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car review

The 2023 Kia Sportage.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

All new for 2023, the Kia Sportage is finally growing into its rightful role in Canada’s most popular vehicle segment.

Four previous generations of Sportage always seemed to be slight misfits – a little too large to be classified as subcompact crossovers, not quite large enough to be directly compared with compact ones.

For 2023, the Sportage grows in length to a dimension that positions it much closer to the compact-category average, and in fact a little larger than sales mainstays such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape.

Like its Hyundai Tucson cousin launched last year, the Sportage will now offer a choice of conventional, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle powertrains. The standard 187-horsepower, 2.5-litre gasoline model in showrooms now comes in five trims, ranging from $28,395 to $40,995. All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option on the entry-level LX and standard on all others.

The hybrid arrives early summer in EX and SX trims, asking $35,995 and $42,695, respectively. Pricing has yet to be revealed for the PHEV, due later in the summer.

The climate control and audio share the same control panel, with appropriate graphics and knob functions selected at the touch of a button.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The hybrid and plug-in hybrid pair a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with 44-kilowatt and 67-kilowatt electric motors respectively, yielding combined outputs of 227 and 261 horsepower. Transmissions are all conventional automatics, eight-speed on the base engine and six-speed on the hybrids.

Electric range for the PHEV isn’t available yet, but the near-identical Hyundai Tucson PHEV claims 53 kilometres.

Among its peers, only the RAV4 and the Escape offer both hybrid and plug-in options (in the Escape’s case, front-drive only. The Mitsubishi Outlander is set to get a plug-in version soon, and the Honda CR-V a hybrid. Unlike the RAV4 hybrids, which drive the rear wheels with an electric motor, the all-wheel-drive Sportage hybrid and PHEV drive the rear wheels mechanically, a system that defaults to primarily front-wheel drive when additional traction isn’t needed.

Our first-drive opportunity around southern Vancouver Island featured the base gas engine in the flagship X-Line Limited trim. Bells and whistles aside, it provided a meaningful demonstration of what most buyers can expect: a compelling combination of driving manners, space, comfort and value.

The powertrain blends seamless driveability with pleasing refinement. The Sportage handles deftly, with natural steering feel, while providing a pliant ride in most environments (some remote parts of the route did set it bouncing over big bumps and ruts, but those rough roads would likely challenge most vehicles). Rear-seat legroom and comfort are near best-in-class, as is cargo volume – even with the bi-level deck on its higher setting. Cargo numbers are lower on the hybrid, but still respectable by segment standards.

Also in the mix are high levels of infotainment, connectivity and assisted-drive technology.

Tech specs

The new Sportage is well proportioned, with distinctive sculpting along the door panels.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

2023 Kia Sportage

Base price/as tested: $28,395/$41,245 (gas-engine models)

Engine: 2.5-litre, 187-horsepower naturally aspirated four-cylinder

Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive

Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): 10.4 city/8.5 highway.

Alternatives: Buick Envision, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan.

Looks

The new Sportage is well proportioned, with distinctive sculpting along the door panels and accented by those hard-to-miss boomerang-shaped daytime running lights. The X-Line has its own distinct “chin.”

Interior

Instrumentation is digital across the board.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

An eight-way power driver’s seat on all except the base LX trim enables a lofty posture for those who want it, with excellent sight lines. Instrumentation is digital across the board, but only the top-trim X-Line Limited has the full 12.3-inch gauge cluster seamlessly integrated with the 12.3-inch centre-dash navigation touch screen that comes in at the EX level.

Lesser trims have a smaller gauge cluster and eight-inch centre screen. Unusually, the climate control and audio share the same control panel, with appropriate graphics and knob functions selected at the touch of a button. On some trims, carmine red or sage green synthetic leather are available alternatives to the standard black upholstery.

Performance

While the base engine promises acceleration that is just competitive among its peers, the relatively large naturally aspirated engine (therefore, no turbo lag) and an exceptionally slick conventional transmission (no CVT randomness) delivers a pleasing performance feel; the engine is also very smooth, and while its sound quality can get a bit thrashy under exertion, it’s never too shouty.

Technology

As we’ve come to expect from Kia, the Sportage’s roster of connectivity, infotainment and driver-assist tech is more than competitive. Even the LX has forward-collision avoidance assist plus lane keep and follow assist; more is added as you climb the trim-grade ladder, culminating in notables like advanced forward-collision avoidance assistance (for example, when turning left in the face of oncoming traffic) rear-parking collision avoidance assist and highway-driving assist (basically, level 2 autonomous) on the top grade.

Cargo

Cargo numbers are lower on the hybrid, but still respectable by segment standards.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Cargo volumes with the rear seat up range from 876 litres (hybrid, floor high) to 1,121 litres (gas, floor low) and with seats folded from 1,661 to 2,098 litres, respectively. Regardless of powertrain, the Sportage is rated to tow up to 1,653 pounds with an unbraked trailer or 2,500 braked.

The verdict

Historically, Sportage sales have settled in the lower middle of the compact segment rankings. With its new, more confident positioning, combined with keen pricing and electrified powertrain options, the 2023 redo should be on the short lists of a lot more buyers shopping in Canada’s most popular vehicle category.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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