Auto123 gets in a first drive of the 2023 Kia Sportage.
Victoria, BC – Shockingly, the revised new 2023 Sportage is bigger than its predecessor. Given the trend in recent years in the SUV segments (and among cars, for that matter), that’s not shocking at all, actually. It’s just keeping with the times. Bigger is better, as they say.
Kia Canada invited us recently to a springtime jaunt across Vancouver Island to find out if the new Sportage, still a compact SUV the last time we checked, despite its growing dimensions, really is better. By the way, to give you an idea, the new Sportage is roughly the same size as the old-generation Sorento, the midsize SUV that sits above it in the Kia lineup.
The Sportage is available as of now or will be as of a few days from now in two configurations: strictly gas-powered and hybrid. There is also a plug-in hybrid variant, which may be the most intriguing option in the end, but unfortunately that one is only coming to market later on this year, likely in the later part of summer. So patience.
There was no hybrid version on hand for our test drive, alas, so it was into regular ICE Sportages (X-Line versions) for all of us on a rainy day on Vancouver Island – another shocking surprise, right there.
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The fifth generation
A little housecleaning is in order before we move on. The salient facts about the 2023 Sportage include that it debuts the fifth generation of the model in North America, the fourth having debuted in 2016, the first back in 2000. Also, as mentioned, the new edition is longer, taller and wider than before, and sits on a longer wheelbase. The extra space makes a difference notably in terms of rear passenger space and cargo space available in this two-row compact SUV.
Other than the three powertrains, there are other ways to categorize the new Sportage. For example, the trims in the offering for the non-hybrid model include the LX base model, available in FWD or AWD configuration, the X-Line and the range-topping EX.
The LX FWD ($28,395 CAD, not including $1,900 in fees applied on all versions) comes with a fairly complete set of drive-assist systems (ADAS), rides on 17-inch wheels and offers occupants an 8-inch infotainment display. The LX AWD adds drive modes, and a higher price point ($30,395).
The new X-Line trim ($33,995) rides on 19-inch wheels and adds several unique design elements to create a more-rugged appearance; the fascia is distinct, for example and there are unique wheel designs and colour choices. There’s more ADAS as well and added interior amenities like power-adjust driver’s seat, leatherette seats, heated steering wheel and wireless phone charging.
Next up is the EX ($35,595), which shrinks the wheels back down to 18 inches, but opens up the view with a panoramic sunroof and increases the infotainment screen to 12.3 inches, which helps deliver the full impressive effect of the curved single-glass display screen spanning the left-hand side of the dash (more on that in a bit). Here you also get the Kia Connect service on that screen, smart cruise and dual-zone climate control.
The EX Premium ($37,595) jacks up the wheels to 19 inches and adds exterior chrome elements, smart power liftgate, quilted leatherette, memory function for the driver’s seat, power-adjust front passenger seats, vented front seats and heated rear seats.
Lastly, there’s the version we all looped through the soggy bottom half of Vancouver Island in, the new X-Line Limited ($40,995). To the X-Line trim it adds, yes, still more ADAS, as well as the larger screen, and premium Harmon/Kardon audio.
All non-hybrid versions run on a 2.5L 4-cylinder good for 187 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque working with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Fuel consumption figures for the FWD powertrain are 9.3/7.4/8.4L/100 km (city/highway/combined), while the AWD versions deliver 10.4/8.5/9.5L/100 km. We averaged a reasonable 9.2L/100 km on this day, though of course the driving sample was small.
The HEV and PHEV
The hybrid-powertrain 2023 Sportage can be had in either EX version ($35,995) or SX trim ($42,695). This configuration gets a 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine paired with a 64-kW electric motor and a 6-speed auto box; the two deliver a combined output of 227 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, and we know what it can do from it already being in use in the new Hyundai Tucson Hybrid.
The straight-hybrid Sportage obviously outperforms the ICE versions in terms of fuel economy, with 6.1/6.3/6.2L/100 km the official figures. If those are real, and we believe they’re probably realistic even though we could not on this day test any HEVs out, they should provide a decent added incentive for hesitant buyers on a budget.
The future PHEV version, meanwhile, gets that same 1.6L mill, but output is significantly higher thanks to the presence of an 88-kW motor; in this case we’re looking at up to 261 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Those are decent numbers, but the big suspense now is what the battery range of the Sportage PHEV will be, because the government of Canada has just expanded its iZEV EV incentives program to include a more-generous $5,000 discount on PHEVs with an electric range of over 50 km. Stay tuned to see whether Sportage PHEV buyers can get in on that action.
That big curved screen is a definite attention-grabber when you sit in (an upper trim of) the new Sportage. The uninterrupted display actually contains both the instrument cluster and the multimedia screen and it has more than sheer size going for it – resolution is sharp and the graphics are well-organized, clear and prompt to appear.
In general, this is a modern interior with styling that’s a clear step up from the outgoing model (which dated to 2016, remember, though with some minor updates since then). There are few cheap-looking or -feeling surfaces, and the centre console layout is basically the same as what’s found in the ultra-new EV6 EV, down to the same dual-purpose row of commands below the multimedia screen that handles either the climate control system or the audio system, depending on which setting you toggle to.
That’s a clever way to save space and streamline the console, but the problem it poses is the same as I experienced in the EV6: which is that, save taking your eyes off the road every time to make sure you’re in the ‘right’ row, you will find yourself cranking up the volume when you intended to raise the cabin temperature, and vice versa. And that’s because not just the touch-sensitive commands on the row are dual-purpose, so are the physical buttons book-ending that row. I think I would prefer my audio button to handle just the audio level, thank you very much.
Note that while the base model gets wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, even though it has the small screen, the larger display on the upper versions of the Sportage only allows wired connection. Kia representatives explained it has to do with the increased complexity of the larger system, but it’s still odd to get less for more money in this instance.
No complaints about the seats, which are supportive and comfortable, the ‘ette’ at the end of leatherette not translating into a cheap feel, or about the space inside, which is generous in both rows. The increased dimensions of the SUV allowed designers to increase rear leg room from 970 to 1,050 mm. They did even better in the back, boosting cargo capacity with seats in place from 798 litres previously to 1,121 now. There is one catch though, because if you opt for the hybrid variant you do lose some of that space (118 litres to be exact, for a total of 1,003 litres).