Plus… these seat backs! 😂
Let me just start here: I like luxury. And I hate buying gas, which affords me more luxury. I also appreciate smart design and engineering built on a set of ideals that, when done right, add up to more than the sum of its parts.
That’s the idea behind the new Kia Sportage, redesigned for 2023 and priced from about $25K to about $36K. It takes a few style cues from the K5 sedan— the headlights are angled and the rear end is elegant but distinct. It’s larger than the last Kia Sportage: about 7” longer, just slightly taller, has more rear seat leg room, 20% more cargo space. The standard gas engine generates 187 HP and is rated for 28 MPG. For the first time there’s a Kia Sportage hybrid with 227 HP (up to 43 MPG!) and later this year Kia will introduce a plug-in hybrid version (details on this soon).
The Sportage also comes in 3 new models that take some cues from its bigger sibling, the Kia Telluride: The X-Line, X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige, all of which are designed for off road adventures and are capable despite not being outfitted with the more powerful hybrid engine. The X models are so capable that Kia is entering the 2023 Sportage in this fall’s Rebelle Rally, so we know that they have confidence in it. And I think they are right; I drove the hybrid and the X-Pro editions and found a lot to like.
We created this video about our experience in the 2023 Kia Sportage, but keep reading for the highlights.
Kia: Transitioning to a Premium Adventure Brand, For the Win
Kia took some DNA from the super popular Telluride. But the company also took a cue from buyers asking for more luxury. And, they rose to the challenge. The interior of the Sportage doesn’t look ‘budget’ and doesn’t signal that you may have saved money on the purchase, even in the hybrid, which carries only a $900-$1,300 premium depending on the model. And this is what we love about hybrid engines; there’s no shame in paying less for gas and upgrading other purchases in life.
The Sportage’s interior is elegant and responsible; the leatherette upholstery feels like leather but is more sustainable; it’s beautiful and is contains some post-consumer plastics. There are soft-touch materials that quiet the cabin and add subtle elegance. And, the two single panel media screen options are sublime: The top trims have a curved TFT screen and the other models have wide LCD screen, but honestly, it’s hard to tell the difference.
The overall feel of the cabin is light and airy, especially if you opt for the panoramic sunroof, which is standard in all trims other than the base LX and EX, though you can opt for it in the EX. And, please, give the Navy and Misty Gray interior a second look; I was smitten, and it looked stunning with the metallic Vesta Blue paint, which I would liken to a sapphire blue, though Kia call its brighter, less glittery blue ‘Sapphire.’
This Cabin is Designed to Spoil You
Front seat amenities start with the redesigned multimedia system, renamed Kia Connect, and it’s really easy and intuitive to use. Just swipe to find what you need. Plug in your phone for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, or connect your phone to use it wirelessly. And, in top trim models, pop your phone into the cubby under the center console and it’ll charge wirelessly.
Under the media screen is a dual-use panel that is super smart but takes some getting use to. At its center are two icons: A fan and an arrow. Tap the fan and for climate controls; tap the arrow for favorites and radio. Even the radio volume dial becomes a temperature dial for the climate control system. It’s a great way to reduce all the clutter of buttons and dials.
Related: For 2021, the Kia Sorento 3-Row SUV Gives You the Choice of Electric, Hybrid Or Turbo Driving
A Super Smart Center Console and … These Cupholders!
Between the front seats is a console with all the standard stuff, but nicely designed and topped in gloss black, which looks nice except when it’s dirty with dust or fingerprints. There you’ll find the dial gear selector, drive mode selector, off road settings for the AWD versions and heated and/or cooling seat settings. Just under the dashboard is a cubby that with USB ports (one conventional and one USB-C), a 12V cigarette adapter-style outlet and in EX and above trims, a wireless phone charge pad.
Tucked into the center console is a flexible cup holder that is adapted from the Hyundai Palisade, and it’s brilliant. I hope this cup holder makes its way into every Kia and Hyundai SUV. Its a bit oversized and has a bit of extra space around it; there are retractable curved arms that with the push of a button flip out to create a cupholder. Push them back to retract them and create a space to hold a tablet, phone or other thing that won’t fit in the cupholders.
I really liked the contrasting look and feel of the cabin. The white upholstery and navy accents, including the navy steering wheel in our test model, made this interior feel crisp and classic. The upholstery and overall look is premium, though the surrounding details such as dash and door panels don’t feel as premium.
Is this the Smartest Seat Back—and Back Seat—in the Car Biz?
The sheer thought that went into the seat backs nearly brought me to tears of joy. There’s nothing over the top here, no complicated electronics or over-engineered details, just some super-simple solutions that make the seat backs simply brilliant.
- Each seat back is molded from a hard plastic that will be easy to clean
- Each has a hook molded into the panel so you can hang a handbag, trash bag or backpack
- There are two USB-C ports, one tucked into the side of each seat back
- There are tablet holders on the back of the head rests; these are lined with rubber to keep tablets from sliding off while you’re driving
- Each seat back has a pocket— not always the case in every car (of course, so gummy bears have some place to go to die)
Then, the rear seat has vents for climate control, a small cubby just under the vents, a fold down arm rest with cupholders in the middle seat and bottle holders in the door panels. Oh, and there’s more leg room than prior Sportage models, so everyone will be comfy.
We Went Off Roading… So You Don’t Have To (But We Hope You’re Inspired!)
Going off road, traversing rutted trails, climbing small hills and driving along steep banks has become de rigueur for any SUV with AWD that you might take to off the pavement at a campsite, beach or mountain trail. So, of course, Kia planned an off road demonstration for us in the X-Pro, outfitted for better off road capability and competent despite carrying the smaller, less power fuel engine.
And while some of the exercises didn’t surprise me, I was completely impressed by some of the capability, including the car’s ability to power two wheels while the other two were off the ground to get up a very dusty, sandy hill and across a dry creek. It was impressive. If you didn’t watch the video, do; we shared our experience.
Luxurious and Capable but Still Priced Right
The 2023 Kia Sportage still has a very approachable starting price, and even a very reasonable top-end price and there are a lot of choices. The gas models come with a 2.5L 4 cylinder engine that generates 187 horsepower and 178 torque and is estimated to get 28 MPG combined; the hybrid version has a 1.6L 4 cylinder turbo engine that generates 227 HP and 258 torque and is estimated to get 43 MPG (we averaged about 32MPG on our short drive). Here’s how the pricing shakes out:
- LX base model with Kia’s new look, cloth seats and driver assist and safety systems including forward crash mitigation, lane keep assist and warning, automatic high beam headlights, starts at $25,990
- EX adds 12.3” touch screen multimedia system, safe exit warning, seat back USB chargers, wireless charge pad, smart key, SynTex leatherette upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, starts at $27,990
- SX, which adds the new TFT curved display screen, driver profile functions, adaptive cruise control, navigation premium Harman Kardon sound system, starts at $31,490
- SX Prestige, which adds 3-D surround view camera, additional driver assist adn safety systems and premium interior with heated and vented seats and Smart Park remote park assist, starts at $33,490
- X-Line, which has AWD, higher ground clearance, a raised roof rack, all terrain tires, a 12.3” touchscreen, wireless phone charge pad, smart key and SynTex leatherette seating, starts at $30,790
- X-Pro adds BFGoodrich all terrain tires, heated windshield, curved TFT display screen, starts at $34,990
- X-Pro Prestige adds a surround view monitor, Smart Park and premium leatherette seating starts at $36,790
- Hybrid is available in the LX (+$1,300 in FWD or AWD), EX AWD (+ $1,200) and SX Prestige AWD (+$900) models
- All wheel drive adds about $1,800 depending on the model (though X models have AWD standard)
- Desintation charge: $1,255
Kia Has a Big Win in the 2023 Sportage
Especially for families that don’t really need a third row but want the capability, style and luxe details that the Telluride delivers. It’s disappointing that the X models are not available with the hybrid motor, but if and when they are, this SUV will be truly over the top. Even so, from the off road capable X models, the hybrid and soon, the plug-in hybrid, the Sportage delivers everything that small families, parents of fur babies and those looking for a bit of adventure want and need, all in premium surroundings. And that’ the goal: to take you over the top… of the mountain, in an SUV that can do it all.
Disclosure: I was Kia’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.