After almost three decades on the market, the Kia Sportage has reached its fifth generation and aims high against compact-segment SUV contenders such as the Ford Escape, Mazda CX5, and Volkswagen Tiguan customers.
In 1993, the Korean carmaker introduced the Sportage nameplate in its lineup. It used Mazda engines and body-on-frame construction, but slow sales shattered its dreams. Kia offered it with three body versions: a short-wheelbase convertible, a long-wheelbase with five doors, and a long-wheelbase with five doors and an extended trunk. It didn’t work.
After Hyundai bought 51% of Kia’s shares, outbidding Ford, the two Korean carmakers worked together and started to share their platforms. Starting with the Sportage’s second generation, Kia built its compact-segment SUV on the same platform as the Hyundai Tucson, a recipe followed for the fifth generation as well.
Since the fourth generation of the Sportage it has featured the “Tiger Nose” design imagined by Peter Schreyer, but the 2023 model shows a modified version of it. Still, it is the same design idea with a dent on the upper side of the grille and another one on the lower side. Its arrow-shaped LED daytime running lights point toward the car’s center and surround the main Matrix-LED headlamps on their inner side. At the lower part of the bumper, Kia has installed an additional grille with a satin-gray trim adorning it.
Unlike its predecessors, the 2023 Sportage is available with two wheelbases, depending on countries and regions. Thus, it enters the competition against Volkswagen’s Tiguan, which is available with two wheelbases as well. Yet, the Sportage’s sculptured door panels conceal the added length.
At the back, the Korean SUV sports a raked-forward C-pillar and rear windscreen, and a vertical, concave panel for the tailgate. Under the bumper, the carmaker has placed fake exhausts and a satin-gray shield.
“With the all-new Sportage, we didn’t simply want to take one step forward but instead move on to a different level in the SUV class,” commented Karim Habib, Senior Vice President and Head of Global Design Center. The 2023 Sportage look resulted from Kia’s global design network in Korea, Germany, the US, and China.
Inside the cabin, the main attraction is the wide, curved display on the dashboard. It’s made from two screens of the same 12″ size. In front of the driver, a thin LCD shows the car’s data and driving info such as speed or revs, coolant temperature, or fuel level. The second screen, mounted above the center stack, is used for the infotainment unit. Kia has worked with renowned specialist Harman Kardon for the sound system, which also equips other premium carmakers.
Kia aimed high with the interior trims, showing piano-black finishes and metallic adornments around the vents and door handles. The carmaker installed the buttons for the operating system configuration, cupholders, and soft-touch switches on the center console, the latter being mounted next to the shift-by-wire transmission dial. A smartphone charging bay offers high-speed wireless charging.
The interior design team worked hard to create a premium environment. Thus, depending on the options, the carmaker offers the Sportage with a combination of black and white leather upholstery. Moreover, thanks to the new platform, the rear-seat passengers can enjoy 1,050 mm (41.33″) of legroom and 1,000 mm (39.37″) of headroom.
For comfortable yet safe rides, the carmaker offeres an option for Navigation-based cruise control, which works together with the front radar. Thus, the Sportage can keep a safe distance from the car in front and stay inside the lanes. The same system is responsible for reducing the vehicle’s speed before corners to increase the passengers’ comfort.
Since an SUV has to cope with unpaved or snow-covered roads, the carmaker has also installed an advanced All-Terrain mode. It works together with the ESP sensors, the engine management unit, and the automatic gearbox to provide the best possible traction in specific situations. The system also relies on a Haldex all-wheel-drive system.
Kia announced two engines for the car’s launch, depending on the market. For starters, there is a 1.6-liter turbocharged, direct-injected gasoline engine. It is a detuned version from Kia’s cee’d GT version and produces 180 hp. It is mated with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed, dual-clutch, automatic gearbox.
Another version is the 186 hp 2.0-liter turbo-diesel. While oil-burners are no longer welcomed in some parts of the world, other customers are fond of these fuel-efficient engines. Over time, Hyundai-Kia has managed to create strong, reliable, and clean diesel engines.
But the new platform allows further developments with hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, which will follow. Hyundai-Kia has already made important steps toward the electrification process and, in the foreseeable future, is expected to feature exclusively electrified or electric vehicles in its lineup.
Kia improved its already known Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) and installed them on the 2023 Sportage. In Europe, automatic braking systems and other features such as the lane-keep assist will become mandatory in a few years. Still, the carmaker has installed them anyway.
A full range of airbags is expected to be deployed in the event of a crash. Its predecessor passed all the crash tests around the world with flying colors, and the 2023 model is expected to bring even better results. It has the equipment, the strength, and the technology to achieve that.
After three decades of development, the Sportage has evolved from a hard-to-sell, body-on-frame SUV with a low-range transfer case to a stylish, comfortable, family-friendly vehicle. Its sales have topped the charts around the world and the seven-years warranty offered is an important selling point.