Flash Drive: 2023 Kia Sportage

Something for Everyone

When Kia says the 2023 Sportage is all-new, believe them. But it is more than a larger and more capable Sportage, now in its fifth generation and Kia’s longest-running model, but one that offers three propulsion systems, including the X-Pro trail-rated model for those who want to go off-roading.

Kia recently invited members of the automotive press to drive the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid and X-Pro in sunny Palm Springs, California. This Flash Drive will touch on both models, which are significantly different vehicles, spotlighting the Sportage Hybrid. Clean Fleet Report will have detailed reviews of the Sportage gasoline, hybrid and eventually the plug-in hybrid in the coming months.

2023 Kia Sportage
Redone and expanded

Powertrain Mix

Sportage LX, EX, SX, SX Prestige

Front-Wheel Drive (FWD)

2.5-Liter Inline 4-cylinder, Gasoline

8-speed automatic transmission

187 horsepower (hp) and 178 pound-feet of torque (lb.-ft.)

Fuel Economy: 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined

2023 Kia Sportage
Ready for real off-roading

Sportage X-Line, X-Pro, X-Pro Prestige

All-Wheel Drive (AWD)

2.5-Liter Inline 4-cylinder, Gasoline

8-speed automatic transmission

187 hp and 178 lb.-ft. torque

EPA Fuel Economy: 23 mpg city/28 highway/25 combined

Sportage Hybrid

FWD and AWD

1.6-Liter Inline 4-cylinder Turbo+44 kilowatt (kW) motor, Gasoline-Electric

6-speed automatic transmission

227 hp and 258 lb.-ft. torque

1.49 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery

EPA Fuel Economy: Up to 42 mpg city/44 hwy/43 combined (FWD)

Sportage Plug-In Hybrid

FWD and AWD

1.6-Liter Inline 4-cylinder Turbo+66.9 kW motor, Gasoline-Electric

6-speed automatic transmission with shift-by-wire

261 hp and 258 lb.-ft. torque

13.8 kWh battery

EPA Fuel Economy: TBD, should be similar to hybrid; 32-mile all-electric range

Sportage Hybrid: On-Road Driving Enjoyment

2023 Kia Sportage
Ready to tackle the ups & downs

It is no surprise the all-new 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid was a fine experience on the road, as all Kia hybrids Clean Fleet Report has tested have been praise worthy. Departing the Kimpton Rowan Hotel in downtown Palm Springs, we headed-up the Palms To Pines Highway (California Highway 74) that starts at 250-foot elevation and crests at 6,500. Climbing and descending this twisting road would be a true test for any car, SUV or truck, but when testing a hybrid there is an extra check on the performance the electric motor adds to the gasoline engine.

In the case of the Sportage Hybrid, that performance was easily noticeable as it delivered smooth seamless power. The handling, with the center of gravity dropped by the low placement of the batteries and utilizing the E-Handling technology, was positive and direct and would only be enhanced if the all-season tires would be replaced with summer tires. But, since Kia did not design nor is marketing the Sportage Hybrid as a sport compact crossover, we were perfectly satisfied with its handling and cornering abilities.

Cornering is only as good as the brakes, and the regenerative system on the Sportage Hybrid was near perfect. Regenerative braking uses the electric motor to convert kinetic energy into electric energy when applying the brakes or coasting and stores it in the battery. The Sportage was set to a medium regeneration force, delivering an assist to the brakes. Merely lifting off the accelerator pedal was plenty to slow the Sportage on many corners.

 Hybrid Smooth Operator

The 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine is mated to a 44-kWh electric motor that is powered by a 1.49-kWh lithium-ion battery. There are driver-selectable drive modes of Eco, Smart, Sport and Snow (the latter is on AWD models only). Eco is the default setting for the best fuel economy in the hybrid system with Sport mode producing a quicker transmission response and the most spirited driving, good for 0-60 times around 7.65 seconds.

2023 Kia Sportage
Dino-mite on the road

As we descended the all-downhill 43 miles on CA 243 from Idyllwild to the Cabazon Dinosaurs, we reveled in the fast regeneration of the battery and also the efficiency of Kia hybrid system. We were able to travel up to 60 mph with the tachometer pegged at zero, meaning, of course, the gasoline part of the hybrid system was not running, and we were cruising on full electricity.

The 6-speed automatic transmission is invisible with its shifts, making us think we were driving a CVT. We took advantage of this quiet drive through the pine trees to open the panoramic sunroof and enjoy near silent cruising. There are many reasons for owning a car with some sort of electrification–not hearing an engine running is one of them.

On our 60-mile drive in the Sportage Hybrid we averaged 45 mpg. This exceeded the EPA estimate of 43 mpg, which is always a satisfying feeling, especially in a crossover weighing 3,834 pounds. This EPA rating is higher than the Sportage hybrid’s key compact crossover competitors of the Ford Escape Hybrid, Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and the Honda CR-V Hybrid.

 New Design: Out and In

2023 Kia Sportage
Room for adults

The Kia Sportage has been completely redesigned for 2023 and comes in seven trims over two models. The LX, EX, SX, and SX Prestige carry a more elegant look, while the trail-ready trims of X-Line, X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige are more rugged with increased ground clearance of 8.3-inches versus 7.1-inches.

All models are longer, taller and wider than the outgoing Sportage, resulting in class-leading rear-seat leg room and rear cargo space. All retain the brand’s signature Tiger Nose grille with boomerang daytime running lights being a key design feature. The rear gets arrow-shaped LED taillights that are connected across the hands-free power lift gate by a thin black graphic strip.

The most dominant feature on the rear is the deep set panel that is covered in black cladding, sitting above a dual “C” shaped chrome fascia. We liked this design best with the dark exterior colors of Fusion Black, Gravity Gray, Shadow Matte Gray and the very attractive Jungle Green that is only available on the Sportage X-Pro Prestige AWD model. The color palette is completed with Steel Gray, Snow White Pearl, Vesta Blue and Dawning Red.

Welcoming Interior

Climbing inside the highly featured Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige, the cabin is clean, well thought-out and modern. The tasteful combination of hard and soft plastic materials, piano black surfaces, and brushed aluminum trim nicely complemented the Carmine Red seats covered in SynTex, a synthetic leather material that is soft to the touch, resists spills and is easy to clean.

2023 Kia Sportage
Sleek new insides, too

The low profile, no-nonsense dash houses a 12.3-inch sleekly curved thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display that, without a break, includes the instrument cluster and the color touchscreen with navigation, the rear view camera and Kia Connect, which provides access to vehicle systems, including remote start and remote charging.

The great-sounding 8-speaker, 315-watt Harman Kardon audio system with a subwoofer plays AM/FM/SiriusXM and includes wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The steering wheel has controls for audio, smartphone integration with Bluetooth and the adaptive cruise control. Wireless phone charging is a convenient touch, but note the USB front and rear ports are C-type, meaning you may need to purchase an A-to-C adapter cord for charging and streaming.

Kia has a clever design to go between the dual-zone climate controls and infotainment controls. On the narrow horizontal screen below the main touch screen, when pressing the capacitive touch points for the temperature and fan, the radio controls appear, which include volume and channel knobs. This space saver had a short learning curve, quickly showing its benefits.

The heated and ventilated front seats were comfortable. The driver gets 10-way power adjustments with lumbar, while the passenger gets 8-way power adjustments. The padded center console has deep storage.

The 7.1 inches of ground clearance provided a clear outlook on the road. Even with the power sunroof, there is ample headroom for two six-footers in the heated rear seats. The rear passengers get a center armrest with cup holders and HVAC vents, but no USB charge ports. If there are no passengers out back, drop the 60/40 split rear seat and the storage area not only increases, but is ready to load cargo through the easy access large hatch opening.

Sportage X-Pro: Very Capable Off-Road

Where the 2.5L gas-powered Sportage X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige shine is off-road; not rock crawling, but find a fire road, dirt road to a mountain lake or even some beach cruising, and the X-Pro is very capable.

Off-road cred comes from the 8.3-inch ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs, low numbers for the approach, departure and breakover angle, multi-terrain drive modes tuned for maximum traction and the very serious BF Goodrich 235/65 all-terrain tires mounted on 17-inch matte-black off-road wheels. Multiple cameras show the ground at each wheel, plus front and rear views.

Design-wise, the X-Pro has a more rugged appearance than the Hybrid, with raised roof rack rails, LED fog and projector headlights for improved nighttime vision, front and rear bumpers with a skid plate-shaped design and unique tread-like stitching on the seats.

Safety and Warranties

 The Sportage comes standard with dual front, dual seat-mounted side, driver’s knee, and full-length side curtain airbags, vehicle stability management, traction control, hill start assist, a tire pressure monitoring system and an engine immobilizer.

2023 Kia Sportage
The tires were a compromise, but did the job

The extensive list of advanced driver safety assistance system (ADAS) includes a 360-degree surround view camera, blind spot monitor and avoidance, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert and automatic braking, and the Safe Exit Warning alert.

The 2023 Kia Sportage comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain                    10 years/100,000 miles
  • Battery                           10 years/100,000 miles *Hybrid model only*
  • Basic                               Five years/60,000 miles 
  • Roadside Assistance    Five years/60,000 miles 
  • Anti-perforation           Five years/100,000 miles

Pricing

The 2023 Sportage comes with these base prices, including the mandatory $1,255 destination charge, ranging from $27,245 to $38,045. The pricing is for the two models covered above.

2023 Kia Sportage
Yes, we got dirty

Sportage Hybrid

LX FWD             $28,515

LX AWD             $30,345

EX                        $37,725

SX-Prestige        $37,725

Sportage X-Pro

X-Pro                     $36,245

X-Pro Prestige     $38,045

Observations: 2023 Kia Sportage

 Clean Fleet Report had no idea when we went to the media launch program in Palm Springs we would be driving two different models of the same vehicle. How different are they? If you are looking primarily for an on-road compact crossover that gets stellar fuel economy, the 2023 Sportage Hybrid is for you. If frequent medium-style off-road excursions are your thing, the Sportage X-Pro should be on your shopping list.

2023 Kia Sportage
Moving up to the head of hybrid pack

The Sportage Hybrid offers versatility, a solid ride, comfortable seats, standard safety equipment a great warranty, comes in front- and all-wheel drive, and is competitively priced against its compact crossover hybrid competitors.  The Sportage X-Pro is equally as versatile for passengers and their gear, but not as fuel efficient, giving the option of getting dirty, muddy, or covered in snow with a grin on your face.

So which 2023 Kia Sportage is right for you? As of May 2022, the X-Line and X-Pro are in dealers, with the Hybrid arriving by early summer. Kia says the plug-in hybrid will be available later in the summer. The timing is right to go to your local dealer and check-out the all-new Sportage, and see which one is right for you.

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Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Kia.

The Compact Hybrid Crossover Competition

Flash Drive: 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid

Road Test: 2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

Road Test: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Road Test: 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected]