Growing up sometimes changes a person and the same goes for cars. Many lose their edge or change their personality through the years. Some get better with age and that’s what happened with the Kia Sportage. Available for the first time with electrified powertrains, Kia’s longest-running nameplate undergoes a major glow-up. Armed with the latest tech features, the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid doubles down on everything and shakes up its segment. This variant effectively makes pure internal combustion entries obsolete and shows the true potential of electrified powertrains.
2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid: Bigger is Better
The latest generation Sportage grows significantly in size thanks to a longer wheelbase. Like before, this SUV stands out from the rest of the Kia lineup with its distinct new face. Its headlights and grille form a unique look complete with boomerang-shaped LED daytime running lights. The taillights feature a similar pattern to the headlights but are curvier and thinner. A single HEV badge on the tailgate distinguishes the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid from its internal combustion counterpart. On certain trims, you can opt for the Shadow Matte Gray exterior like this test car, which further amplifies that SUV’s presence.
Thanks to its growth spurt, the Sportage now has one of the roomiest interiors in the compact SUV class. It comfortably fits five people and their gear. Drop the second row down and you now have a cavern with a flat floor and lots of usable space for bulky items. Additionally, you get a two-level cargo floor and reclining rear seatbacks for extra flexibility. Since Kia mounted the battery under the rear seats, the Sportage Hybrid retains the same interior space as its internal combustion sibling. The car also gets lots of useful small-item storage including two bins on the center console, the latter of which features retractable cup holders.
Class Above Yet Sustainable
Kia’s latest vehicles feature some of the best interiors in their respective segments and that’s no different in the Sportage Hybrid. Nearly everything you touch feels expensive because of how extensively it makes use of soft-touch plastics and padding. They’re nicely textured, too, adding to the cabin’s upscale ambiance. Buttons and knobs all possess a satisfying level of tactility. Excellent levels of sound insulation, on the other hand, keep the cabin serene even on the highway or rough surfaces. Best of all, the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid makes minimal use of animal-based components. The only piece of leather you’ll find is on the steering wheel.
On the SX Prestige trim, you can choose the cool two-tone black and Carmine Red combination. In addition to brightening the interior, this further enhances the cabin’s upscale ambiance, especially when combined with the 64-color ambient lighting. Together with the driver-centric layout inspired by the EV6, the Sportage Hybrid’s interior looks and feels more expensive than its sticker price might suggest. Unfortunately, the black and Carmine Red combination only come in three exterior colors: black, white, and Shadow Matte Gray. If you get any other hue, you’ll get a black interior.
2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid: Technology Benchmark
As part of the Hyundai Motor Group, Kia aims to democratize the latest technologies. The Sportage Hybrid puts that goal into full view because it possesses some of the best gizmos in its segment. Upper trims feature two 12.3-inch displays housed under a single piece of curved glass. In typical Kia fashion, you have a responsive main touchscreen, minimal submenus, and lots of shortcuts. The only thing that has a minor learning curve is the row of haptic feedback controls on the center stack. You need to toggle between climate and other functions but luckily you can program one of the two sets as your default. The available eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system sounds good but its volume doesn’t increase consistently. You need to turn it up to get it to sound clear, and it could do a better job covering the cabin.
On the driver assistance front, the Drive Wise suite in the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid works beautifully. Its components remain subtle. Lane centering, for example, nudges you back gently when you drift while steering assist provides just the right amount of input when helping you navigate easy turns. Highway Driving Assist remains one of the best semi-autonomous systems on the market. It does a fantastic job following traffic flow and proactively keeps track of vehicles around you. If someone cuts you off, it slows down quickly but smoothly, maintaining your set distance and preventing an accident. The system also helps you make evasive maneuvers even at highway speeds and use the brakes to keep you from getting swiped by another vehicle.
Smoother and Quicker
Kia softened the Sportage for its latest iteration. As a result, it feels better-balanced thanks to the suspension’s ability to better absorb harsh impacts and other road imperfections. It also helps that every Sportage Hybrid gets tires with generous sidewalls since the largest available are 18-inch units. This provides additional isolation, giving the SUV more polished road manners. Best of all, that plush ride won’t cost you in the handling department. Even with its cushier tuning, the 2023 Kia Sportage remains confident through turns and steers accurately. Excellent body control keeps the crossover from getting unruly and makes it easy to maneuver. However, the car drives bigger than before, meaning it no longer shrinks around you as much as its predecessor did.
Electrified SUVs like the Sportage Hybrid give you the best of both worlds. It couples a 1.6-liter turbo-four with an electric motor, a six-speed automatic transmission, and a 1.5-kWh battery. In total, it makes 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The result? Lots of usable power for every driving scenario. Put your right foot down and the SUV immediately gets going without any fuss. The gearbox responds immediately with quick shifts. Most importantly, Kia tuned it for better drivability, preventing it from going to the highest gear as soon as possible. Instead, it keeps the powertrain’s sweet spot so you can take advantage of the meaty mid-range torque.
The Sportage Hybrid’s brake pedal operation shows how far Kia has come in making this work as seamless as possible. Imperceptible transitions from regenerative to mechanical braking allow you to stop smoothly and not jerk your occupants around during emergency stops. A reasonably firm yet progressive pedal enables you to input the right amount of stopping power and better gauge how far down you need to press.
All-Weather Capability and Efficiency
Unlike its chief rival, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid uses a traditional mechanical AWD system. Both the EX and SX Prestige grades get this as standard equipment, further strengthening the SUV’s appeal. This layout connects the front and rear axles via a driveshaft, giving you immediate power distribution. As a result, the Sportage Hybrid never feels like an FWD-based vehicle because the rear wheels get traction right away once you accelerate. It splits power as needed to give you the most grip for the driving situation.
Like its platform-mate, the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid also uses its electric motor to improve its road manners. In addition to providing more power, the unit enables torque vectoring, slowing or overdriving the front or rear wheels. Together with the brakes slowing down the inner wheels while cornering, it stabilizes the vehicle, allowing it to corner better. It augments the SUV’s capabilities by improving its handling and giving you confidence on the road. Furthermore, this also contributes to the Sportage Hybrid’s beautifully balanced personality since this improves its agility without needing to stiffen the suspension.
The EPA rates the Sportage Hybrid at 38 mpg across the board on AWD-equipped models. Base FWD models sip even less fuel at 42/44/43 mpg city/highway/combined. During my week with the car, I consistently saw 40 mpg when driving normally, handily beating the EPA figures.
2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid: Incredible Value
Starting at $28,585, the Sportage Hybrid represents stellar value for money. Even this range-topping SX Prestige test car, which costs around $38,000, offers a lot of bang for your buck. You get all of the bells and whistles including heated and ventilated front seats, remote parking, and a full, suite of driver assistance features. The Sportage PHEV due out later this year continues this despite being offered only in the higher X-Line and X-Line Prestige grades. That model starts at $39,785 and tops out at just over $44,000. In addition to the cosmetic tweaks and 19-inch wheels, the Sportage PHEV adds a more powerful electric motor and a 13.8-kWh battery. That increases horsepower to 261 and allows the SUV to travel over 34 miles in all-electric mode. When driven as a conventional hybrid, the Sportage PHEV can travel 430 miles.
To put it simply, the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid checks every box. It’s the class benchmark that punches above its weight. Between its fabulous interior and well-rounded road manners, this SUV redefines the meaning of value. Additionally, it democratizes luxury, allowing more consumers to experience upscale appointments without the requisite price tag. Most importantly, this SUV puts Kia at the top. An electrification leader that offers a broad range of solutions to fit every requirement and desire. Like its big brothers, the Sportage Hybrid proves desirability goes beyond how exotic a vehicle is. It proves that even the most humble of cars can be desirable when executed properly.