Head-turning Kia Sportage gets bigger, more high-tech

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The Kia Sportage is getting new plumage.

The Korean brand’s made-in-Georgia compact SUV gains a radical remake for its fifth-generation model with a stylish exterior and interior screens that rival luxury automakers. Previously one of the smallest utes in class, the 2023 Sportage leapfrogs the competition to boast the biggest backseat in class.

The 2023 Kia Sportage X-trim gets standard AWD.

Based on the same platform as cousin Hyundai Tucson — which has also turned heads — the Sportage’s headliner is a curved, hoodless, 25-inch instrument display that stretches across the dash like one in a Mercedes. Following in the footsteps of Kia’s sexy Stinger sport sedan and the wildly popular Telluride three-row SUV, the Sportage continues the automakers’ assault on the U.S. market with some of the most talked-about mainstream vehicles of the last few years.

“The tremendous success formula of our current stable of SUVs has been infused into every ounce of the new Sportage, transforming it into a leader of the pack with its cutting-edge design, adventurous capability and desirable in-car technology,” said Kia North America CEO Sean Yoon.

The 2023 Kia Sportage is a radical makeover from the last-gen Sportage with bigger proportions and an all-new design language.

With 84,343 in sales, Sportage was the brand’s second-best selling vehicle in 2020 after the Forte compact sedan. As consumers have gobbled up SUVS, so has Kia shifted its lineup’s focus to the Telluride, Sorento — and now Sportage — SUVs, imbuing them with off-road flavor made popular by Jeep models.

Likely starting around $26,000 with familiar trims like EX, SX and SX, the Sportage will offer more adventure-oriented X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige models. The latter, for example, offers all-terrain tires to complement its increased-by-1.5 inches ride height (8.3 inches total) for when the asphalt ends.

The 2023 Kia Sportage gets a big dash screen that reminds of a small Mercedes of Cadillac Escalade.

The Sportage ups its game for a class that has seen overland entries in recent years like the Ford Bronco Sport and Toyota RAV4 TRD. As governments force electrification, Kia said that the Sportage will soon offer a hybrid model.

Kia’s Telluride is one of the most distinctive SUVs on the road and the Sportage aims to get tongues wagging with its own knockout face. The brand’s “tiger nose” design occupies nearly the entire fascia — bracketed by huge, “boomerang” LED running lights that push the headlights to the front corners.

The boomerang lights run across the hood line setting up muscular shoulders that run to distinctive “notch-shaped” taillights — integrated by a thin, Audi-like black graphic across the tailgate.

The luxury-inspired forms reach their summit inside with the Sportage’s dramatic, panoramic screen that connects the 12.3-inch instrument and 12.3-inch infotainment displays. The screen is standard on upper SX (likely starting in the mid-$30k range) and X-Pro trims. The form, pioneered by Mercedes and Cadillac Escalade, has been adopted most recently by the Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric car.

The headrests on the 2023 Kia Sportage double as coat hangers.

A second touchscreen above the console is designated for climate controls similar to Audi’s design. More console innovation includes cup holders that can come apart if the space is needed to hold something larger like a phone or tablet.

Taking a page from big brother Telluride, the front seatbacks house USB ports and an integrated hook for shopping bags. Best-in-class, 41.3 inches of legroom follows behind the front seats as Sportage grows by 7.1 inches with a 3.4-inch longer wheelbase. That stretch enables best-in-class, 39.6 cubic feet of cargo space under the hatchback.

In keeping with competitors, the Kia offers standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone connectivity on all trims, a phone app (compatible with smart wrist watches) for remote monitoring of the car, WiFi connectivity for up to five devices and available wireless charging.

The 2023 Kia Sportage SX and X-Pro trims. The latter is new - highlighting the Sportage's off-road chops.

Electrics are the new, new thing, but the Sportage insulates the engine compartment from the cabin for a quiet drive experience. Power is provide by a 2.5-liter, 187-horse four-banger common to Hyundai products.

The rugged X-Line and X-Pro trims come standard with all-wheel-drive for Michigan’s unruly winters. Blacked-out mirrors, roof rack and window surrounds distinguish the X-line trim along with 19-inch wheels. The X-Pro goes further with B.F. Goodrich all-terrain tires, matte-black wheels, heated windshield, two-tone roof and multiple drive modes.

Behind the high-tech interior screens is a chest-full of safety tech, including standard driver attention monitoring, auto high beams, and lane-keep assist. Optional safety systems include blindspot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and exit safety assist which, for example, will warn of a biker aproaching as you open the door on a crowded street.

The radical new "tiger nose" grille of the 2023 Kia Sportage pushed the headlights to the corners with a boomerag LED running light.

Buyers can also option Kia's remote smart-parking assist shared with sister Hyundai which popularized the feature in its "Smaht Pahk" 2020 Super Bowl ad.

Assembled in West Point, Georgia, the Sportage will be on sale in the first quarter of 2022.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.