2023 Kia Sportage
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First Drive: 2023 Kia Sportage Review

The new, fifth-generation Kia Sportage leapfrogs its predecessor thanks to a much stiffer architecture, a roomy, technologically advanced cabin, and a choice of two electrified powertrains. Canada Drives puts Kia’s long-running compact SUV to the test.

Key Features:

  • Two electrified powertrains
  • Spacious cabin
  • Technologically advanced and highly refined

Direct Competitors:

  • Toyota RAV4
  • Honda CR-V
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Ford Escape
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • GMC Terrain
  • Volkswagen Tiguan

When Kia hit the Canadian market at the turn of the millennium, it only sold two models: the Sephia compact sedan and the Sportage compact SUV. Back then, the Sportage was a rudimentary body on frame adventure-ready trucklet that sort of looked like a Lada Niva. Build quality, refinement and technology were not part of the equation.

In the span of only two decades, the Sportage evolved to the point of becoming a serious threat to segment leaders from Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Nissan. What should we expect from the fifth generation Sportage that Kia is preparing for the 2023 model year? We flew down to Victoria, BC, to drive it during its Canadian launch to find out.

New Sportage pricing and rivals

The Sportage could very well be Kia’s most important vehicle as it sits in what is arguably the most lucrative segment right now, the compact SUV category. This means the Sportage faces a wide range of capable contenders, things like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Cherokee, GMC Terrain, and Volkswagen Tiguan.

2023 Sportage | Photo: Kia 

Sportage hybrid models new for 2023

To take them all on, Kia has meticulously arranged the new Sportage’s trim hierarchy to meet different budgets and needs. There’s a total of six trim levels to choose from: LX FWD, LX AWD, X-Line, EX, EX Premium and X-Line Limited, with pricing ranging between $28,395 and $40,995 before freight and applicable taxes. 

Kia also adds an all-new hybrid model. It’s available in EX ($35,995) and SX ($42,695) trims. And this summer, a plug-in hybrid variant will be added to the lineup, but Kia still hasn’t announced pricing for that one.

Interior of the redesigned 2023 Sportage

The Sportage not only changes outside thanks to an all-new, polarizing design, but it changes inside as well. Considerably larger than its predecessor thanks to an all-new N3 platform that stretches the wheelbase 85 mm, the 2023 Kia Sportage boasts a highly modern and technologically advanced cabin. 

2023 Sportage | Photo: Kia 

All models get a fully digital dashboard displayed through one giant tablet. While entry level models make do with a 4.2-inch digital gauge cluster and an 8-inch infotainment system, high-end models get a 12.3-inch + 12.3-inch setup.

Inside the premium Sportage X-Line Limited

The Sportage X-Line Limited we were driving looked and felt like a premium vehicle inside, with impeccable fit and finish, high quality materials such as convincing fake wood and quilted leather, as well as neat design cues. 

The front seats are thick, supportive, and incorporate a coat hanger on the rear of their headrest. It’s a handy feature when the kids get inside from fooling around in the rain.

Significantly improved cargo space

Rear leg and head clearance in a Sportage is massive thanks to that stretched wheelbase. The seats themselves also have a reclining feature, which adds comfort. Cargo space is up there among the segment leaders, too. 

2023 Sportage | Photo: Kia 

While the last Sportage sat in the smallish side of the category with its meager 1,703 liters of total cargo (with seatbacks folded flat), this new Sportage flexes a gargantuan 2,098 liters of total cargo room.

Performance and Driving Impressions

The new Sportage’s base engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s good for 187 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it can be fitted with front or all-wheel drive.

Standard all-wheel drive

The hybrid version utilizes an electrified and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that churns out a combined output of 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The plug-in hybrid uses an even more powerful version of that same engine that’s good for 261 combined horsepower and 258 lb-ft of combined torque. Both are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard.

2023 Sportage | Photo: Kia 

Our time with the Sportage was only spent with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder as Kia Canada didn’t have hybrids or PHEVs at their disposal during the event. 

Compact SUV with sporty handling but lacks power

The Sportage is smooth, quiet, and refined, feeling like a vehicle costing several thousands of dollars more. Its chassis rigidity is stellar, allowing it to take on beaten roads without flinching. We did however find its suspension damping to be too stiff considering its target demographic. This does allow the Sportage to feel sporty on a winding road, but we’re not convinced a young family will appreciate the bumpy ride due to all the stiffness.

Finally, we weren’t too impressed by the 2.5-liter engine’s overall performance. Not only does it lack serious punch to propel a vehicle of this size and weight, but fuel economy was also only fine during our drive. We recorded a 10.6L/100 km average, a number that isn’t exactly class-leading.

It’s obvious that the Sportage was created to be hybridized, and we’re convinced the addition of an electric motor will fix these issues. But we feel Kia could have offered a turbocharged engine as the base powertrain for added punch off the line.

2023 Sportage | Photo: Kia 

Verdict: Is the 2023 Kia Sportage worth it?

The new Kia Sportage leapfrogs its predecessor thanks to a much stiffer architecture, a roomy, technologically advanced cabin, and a choice of two electrified powertrains. In a segment where Honda and Nissan still don’t offer a hybrid option, Kia takes the lead by offering consumers two flavours of electrification to rank alongside its sister brand Hyundai, Toyota and Ford. 

We feel that the Sportage is good enough to be considered over segment leaders like a RAV4, a CR-V and a Rogue, especially considering how much SUV you’ll be getting for your hard-earned dollar. It’s yet another home run from a South-Korean brand.

Buying a used compact SUV? Shop our inventory of certified, used sport utilities here.

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