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The 2023 Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester are both appealing options in the compact SUV class that place a priority on pragmaticism, comfort, and desirable features without breaking the bank. Though both models are solid overall, the Kia Sportage’s performance is lackluster, and the same is true of the Subaru Forester. This holds them back from being standouts in their segment.

The Kia Sportage and Forester suffer from lackluster performance

Power and performance likely don’t top the priority list for many buyers in the mainstream, small SUV segment — few options deliver a sprightly driving experience. However, the Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester each push that characteristic to the limit with paltry powertrains.

The 2023 Sportage is powered exclusively by a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivering 187 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. In practice, it’s pretty lackluster, and U.S. News notes the engine “feels strained and underpowered on the highway.”

The 2023 Forester is even less thrilling from behind the wheel. Its four-cylinder develops 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque and is paired with a continuously variable transmission. In Edmunds’ testing, the Forester required 9.3 seconds to scoot from a stop to 60 mph, with the publication noting the engine is “largely gutless.”  

It’s worth noting the performance specs of the Forester and Sportage aren’t too far off the norm in the small SUV segment. For instance, the Mazda CX-50 dishes out 187 hp as standard, the non-hybrid Honda CR-V delivers 190 hp, and the Toyota RAV4 develops 203 hp. However, these models deliver better driving verve and overall performance than the constrained grunt of the Kia and Subaru.

Still, the Sportage and Forester get just about everything else right.

Despite the Kia Sportage’s performance, it’s still a solid SUV

The 2023 Kia Sportage could use a boost in power, but for those who can overlook its timid engine, it’s otherwise a strong player in its class.

Not everyone may appreciate its bold exterior styling, but it certainly stands apart from the crowd. Its interior is laid out intuitively, with ample accommodations for both front and rear passengers.

The Sportage particularly shines in cargo space. It offers 39.6 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats and 74.1 cubes behind the front, making it among the most accommodating models in its class.

The Sportage’s ride quality is another strong suit as it delivers a composed and supple ride over uneven pavement.

The Sportage also offers a range of models from which to choose. Base LX models start at $27,615 MSRP and are well equipped with a suite of standard driver’s aids and features like a digital gauge cluster and eight-inch touchscreen, keyless entry, and LED exterior lights. Opting for the EX or SX adds more creature comforts like synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, a wireless charger, a panoramic sunroof, and more active safety features.

The X-Line and X-Pro are more all-terrain-oriented models equipped with more ground clearance, a center locking differential, all-terrain tires, and more. Buyers can get the most luxe features and best all-terrain capability with the range-topping X-Pro Prestige.

The Subaru Forester is a spacious, all-terrain-capable small SUV

The 2023 Subaru Forester shares many of the same positive attributes as the Sportage for buyers who can overlook its underpowered drivetrain.

As expected, the Forester sports standard all-wheel drive and its 8.7 inches of ground clearance makes it far more capable than many models in the small SUV segment. On the road, it delivers a comfortable ride quality.

It sports a smartly laid out interior with a bevy of passenger space with 29 cubic feet of storage behind the rear row and 74 cubic feet behind the front seats.  

Subaru’s standard features list isn’t quite as long as that of the Sportage, but models are still generally well-equipped for buyers willing to go above the $27,620 Sport base model.


1 Huge Reason to Pick the 2023 Subaru Forester Over the Kia Sportage