportage – gas, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid powertrains are available, and the Sportage can be had in one of at least seven available trim levels.

Kia invited me to the desert east of Los Angeles so that I could sample two specific Sportages – the “off-roader” X-Pro trim and the plug-less version of the hybrid.

At least, that was the plan, anyway. Somehow the swap got screwed up and my day was X-Pro heavy. Still, I had a chance to at least get a small sampling of the hybrid.

(Full disclosure: Kia PR flew me to Palm Springs, California, and fed and housed me for two nights in a lovely hotel. They offered a branded throw pillow I left behind, and a notebook and pen which I kept.)

A portion of the press briefing was given over to an introductory video that showcased the Sportage, and having not yet gotten a good look at the cars parked on-site, I found myself a bit alarmed by the design direction. I saw a little too much current Chevy Blazer. Kia folks did acknowledge that the design choices, at least in terms of exterior styling, were a bit contradictory, saying something about blending muscular, angular lines and sleeker curves.

All I knew is that, in pics at least, the new Sportage looked a bit odd to my eye.

Color me surprised, then, that I found the styling worked better in person. That’s true of both the X-Pro, which is meant to look more “rugged”, and the citified hybrid. We’re not talking head-turning handsome, here, but at the very least I’d not kick either one of these Sportages out of my garage. So to speak.

The X-Pro I spent most of my day in is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 187 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. It’s matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. While some gas Sportages come standard with front-wheel drive and offer all-wheel drive as an option, the X-Line and X-Pro trims come standard with AWD.

The X-Line is more show than go, offering different front and rear bumpers, a gloss black look for the roof rack, sideview mirrors, and window surrounds; raised roof-rack rails that are meant to better carry off-road gear; and 19-inch wheels.

The X-Pro gets a bit more serious, with BF Goodrich all-terrain rubber, 17-inch wheels, LED fog lamps, available LED projector headlights (standard on X-Pro Prestige models), heated windshield, off-road-tuned drive modes, two-tone roof, cooled front seats (Prestige), and 8-way power front passenger seat (Prestige).

Not exactly, as one of our off-road-track instructors said, “a Rubicon rolling on 35s.” Still, the X-Pro is capable of some light-duty off-road work. Kia set up an off-road course that showed off the off-road features such as hill-descent control, a forward-facing camera, and the locking AWD system, and the Sportage did just fine. You won’t be rock crawling, but if you need to traverse a dry creek bed to get to your favorite camping spot, you could do a lot worse than this rig.

We’ll pause here to note that the Sportage’s ground clearance has increased from 6.4 inches (6.8 with AWD) to 7.1 inches (8.3 with AWD). Meanwhile, the Sportage has grown in size – the overall length is 7.1 inches longer, with the wheelbase increasing by 3.4 inches. Height and width increase by half an inch. Perhaps most notable is the increase in cargo-area capacity to 39.6 cubic feet, a nearly 9 cubic-foot increase. The cargo floor is dual level.

On-road, the X-Pro isn’t too hampered by its all-terrain tires or any specific “off-road” tuning. It is, however, hampered by the fact it’s a crossover. No one expects these things to be fun, and the Sportage X-Pro isn’t particularly exciting, though it is competent.

The ride quality on smooth California roads was stiff but pleasant – though, as always, I’d like to see how this thing behaves on pock-marked pavement.

I wasn’t pushing super hard, because crossover, but on the one or two occasions I came into a corner a little too hot I experienced easily controlled understeer. I’ll give kudos to the steering – it was nicely weighted, though still artificial in feel. Flicking the drive-mode selector into Sport mode improved the proceedings – the previously sluggish throttle response livened up. Overall, this Sportage’s acceleration was fine for around-town driving and acceptable for the mountains, but it should be noted that the hybrid offers more guts, as we’ll see later.

The cabin will look familiar to those who’ve spent time in Kia and Hyundai products recently – there’s the sweeping dash that integrates the infotainment system nicely, and there are familiar-looking digital gauges and even a couple of actual knobs.

A ha, but there’s some trickery afoot. The knobs appear to be for climate control temperature adjustments, but wait! Press a button and now they control radio volume and tuning. And the HVAC display disappears, bringing up the home menu for the infotainment.

It’s an elegant solution but it takes some getting used to – forget to switch the system over, and you can find yourself cranking the heat when you meant to crank “The Heat is On”.

You might need to crank the Glenn Frey at higher speeds – while the cabin is mostly quiet, some wind noise from around the A-pillar flares up during highway driving.

While the plug-in hybrid isn’t yet available, the “regular” hybrid is, and I did manage to get my grubby mitts on one for a few minutes of drive time. The hybrid system seemed smooth and quiet in operation, at least around town, and the hybrid rode a bit better than the X-Pro, thanks to the change to more street-friendly rubber. Although, again, California roads are a bit like a cheat code.

I can’t speak much about the hybrid’s handling, since my drive route was mostly on the urban grid, but the one curve I encountered – and took fairly aggressively – caused the tires to sing at around 20-25 mph. For reference, the hybrid rides on 17s.

I risked an encounter with local law enforcement to give the hybrid a heavy dose of my right foot, and I found that the powertrain has some guts, though there’s a slight delay before the power comes on. The hybrid system here uses a 1.6-liter turbo-four mated to a 44-kilowatt electric motor, and the total system output is 277 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a six-speed automatic.

Differences behind the powertrain include a circular shift knob instead of a T-handle, different layouts for the digital gauges, a different grille, different daytime running lights, and minor styling differences.

Hybrids are offered in three trims (LX, EX, and SX-Prestige), with base pricing starting at $27,290 before the $1,255 destination fee. A loaded SX-Prestige hybrid with AWD will cost you $36,190 before destination.

Standard or available features on models with either powertrain include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 360-degree camera, premium audio, Bluetooth with multi-device capability, wireless device charging, Wi-Fi hotspot, navigation, satellite radio, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, and cupholders that can be adjusted to accommodate larger devices, such as tablets.

Available driver-aid tech includes: Driver-attention warning, lane-keep assist, lane-following assist, high-beam assist, forward-collision avoidance with cyclist detection, rear-occupant alert, blind-spot monitoring, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic avoidance assist, speed-limit warning assist, and smart cruise control.

Base Sportages start at $25,990 and a top-trim vehicle will cost you $36,790, again before destination. An X-Pro Prestige AWD I tested cost $38,555 with options and destination.

Fuel economy is listed by the EPA at 25/32/28 for FWD gas models, 23/28/25 for AWD gas models, 38/38/38 for AWD hybrids, and 42/44/43 for FWD hybrids.

Overall, the package here is solid and priced fairly in line with the competition. The exterior styling is more attractive in person than in pictures, the interior is well-done, and the driving experience, while unremarkable, won’t let you down.

That’s the good news – and the bad news. The 2023 Kia Sportage does a lot of things well, and it’s a perfectly competent vehicle. But with the exception of its looks, it doesn’t really stand out over the competition.

Sportage buyers will likely be happy. And I won’t forget this one exists, so at least there’s that.

[Images © 2022 Tim Healey/TTAC, Kia]

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37 Comments on “2023 Kia Sportage First Drive – Looking for Attention...”


  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Is your phone camera broken, or is the Sportage just that ugly?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    A mini Telluride.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      Certainly not in the looks department. I’d probably buy one if it looked like a mini Telluride. This thing has a front end only a mother could love.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    Not liking the DLO at the rear quarter.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “but at the very least I’d not kick either one of these Sportages out of my garage. So to speak.”

    What about the exterior styling did you like?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    So it’s a few inches bigger all around than the old one which I cannot even remember spotting, but for some reason the actual sizes aren’t mentioned, nor the weights. So I haven’t a clue what size it is or who its “competitors” are. Nice review, ahem.

    The same old hoary H/K 2.4l engine is standard, the one that ate its conrod bearings for years, and the 1.6 turbo buzzer is in the hybrid and not well integrated with the electrics. That’s been true for years as well for this H/K combo.

    The interior looks cheap, especially the door cards, the exterior is, uh, there. The whole thing reeks of ordinariness and could be mistaken for a Mitsubishi.

    What’s the use of it? Why would anyone buy this over its non-stated competition? Boring beyond belief, another in the pantheon of undistinguished two box crossovers that have brought the entire automotive world to gray nothingness. Not an interesting bone in its body, a total snore.

    I think I’ll do something interesting now and have a nap.

  • avatar
    Keith Tomas

    I prefer the styling of the previous version. Like a pug – so ugly that it’s beautiful. You couldn’t mistake it for anything else on the road. Now, it looks like all of the other compact crossover models from other manufacturers.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “Discover KN: Movement that inspires”

    The movement around the Sportage inspires me to leave my checkbook safely at home.

    The other day I had to leave the house to purchase gasoline and I was idling at a traffic light doing my part for the destruction of the planet and the light turned green and I heard a vehicle start next to me (almost sounded like a Mopar starter – ick!) and I glanced over and realized I was in the presence of a Telluride and my ego sagged but then I remembered that my ancient sedan has a better torque-to-curb-weight ratio and I felt slightly better until I remembered who is running the country – not to get political.

    Anyway that 2023 Sportage C-D pillar area looks like a bunker. Speaking of bunkers:
    https://youtu.be/sxOO0hCCSk4

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    When most car companies have a vehicle that wins praise for design, they use it to influence the rest of their lineup. It becomes their theme.

    Kia has a winner in Telluride. Exterior and interior it works. It looks tough outside and unique. Inside, it is functional and not trendy and trying too hard.

    Yet here comes this new strange aggregation of design cues outside and some Genesis bits inside. Nothing like Telluride outside. Why? Does Kia not have one design department head or many? Inside where is the normal shifter? That rotary knob is a mess. And those LCDs instead of knobs and buttons. They messed it up.

    Thankfully there is Toyota RAV-4 that not only is best quality and reliability and hybrids, but designed for humans.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      I certainly won’t disagree about the RAV-4, but the Sportage is usually one’s 2nd or 3rd choice if a RAV-4 isn’t available for whatever reason (credit rating, supply issues, price premium). That said, if the top tier Sportage is $32k and the Toyota $42k, that’s a decent chunk of change.

      That the Kia has pushed itself into the bottom of the 1st tier (CR-V, Mazda CX5, Nissan Rogue) and above the 2nd tier (Escape, Outlander, Cherokee, Trailblazer) is remarkable.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “is usually one’s 2nd or 3rd choice”

        My son works at the local Kia dealership. They run out of inventory quickly due to brisk sales. People are flocking to them for multiple reasons other than being someone’s first choice. The main reasons given: 1. They don’t play games with markups and add-ons, 2. Competitors are out of stock, 3. One can buy a new Kia for the same price as a comparable used vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          tonycd

          “The main reasons given: 1. They don’t play games with markups and add-ons, 2. Competitors are out of stock, 3. One can buy a new Kia for the same price as a comparable used vehicle.”

          That would be the law firm of Price, Price & Price.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @Tonycd – true but people appreciate leaving a dealership and not having the urge to run home and shower off the slime.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          First off, kudos to your son – it sounds like his employer has some integrity. The closest Kia/Ford/Mazda/Toyota dealership to me (all separate buildings but the same owner group) is a cesspool of add-ons and closing games. Only the ill-informed go there.

          But if other brand dealerships had inventory, would Kia have been their first choice?

    • 0 avatar
      Skippity

      Scotty?

    • 0 avatar
      xantia10000

      Telluride is basically a US-only design / model. Sportage is global — popular in Europe, Korea and also sold in the US. That may be why the styling is different between the two models.

      N.B., Toyota models don’t relate at all to each other — RAV4 isn’t like a mini Land Cruiser or anything…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I fell in love with the ‘teardrop” Sportage style from a decade ago, but it has gradually become less tasteful to me, and this one is downright nasty.

    Kia is going through an awkward styling transition. The Telluride is clean, but this is a mess. Meanwhile, the logo change is terrible. Oddly, the new EV-6 doesn’t even have the tiger nose, so is that the future, or just a one-off? And the great Optima name got replaced with the non-descript “K5”.

    I’m also shocked at the fuel economy; my Santa Fe 2.5T 8-spd DCT is rated at 21/28, and is a larger, quicker vehicle than this.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I don’t know how manufacturers can do these introductions with a straight face anymore. They will only build 15,000 of these, citing supply constraints. Your local KIA dealer will add $10,000 to the MSRP, citing supply constraints, and you will be greeted at the door by a salesperson holding a “four-square” paper.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    New vehicle price quotes these days are a joke given the rampant and possibly semi-permanent four-figure dealer markups contaminating the market.

    I’ve already seen a ton of new Sportages on local roads and can imagine every last one of their owners paying well over MSRP for the privilege.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Having just bought a new car in March, I encountered only one dealer (out of maybe 6-7 I was checking with) who was marking up. I paid MSRP (Hyundai).

      I’ve actually heard ads again for pricing below MSRP, and a friend had a Honda dealer (hard to imagine) quote him a below-list price for a new Ridgeline.

      I suspect the ADMs are drying up since dealers realize people shop around. You’d have to be pretty constrained by time or geography to pay above list, or 110% committed to a particularly rare vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        Secret Hi5

        There’s factory MSRP, and then there’s dealer “MSRP.” The latter includes dealer-installed accessories like nitrogen, PPF, tinting, VIN etching. So, even if there’s no straight-up dealer markup, it’s disguised as overpriced add-ons.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Ugh…what an ugly POS. The automotive equivelant of wearing sweat pants to Wal Mart and letting the world know you’ve given up

  • avatar
    crtfour

    That’s terrible looking, and even available in JB Weld gray.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      Kia and Hyundai seem to be going in big on the awful “colors”. I just don’t get the appeal of “JB Weld Gray”, AKA (In Mopar) “Destroyer Gray”. Even worse than the (IMO) awful F8 Green. Both would be a deal killer for me.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    There are KIA dealers around me that advertise they sell at MSRP-only to add certain items amounting to about $1,000.00 over the MSRP. So-it’s the vehicle-let’s say $45,000.00 but you have to buy the alarm and protection package for the other $1,000.00

    I had a discussion about this over text with the dealer salesperson. After some back and forth-he said “at least we give you something for the additional $1,000.00 where some dealers just add it as an ADM”.

    OK……..

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I’d rather just pay the grand for nothing than have some chucklehead cut up my car’s wiring harness to install whatever the absolute cheapest alarm they could find that is only going to go off at 2AM for God knows why and ensure my whole neighborhodd hates me.

      Besides, who is going to steal this $#!tbox. I’d pay someone to take it away.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      In my part of the woods most of the dealerships tack on a “northern package” of undercoat, fabric protectant, mudflaps and that sort of nonsense. Some charge big bucks for it. I’ve seen a range of $750 to $1,500.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    This is a rather offensive looking unit, isn’t it? The side profile reminds me alot of a 2012 Hyundai Accent for some reason. I think it’s the absurdly high, uphill beltline in relation to the tires that kills me about the side view. The front is a whole ‘nuther level of jackassery.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I thought the top pictured grey one with all the cheap looking black plastic bits was the base model. The blue one looks far better and it is strange how Kia is making the hybrid versions the best looking of the lot with the regular gas engine versions look lower rent.

    All versions need a front end redesign and Hyundai/Kia need to figure out how to make the new 2.5 more efficient as the volume AWD models are rated at a lackluster 23/28 which is miles behind much of its competition.

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