Whenever a successful model transitions from one generation to the next, it represents a tricky balancing act for the company tasked with such an undertaking. On one hand, you don’t want to rankle the loyalists who like things just the way they are- on the other, you want to add some spice to a familiar recipe to keep things interesting and maybe pique the interest of shoppers new to your showroom. Most brands choose to tread that line carefully, but not Kia. The fifth generation of the popular Sportage throws convention out the window, turning up in some very arresting new duds. Aesthetically, it relegates the fourth generation to the rear-view mirror, but not that it needed to- we always felt the Sportage was handsomely styled.
Will Kia’s bold new design language keep previous Sportage owners happy or will it be received as too much too fast? We’ll need some time to elapse before that question has an answer, but we think Kia’s decision to step boldly in a new direction is a good one. Some may find the new design polarizing, but to our eyes, the 2023 Sportage looks pretty cool and does a convincing job of trying to separate itself from the rest of the milquetoast crossover heard that seems to grow larger with each passing year.
Also new is the X-Line trim that taps the vein of rugged adventure that is so en vogue these days. That means buyers who opt for this trim will get a Sportage that offers enhanced capability off-road. That isn’t an invitation to grab your waders and go looking for the nearest mud bog, but it should lend the Sportage with the ability to go farther, safely, than it ever has before.
The new Sportage is available with three new drivetrains including a hybrid and PHEV option which will help the SUV compete with the likes of the Toyota RAV4 Prime and its crosstown rival in the Hyundai Tucson. The hybrids promise better efficiency and performance, but none of those were currently available at press time so we tested the base powerplant, a naturally aspirated 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine with all-wheel drive.
While the opportunity to get off the beaten path eluded us during the Sportage X-Line’s tenure in the Carpages Garage, we did spend a good amount of time and kilometers navigating the streets and highways of the GTA which allowed us a glimpse of what life would be like living with Kia as a daily driver. In this context, Kia wisely stuck to the formula of what its customers like and have come to expect.
There isn’t much of a nod to sporty driving feel- steering isn’t particularly communicative and the suspension is tuned towards comfort rather than scalpel sharp handling. Precisely zero Sportage drivers will have an issue with that. The refinement and quiet way the Sportage goes about its business will earn high marks and there is nothing here that will surprise or offend.
There are three drivetrains available and two of them are hybrids as we mentioned earlier. The Sportage versions powered by the latter are not only the quickest but promise to be the most fuel efficient. Our tester was powered by a new naturally aspirated 2.5 litre four cylinder that makes ample grunt and fades into the background when cruising. Only when you ask it to summon all 187 of its horses in situations like passing maneuvers does it feel a bit flat footed- but again, those seeking thrills from scorching acceleration should check out the fully electric EV6 GT across the showroom. The bottom line is that drivers won’t not be left wanting at the Sportage’s ability to get up to speed in the cut and thrust of urban driving.
While the two hybrid offerings will no doubt return better fuel economy than the 2.5 litre engine in our tester, we enjoyed a genuine sense of satisfaction when we beat Kia’s consumption projections of combined 9.5L/100km over a week of mixed driving. In the real world, that meant navigating wild temperature swings, some light snow falls and a somewhat ambivalent approach to using the throttle as carefully as possible.
We have long praised Kia for its laudable effort at providing swanky interiors at their very reasonable price points and the new Sportage carries on that tradition rather well. The swath of digital screens are pleasing to the eye and are easy to manipulate. Top marks go to the seats which are as comfortable as they are attractive, and there are USB charging ports built into the backs for rear seat passengers to charge their devices while underway. Build quality is easily at the top end of the segment and looks like it'll stand up to years of punishment by those on board.
We didn’t find much to complain about during our week spent behind the wheel but there are some issues we would love to see fixed. Although probably not a priority for Kia, the electronic steering rack could benefit from a clearer sense of what’s happening at the front contact patches instead of the video game feel it brings to the table. And while we commend Kia for offering hybrids both conventional and plug-in, perhaps a more spritely engine could be considered instead of the somewhat pokey four cylinder our tester utilized. Most people may not even notice, but the windscreen features squiggly lines built into the glass that will no doubt aid in outward visibility in the winter months- but once they catch your attention, they cannot be unseen. We realize that is a highly pedantic gripe, but returning readers are well aware that we have never shied away from picking even the smallest bones of contention.
Similarly, we have never known to be reserved when it comes to lending you our verdict after we conclude a road test. Using the ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ metric, we would not hesitate to put a Sportage in our own driveways were we navigating- erm, shopping-the vast sea of compact crossovers. There’s a dizzying amount of choices available, but we think the Kia Sportage rises above most of its competitors. The juggernauts of the segment- namely the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4- are both very good, but they won’t threaten the Sportage’s new looks with the banality of their styling and they don’t quite offer the same level of refinement when cruising, nor are their interiors assembled with the same meticulous care that Kia does. Whether you like or loathe the new aesthetics the Sportage is sporting, it is definitely worth a look.
2023 Kia Sportage X-Line Limited – Specifications
- Price as tested: $43,684
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Engine: 2.5 litre four-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 187 @ 6,100 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 178 @ 4,000 rpm
- Curb weight: 1,739 kg (3,834 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 9.3L/100km (25 mpg)