As times change, things that once seemed cutting edge look foolish decades later. Sure, we laugh at mobile phones the size of bricks, televisions with black and white pictures and tinny monophonic sound, VCRs the size of small houses, not to mention “portable” floppy discs the size of record albums and the computers they fed that had screens that had one color: green.
It is something to keep in mind as we walk around with AirPods dancing out of our ears, blocking reality and luring you into a world controlled by 1s and 2s. It is why people who wear iPods think nothing of walking down the street talking, appearing as if they’re some lunatic escapee from the funny farm.
It looks funny enough now; imagine how it will look in 30 years.
And so we come to the 2023 Kia Sportage, which wears the latest in Kia automotive couture, and shares its vehicle architecture, powertrains and overall size with the corporate cousin, the Hyundai Tucson. But where the Hyundai is a bit more traditional in its exterior design approach, the Kia has a bit more visual volume.
A look all its own
It wears a more abstract rendition of the brand’s tiger nose grille, boomerang-shaped daytime running lights, angular sheet metal and notched taillights that give the Sportage a very contemporary look. It looks great.
But much like the fast fashion peddled by such retailers as H&M, Uniglo and Forever 21, there’s a sense that the Sportage’s design is very much of the here and now. Whether that’s good or not depends on your fashion viewpoint. But the Sportage is more than merely fashion forward transportation.
Offered with front- or all-wheel drive, the Sportage retains what passes for an affordable price these days. The base front-wheel drive LX starts at $25,990 for the FWD LX model, with the top-of-the-line AWD X-Pro Prestige starting at $36,790. Prices do not include options, sales tax or the $1,255 destination charge.
In between those prices are an impressive range of trim levels, including the LX, EX, SX, SX-Prestige, X-Line, and off-road-oriented Sportage X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige. Choose the Sportage X-Pro and you’ll also get all-wheel drive, B.F. Goodrich all-terrain tires, and an additional 1.5 inches of ground clearance.
We had the chance to spend some time with the X-Pro Prestige AWD, and while Kia claims it’s off-road ready, we’re not so sure. But it will make for a fine foul-weather friend.
Just enough power
A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission produces 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. Towing capacity is 2,000 pounds. The powertrain is available with front- or all-wheel drive, and it will be the engine of choice for 70% of buyers, according to Kia.
The Sportage Hybrid is another option. Its 1.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine produce 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. That’s more than the standard engine, all while consuming less fuel. The hybrid returns a combined 43 mpg with front-wheel drive and 38 mpg with all-wheel drive. A 6-speed automatic is standard.
The same powertrain will be available in a plug-in hybrid as well, along with a bigger lithium-ion battery pack. This not only offers 32 miles of all-electric driving but also significantly greater power: 261 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
More power is always the answer
The 2023 Kia Sportage X-Pro Prestige AWD that we sampled had adequate power when modestly driven. More aggressive drivers will be frequently requesting more power. If that sounds like you, opt for the hybrid. It’s far livelier, and still returns good fuel economy. It’s worth the extra scratch.
The Sportage has outstanding characteristics, with a more balanced driving experience that mixes comfort and agility without suffering from the ride degradation seen by certain compact SUVs. Despite its height and bulk, steering is accurate, and you’ll notice modest body roll when carving through corners. The Sportage X-Pro features the necessary cameras that make off-roading much simpler, but there’s no locking differential or low-range gear. So, this is a soft-roader at best, one that’s more a foul-weather friend.
While driving, you’ll find there are a variety of hard and soft surfaces in the cabin, as is customary for this class. The Sportage’s two 12.3-inch displays, one for the instrument cluster and the other for infotainment, come as a surprise. They are incorporated into a broad horizontal panel that resembles those made by several luxury vehicles. In fact, the X-Pro Prestige was fitted with heated and cooled front seats, leather seating and a massive panoramic sunroof. It’s almost posh.
The seats have good seatback bolstering, but are otherwise a bit flat, which makes it more acceptable for the broader of beam. Road and tire noise are moderate. Cabin space is impressive, while cargo space measures a massive 39.6 feet, 74.1 feet with the seats folded.
It’s a sweet ride, one that will look good on you. While not the performance leader in the segment, it’s a solid, well-designed compact crossover that offers all of the comfort, convenience and practicality you need. You’ll be left wondering why you’d ever spend more money on another SUV when the Sportage offers the same benefits.