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All-New Small Crossover Takes On The Biggest Vehicle Segment

If Kia is coming off its best year in total U.S. sales, and if compact SUVs are now the biggest vehicle segment in the U.S. (by sales volume), one could argue the all-new 2023 Kia Sportage is a rather important vehicle. As Kia’s second-best seller in the U.S. last year, as well as the longest-running nameplate in Kia’s model line, the automaker certainly recognizes the Sportage’s role in the brand’s current and future success.

That realization is reflected in the 2023 Sportage, which benefits from an aggressive makeover to its exterior styling, interior design, and drivetrain technology, including the first-ever hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Kia Sportage. This is also the first Kia Sportage to be built in the U.S., at the company’s West Point, GA plant, in addition to Korea-based production.

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Sportage is that it’s notably larger than the outgoing model. Overall length has increased by 7.1 inches, with the wheelbase growing by 3.4 inches. The longer wheelbase means more interior volume, which Kia told us translates to class-leading second-row legroom (41.3 inches) along with a healthy bump in cargo capacity, now also class leading at 39.6 cubic feet behind the second row.

Interior upgrades continue, in the form of a new Kia Connect user interface that replaces the former “UVO” system. A standard 8-inch touchscreen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay can be upgraded to a 12.3-inch “curved” display that seamlessly connects to a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster on higher trim levels. The new Sportage’s interior design and materials, even in base models, looks attractive, while high end SX and X models impart a premium, near-luxury atmosphere with animal-free leather seats featuring heating and ventilation.

The Sportage’s exterior design is meant to combine clean, muscular surfaces contrasted by edgy lines — Kia calls is “Opposites United”. It’s certainly more bold than the outgoing model, with Kia’s “tiger nose grill” flanked by standard LED headlights and boomerang-shaped daytime running lights. With so many compact SUVs on the road today it’s not easy to standout, but the Sportage should prove distinctive on streets littered with small utility vehicles.

Another distinct feature in the small SUV category is genuine off-road ability, which is gaining popularity across the segment but remains relatively rare. The new Sportage “X” trims introduced for 2023 add to the ute’s off-road pedigree, offering standard all-wheel drive and better ground clearance, which increases from 7.1 to 8.3 inches in these AWD models (front-wheel drive is standard on other trims). X Pro and X Pro Prestige models bolster the Sportage’s rock-crawling powers with standard BFGoodrich all-terrain tires and retuned driving modes that take advantage of the increased grip.

We experienced the Sportage’s new hybrid and Pro X Prestige trims on the streets of Palm Springs and in the mountains above the desert oasis, including a dedicated off-road course where the Pro X could show off its off-road powers. Climbing over deep ruts, ascending aggressive inclines, and descending steep hills didn’t slow the Sportage Pro X, as its AWD system quickly assessed the changing conditions while re-allocating torque between each wheel to maintain momentum. We’re not sure how often even the Pro X versions of the new Sportage will face these challenges, but the Kia engineers did their work to ensure they can.

On-road ride quality was similarly impressive, with a smooth, refined demeanor and minimal road noise, even in the knobby-tired Pro X models. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine offers 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque in the standard Sportage, with throttle response that proved adequate, if not inspiring, along the mountain roads above Palm Springs. We wouldn’t describe the Sportage as slow, but from a dynamic standpoint it’s not as engaging as class leaders like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.

The same could be said of the 1.6-liter turbo engine in the hybrid model, which provides a total of 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque with its synchronous electric motor lending a hand. The hybrid’s increased power is offset by an approximately 200-pound increase in total weight, resulting in similarly acceptable, rather than exciting, acceleration. Combined fuel economy for the standard Sportage is rated at 28 mpg for front-wheel-drive models or 25 mpg for all-wheel-drive versions. The hybrid bumps those numbers to 43 mpg for the FWD LX or 38 mpg for the EX and SX-Prestige models (with standard AWD). The Kia Sportage plug-in hybrid ups total power to 261 hp and will offer approximately 32 miles of all-electric range.

Buyers interested in the new 2023 Kia Sportage can already purchase an LX, EX, SX, SX-Prestige, X-Line, X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige model at their local dealer. Pricing starts at $27,245 for a FWD LX base model and goes up to $38,045 for an X-Pro Prestige AWD version. Hybrid and plug-in models will arrive by late June and start at $28,545 for an LX FWD and top out at $37,445 for an SX-Prestige model (pricing for the plug-in hybrid Sportage has not been released yet). While we might pine for a bit more power, the new Sportage is an attractive SUV, both in its design and capabilities, as well as its features and value equation. We expect it will further contribute to Kia’s ongoing success in this category.

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