2023 Kia Sportage Review
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Rugged and Refined: 2023 Kia Sportage Gets Bumper-to-Bumper Update

If you still think of the Kia Sportage as the bargain entry into the compact crossover market, you’ll likely be surprised by the all-new 2023 model. It gains size, lavish features, new hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, and the off-road-oriented X-Line and X-Pro models.

A hard wind blows across the ridge, stirring up the dry dust as I head out for a first test drive of the new X-Pro. It’s one of a variety of variants available with the 2023 Kia Sportage. Already one of the most popular models in the Korean carmaker’s lineup, Kia is betting it can increase the SUV’s appeal by giving buyers a range of new options.

The X-Pro and X-Line models target the growing number of American motorists who crave the capability to handle at least moderate off-road experiences. And with the launch of the fifth-generation Sportage, Kia is also adding both hybrid and plug-in hybrid options.

To get a sense of what the smaller of the two mainstream Korean carmakers has to offer, I’ve flown out to sunny Palm Springs. After a morning’s briefing on the new Sportage, I jump into the new hybrid and start heading west, driving up winding Route 79 out of the Coachella Valley.

2023 Kia Sportage Review
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

2023 Kia Sportage Review

Kia will eventually offer three different powertrain packages, but the plug-in hybrid won’t be available at launch. The conventional hybrid relies on a 1.6L turbo-four paired with a single electric motor and a 1.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox, it punches out 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

Though it could use a bit more off-the-line grunt when you hammer the throttle, it’s a reasonably peppy option. And that’s all the more impressive when you consider it delivers up to 43 mpg combined in front-wheel-drive form and up to 38 in all-wheel drive.

2023 Kia Sportage Review
2023 Sportage X-Pro; (photo/Kia)

The drive out of Palm Springs offers a great place to check out the steering and handling of the new SUV, with steep climbs and tight turns. And the new Sportage lives up to the challenge.

Steering proves both precise and predictable, and, even as I push through the tightest corners, there’s surprisingly little body roll. In terms of on-road manners, this new crossover is a marked improvement over the model it replaces.

Longer, Wider, Roomier

2023 Kia Sportage Review
2023 Sportage X-Pro offers impressive compact crossover cargo room; (photo/Kia)

It’s got many other advantages as well. The 2023 Kia Sportage grows a whopping 7 inches in overall length, the wheelbase stretched by 3 inches. It now stands 2 inches taller, with its ground clearance up to 8.3 inches in all-wheel-drive trim. (Front-wheel-drive models get 7.1 inches of ground clearance.)

What used to be one of the smaller entries into the compact SUV segment is now among the largest, with segment-leading cargo space of 39.6 cubic feet and a surprising amount of rear legroom.

The cabin isn’t just larger, it’s markedly more sophisticated, with mid and upper trim levels featuring the sort of expansive video display you’d normally expect only on a luxury model. Technically, that consists of twin 12.3-inch screens, a reconfigurable gauge cluster, and a touch infotainment system. They’re both tucked beneath a single sheet of glass and appear to blend together.

High-Tech, High-Touch

2023 Kia Sportage Review
2023 Sportage X-Pro interior; (photo/Kia)

Another novel feature is the secondary touch panel below that infotainment screen. It can be toggled to operate the climate control system with ease — or to access key touchscreen functions such as the navigation system.

More upscale fabrics add to the look of luxury, and Kia has opted for soft-touch materials on all surfaces an occupant would be likely to touch.

2023 Kia Sportage Review
2023 Sportage X-Pro touchscreen; (photo/Kia)

Meanwhile, the new model adds plenty of other high-tech touches, from wireless charging and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to an assortment of advanced driver-assistance systems.

Lane Keeping Assistance and Forward Collision Alert with Automatic Emergency Braking are among standard features. Blind-Spot Assistance, remote parking assistance, and 360-degree surround-view join the smart-tech options.

Sportage X-Pro: Off-Road Chops

An hour outside of Palm Springs, the navigation system leads me down a backroad and off to a ridge where the wind has whipped up into a fury. Swapping into one of the new Sportage X-Pro models, I head out onto a wandering course the automaker has laid out.

No, it doesn’t rival what you might find in Moab or out on the Rubicon Trail, but it’s more than a match for what the typical buyer will likely experience. And it quickly demonstrates the ability of the more off-road-oriented package.

2023 Kia Sportage Review
2023 Sportage X-Pro all-terrain tires; (photo/Kia)

It has more than enough ground clearance to straddle a cinderblock, my guide points out as we maneuver the course. The Sportage easily handles moguls and bumps, and the X-Pro makes simple work of steep hills with added features like Hill Descent Control, along with larger BFG all-terrain tires and a retuned suspension. With a touch of a button, you can also activate a differential locker.

If you’re not in the market for something as rugged as a Jeep Wrangler, this is a more-than-viable option to the wave of new off-road-light offerings that have been coming to market, such as the Subaru Forester Wilderness and Mazda CX50.

2023 Kia Sportage Review
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Unfortunately — at least to my thinking — Kia only offers the X-Pro with Sportage’s base engine. It’s a 2.5L naturally aspirated four mated to an eight-speed automatic. For 2023, it’s gained six ponies to deliver an output of 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet. Fuel economy has also risen by 2 mpg to a combined 28.

It may seem underpowered compared to the turbo, but Kia engineers felt it provided a better base for off-roading. And after spending some time out on the trail, it proved hard to argue against that logic.

Plug-In Hybrid Sportage to Come Later

Unfortunately, the automaker did not make available the third powertrain package coming to the Sportage line in 2023. The plug-in hybrid uses the same gas engine and motor combination as the conventional hybrid. But with its larger lithium-ion battery pack, it allowed Kia to upgrade output to 261 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

As is becoming more and more common these days, the PHEV will become the most powerful version of the Sportage lineup when added later in the 2023 model year.

The plug-in will also give an owner the ability to travel an estimated 32 miles in pure electric mode. You’ll be able to hold the battery at full charge, meanwhile, allowing you to choose where to switch into all-electric mode. The reality is that, for most drivers, the 32-mile range should handle most of a typical day’s commute.

2023 Kia Sportage Review
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

2023 Kia Sportage Pricing

Despite the added features, the 2023 Kia Sportage remains one of the more affordable entries into the compact crossover market. The base LX package starts at $25,990 in the front-wheel-drive model, and the all-wheel-drive version jumps to $27,790. A well-equipped Prestige package climbs to $33,490 in front-wheel drive and $35,290 with AWD.

The X-Line starts at $30,790, the X-Pro at $34,990, and the X-Pro Prestige at $36,790. All “X” models are offered solely in all-wheel configuration. The Sportage LX with a hybrid engine comes in at $27,290 in FWD and $29,090 in AWD. The Prestige is offered solely in AWD with the hybrid, at $36,190. (Add $1,255 in delivery and handling fees to all these figures.)

Pricing for the plug-in version of the Sportage hasn’t been released yet.

2023 Kia Sportage Review
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

2023 Sportage Review: Final Thoughts

All versions but the PHEV are now available in U.S. Kia showrooms, though initial inventories are low. But with this being the first version of the Sportage to be built in the U.S., Kia hopes to have plenty of product on hand at showrooms in the coming months.

Kia’s outgoing Sportage was a reasonable choice for compact SUV buyers. With the launch of the new 2023 model, there’s a lot more to like. It’s bigger, roomier, introduces new features, and expands the range of powertrain options.

For those in search of a modest level of off-road capability, you now have options. After spending a few days driving various versions of the 2023 Kia Sportage, I came away impressed by the upgrades and competitiveness in the market.

To build out your own 2023 Kia Sportage, check out Kia’s website.

Paul Eisenstein
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Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning publisher, photographer, editor, and one of the world’s most widely published automotive journalists. His work appears in a wide range of print, broadcast, and electronic outlets, including AutoWise, GearJunkie, NBC News, Forbes Wheels, and his own automotive website, TheDetroitBureau.com. He’s a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror, and board member and past president of the Automotive Press Association. J.D. Power also named him a “Pioneer of the Internet."