June 24, 2024
Wheels

Kia Sportage Hybrid competes with best of compact SUV class

Thoughtful design, price make for top-choice accolades

Redesigned for 2023, the Sportage SUV has gotten bigger and more powerful.

When faced with many attractive options, sometimes the biggest mistake you can make is simply not picking one. In the case of the compact SUV class, there are some stellar choices – the 2023 Kia Sportage has earned a chance to be up at the top.

Redesigned for 2023, the Sportage SUV has gotten bigger and more powerful. A new hybrid model is now available and I recently tested the EX trim with all-wheel drive (AWD). For Kia’s SUV lineup, the Sportage rests between the diminutive Seltos and large-size Sorento with its three rows.

The Sportage goes up against some high-powered hybrid competitors at Toyota (RAV4) and Honda (CR-V) and manages to hold its own by offering more interior space, storage, and a lower price. The new Sportage is larger than the previous model and among the largest compact SUVs in the class. Kia says there are 39.6 cubic feet of space just behind the backseat, which is about 9 cubic feet more than the previous Sportage.

Aesthetics

On the outside, there is little to differentiate the Sportage Hybrid from the gas-only version. This is a good thing as the Sportage is a handsome and sporty-looking compact SUV. There’s nothing on the exterior that intimates there’s a hybrid source of power being used.

My Vesta Blue Sportage Hybrid EX had a very contemporary look with blacked-out vertical pillars, wrap-around headlamps, and classy 18-inch finished alloy wheels. The swooping roofline gives it a sleek feel and the rear roof extension adds to the sportiness.

Hybrid power

The Sportage Hybrid is available in LX, EX and SX-Prestige trims. The LX comes with standard front-wheel drive or optional AWD, while EX and SX-Prestige trims offer AWD as standard.

A turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine combines a 1.49-kilowatt-hour battery and 44-kilowatt electric motor to provide a total output of 227 horsepower. A quick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission worked flawlessly. The non-hybrid version offers 187 horsepower via a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

The Sportage Hybrid has an EPA rating of 42/44/43 mpg city/highway/combined with the base front-wheel drive. The AWD on my EX tester is a valuable feature in Midwest weather conditions, but it will cost you by lowering the combined mileage to 38 mpg.

Cabin

The hybrid cabin features a rotary dial shifter, one of the few real differences from the gas-powered Sportage. Everything else looks and feels the same. Overall, I found the Sportage to have a very thoughtfully designed cabin that’s ready to haul passengers and stuff in many different ways.

Base LX models have an 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration; step up to the EX (or SX) trim and enjoy a much larger (12.3-in.) touchscreen paired with an all-new 12.3-inch gauge cluster screen.

Front-row seating is excellent and quite comfortable. The second-row headroom and legroom are plentiful with supportive seating for three. There is a mix of hard- and soft-touch surfaces, but it is done with taste and a level that exceeds the value price. In the back, spring-loaded cargo-area handles quickly drop seats down in a 60/40 split. The dual-level cargo floor is a nice touch for holding smaller items, along with the underfloor storage.

Look for expandable multi-sized cupholders to accommodate large drinks or smaller bottle sizes. The deep center console storage can handle valuables and is easily accessible for snacks on road trips. Built-in hangers on the backs of the first-row seats are thoughtful and the integrated hooks for shopping bags or corralling charging cables, along with large pockets, make a family drive more comfortable (if not organized).

Drive quality

The Sportage Hybrid’s offers quick acceleration and instant torque from the electric motor. A drive mode selector offers a Sport setting for extra fun and the Eco mode will save on fuel (and fun). I drove in the Sport mode often and it was a great experience for getting around town and jumping into highway traffic.

Offering a blend of value with generous space and comfort, the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid makes any compact SUV buyers’ list. The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid LX starts at $28,585 (w/destination charges) with standard FWD; AWD adds $1,800. The EX and SX-Prestige have standard AWD and start at $32,285 and $37,485. With the starting price for the base Sportage Hybrid just $1,300 higher than the gas-only Sportage LX, this is a value to take a long look at.

• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing, and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations, and vehicles.