2023 Kia Sportage Review:Driving Impressions

Beverly Braga, Independent Expert | May 02, 2022

Introduction - Find the best Kia deals!

The Kia Sportage compact crossover SUV is the South Korean automaker’s longest-running nameplate in the United States. Not only is the model’s longevity significant, but so are its sales. In 2021, Kia enjoyed its best-ever sales year. The Sportage was Kia’s best-selling crossover and the brand’s second-best-selling model, just ahead of the Kia Telluride. Not bad for the “old guy.”

 Now in its fifth generation, the 2023 Kia Sportage is redesigned to be even better. The all-new Sportage adds new off-road-inspired X-Line and X-Pro trim levels, is available in hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants, debuts new infotainment and safety technologies, and, for the first time, will be manufactured in the U.S.

2023 Kia Sportage Price and Release Date - Find the best Kia deals!

On sale now, the gasoline-powered 2023 Kia Sportage is built in West Point, Georgia, alongside the K5 midsize sedanSorento midsize crossover, and Telluride upper midsize crossover. Kia manufactures the Sportage Hybrid and Sportage PHEV in South Korea. Like the gasoline model, the Sportage Hybrid is on sale now, while the PHEV model will arrive in dealerships later this year. This driving impression review will focus on the Kia Sportage outfitted with a traditional internal combustion gasoline engine.

Kia offers the 2023 Sportage in seven trim levels: LX, EX, X-Line, SX, SX-Prestige, X-Pro, and X-Pro Prestige. Although the crossover is available in front-wheel- (FWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD) configurations, X-Line, X-Pro, and X-Pro Prestige trims are AWD only.

Kia equips all 2023 Sportage SUVs with a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. This is barely a boost compared to the previous model, which offered 181 hp and 175 pound-feet from a 2.4-liter inline-4 powertrain. A new 8-speed automatic transmission replaces the outgoing 6-speed automatic.

Pricing starts at $27,245 (including the $1,255 destination fee) for the entry-level Sportage LX FWD. The highest-priced FWD model is the SX-Prestige, at $34,745. All-wheel drive for LX, EX, SX, and SX-Prestige trims is an extra $1,800. The new Sportage X-Line AWD starts at $32,045, while the X-Pro Prestige tops out at $38,045 before options and accessories.

For this review, I test drove a top-of-the-line Sportage X-Pro Prestige optioned in premium Jungle Green paint and a two-tone black roof ($395). Carpeted floor mats were also extra, adding $155 to the price tag. The total MSRP came to $38,555.

Independent Expert Opinion: Design, Comfort, and Utility - Find the best Kia deals!

2023 Kia Sportage X-Pro Prestige Front Quarter View

Photo: Beverly Braga

Sitting on a new platform (codenamed N3) that it shares with the Sorento, the Sportage is all grown up. Once the smallest model in the compact crossover utility vehicle (CUV) segment, the Kia Sportage is now the largest. Its wheelbase is now 108.5 inches—an increase of 3.4 inches from the previous generation. Compared to the outgoing model, the new Sportage is also longer, wider, and taller, but its front and rear overhangs are shorter, which affords the SUV improved approach and departure angles.

This also means the 2023 Sportage offers more interior space than before. Best-in-class space, to be exact. Legroom measures almost even for front and rear occupants at 41.4 and 41.3 inches, respectively. Although front legroom is 0.1 inches less than the previous model year, rear passengers gain 3.1 inches for class-leading space to stretch out.

In Sportages without a sunroof, headroom increases from 39.3 inches to 39.6 inches in the front and from 39.1 inches to 39.4 inches in the rear. Even with the panoramic sunroof, headroom gains are 0.2 and 0.1 inches in the front and back.

For added utility, the all-new Sportage offers a dual-level cargo floor and 29-percent more capacity behind the second-row seats. With up to 39.6 cubic feet of storage space (versus last year’s 30.7), the Sportage is now a segment leader when it comes to how much stuff you can carry. With the second row folded down, cargo capacity is now 74.1 cubic feet. Previously, the SUV had 60.1 cubic feet.

Oh, of course, there’s more. Kia increased ground clearance across the Sportage lineup. Previously 6.4 inches for FWD models and 6.8 inches for AWD models, the new Sportage enjoys a minimum ground clearance of 7.1 inches, with AWD models increasing to 8.3 inches.

Kia presents all these large-scale changes in a ruggedly handsome design. As if to further showcase the model’s capabilities, Kia set aside the softness that was once present in previous generations for chiseled, angular features. Bolder and boxier in appearance, the new Sportage’s presence is more befitting of off-road adventures. Especially in the X-Pro trim, with its standard BF Goodrich all-terrain tires, the Sportage looks eager to get out of the city. Even more so to escape suburbia.

In an interesting dichotomy, the Sportage’s cabin takes the opposite approach. Where the exterior’s tough and rugged features are apparent, the Sportage’s interior is welcoming and premium. Cloth seats are standard on the base LX trim, whereas Kia uses SynTex artificial leather upholstery for all other trim levels. Premium SynTex is an available option starting on the SX but is standard on SX-Prestige trim and above. I found the premium-upholstered seats to be well-bolstered and comfortable against which to lean my back. However, the seat bottom cushion lacked support and was as comfortable as a brick with an old towel on top.

That said, there are plenty of soft-touch surfaces, like padded armrests on the doors and center console. Also, depending on the trim, Kia uses various dashboard design materials, from metal to wood. There’s also heavy use of piano black surfaces, which are always great for an upscale look…until dirt, dust, and grime invariably appear within seconds.

Independent Expert Opinion: Infotainment, Technology, and Safety - Find the best Kia deals!

2023 Kia Sportage X-Pro Prestige Interior Dashboard

Photo: Beverly Braga

Standard in-vehicle technology includes a 12.2-inch information screen that features a 4.2-inch instrument cluster. An 8-inch infotainment touchscreen display featuring Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, HD Radio, and voice recognition is also standard. Newly available in the Sportage is a 24.6-inch panoramic curved display. A premium feature typically found in more expensive and larger vehicles, this new screen seamlessly integrates a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 12.3-inch infotainment display into a single driver information cockpit. Starting on EX trim, drivers can further customize the display to store personalized profiles.

The new center console also features fewer buttons. A touchpad-type fascia replaces the traditional buttons and knobs used for climate control and quick access to screens for audio, navigation, settings, etc. Instead, a multi-function knob on each end borders the touchpad, which alternates touchscreens between climate and menus. For example, in climate mode, the knobs will adjust the temperature for the driver (left) and the front passenger (right). When viewing the main menu, the left knob controls the audio volume. It’s a clever way to offer easy access to settings while also cleaning up the center console design.

The 2023 Sportage also becomes the first Kia model to introduce the Kia Connect telematics suite, a new operating system that replaces UVO. With the optional Wi-Fi hotspot (a Sportage first), owners can connect up to five devices. Also available on the new Sportage is wireless device charging, front and rear USB-C charging ports, and a Harman Kardon premium audio system.

Premium technology doesn’t end with the infotainment system. All-new advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) are available on the Sportage for the first time, including a 360-degree, 3-dimensional bird’s-eye-view monitor. Utilizing the touchscreen, you can manually maneuver the vehicle image to see your surroundings better.

Standard ADAS include:

Available safety features are as follows:

Independent Expert Opinion: Driving the 2023 Kia Sportage - Find the best Kia deals!

2023 Kia Sportage X-Pro Prestige Rear Quarter View

Photo: Beverly Braga

Kia refers to its X-Line and X-Pro trims as “trail-ready.” After putting about 45 miles of on- and off-road mileage on the new Sportage X-Pro Prestige, I can confirm that’s not just marketing fluff. The Sportage X-Pro is a competent AWD adventurer. X-Line models certainly look the part with standard AWD, gloss-black sporty design bits, roof rails, and 19-inch wheels, but the X-Pro comes with standard all-terrain tires instead of all-season ones. Also standard on the X-Pro are LED fog lights, a heated windshield, specifically tuned multi-terrain drive modes, and an exclusive two-tone color scheme. X-Pro Prestige models add comfort features like ventilated front seats and an 8-way power front passenger seat. But does it all matter? On a windy, dusty off-road course, yes, it does.

Set to Normal drive mode, the Sportage X-Pro handled angles of 20 degrees uphill, 36 degrees downhill, and 23 degrees of side slope. With those deep-tread B.F. Goodrich tires, the Sportage held its grip like a bug in a sticky fly trap. The course would prove elementary for, say, a Jeep Wrangler or Land Rover, but was plenty technical for small AWD crossovers like the Sportage and Subaru Forester, with which the X-Pro lineup would directly compete.

The Sportage was just as confident on sweeping curves of soft dirt, maintaining traction to hold the corner at speed with little drama. Even when just tooling about an unpaved road, the suspension tuning was surprisingly comfortable and compliant. Would I feel so sure of my (and the vehicle’s) ability behind the wheel of a Honda CR-VNissan Rogue, or Toyota RAV4? Honestly, probably not.

The on-road manners of the Sportage X-Pro are an entirely different matter. As is typical of any vehicle with all-terrain tires, there’s a lot of road noise. The suspension was not as smooth, the vehicle rode tall, and the 8.3 inches of ground clearance subjected the Sportage to a disproportionate amount of body roll. Coupled with a numb steering feel and uninspiring power delivery, the Sportage X-Pro is underwhelming. It genuinely prefers to be off the pavement rather than on.

However, these quibbles are specific to the Sportage X-Pro, which Kia designed and tuned with a purpose. Other Sportage trims will definitely offer a quieter ride, but the powerband will likely be the same. Also, the gearing felt a bit off in that the Sportage was in no hurry to get anywhere.

Independent Expert Opinion of the 2023 Kia Sportage - Find the best Kia deals!

The Kia Sportage may be the baby brother to the Sorento and Telluride, but its looks, capability, and technology make it a problematic sibling to ignore. A massive, curved driver display? That’s easily found within the cabin of luxury brands and in larger models, not so much in a mass-market, value-oriented small CUV. As for the 3D vehicle view? It’s not a feature readily found within this segment, either. The off-road prowess of the new Sportage X-Pro also is more than the typical Sportage driver needs. But for those just-in-case moments or on-purpose adventures, the vehicle delivers.

The Sportage goes above and beyond what consumers might expect within the compact crossover segment, which, ironically, is the largest vehicle class in terms of model offerings. The new Sportage has set itself up for even more years of success by adding hybrid and PHEV models into the fold.

Beverly Braga is a freelance writer and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a storyteller and communications professional. In addition to JDPower.com, her work has appeared in numerous print and digital outlets covering the automotive, entertainment, lifestyle, and food & beverage industries.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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