The latest version of the Kia Sportage gets a big glow. Kia is so aggressively pushing the design of its cars that this 2023 Sportage Hybrid SX Prestige looks very different from the cute little SUV it replaces. (Heck, it’s hardly recognizable as a Kia.) Behind that brutal styling is a cool new hybrid powertrain, vastly improved cabin technology and the latest driver-assistance technology in the auto industry.
Attractive new look
The new Sportage is larger than before at 183.5 inches in length from bumper to bumper — 7.1 inches longer than the outgoing model — and has an extra 3.4 inches between its axles, bringing the new wheelbase to 108.5 inches. Sharply curvy shoulders, more muscular sides and a horizontal grille and rear shock absorber elements create the illusion of a much wider stance, even though the 73.4-inch-wide SUV is only 0.4 inches wider than its predecessor. Overall, the new look is more mature with a good balance of proportions familiar to modern SUVs in this class with thoughtful and challenging design details that catch the eye wherever the Sportage goes.
The growth spurt gives way to a more spacious interior. The Sportage Hybrid now has more legroom than the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, especially in the second row where it gained a 3.5-inch advantage (41.3 inches versus 37.8 inches in the RAV4). And even with the battery pack costing a bit more cargo capacity versus the non-hybrid model, the 39.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the optional hands-free tailgate in the Sportage Hybrid (73.7 cubic feet with the seats folded flat) is still pretty generous for this purpose class, Beating the RAV4 Hybrid 37.5 cubic feet.
Although it’s called Shadow Matte Gray, this optional $595 exterior example is more satin than a true matte and, frankly, looks more premium. The SX Prestige’s upper specification looks like it was designed with this finish in mind, complementing the satin chrome finish on the grille and window surrounds and contrasting with the gloss black trim around the body and wheel arches. And while the LX and EX trim levels come with 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels, respectively, the SX Prestige features a matte gray practically identical to the 18s with 235/60 all-season tires.
1.6L Hybrid Engine Turbocharged
The Sportage Hybrid is powered by a 1.6L turbocharged inline-4 engine mated to a 44kWh electric motor and a 1.5kWh lithium polymer battery. Together, they achieve a total of 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque that is channeled through a 6-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels or optional all-wheel drive with a locking center differential for light off-road use. This is basically the same as the hybrid powertrain from Outstanding Hyundai Tucson Hybridbut with another horse, so if you don’t like the look of a Kia, maybe Hyundai will tickle your fancy.
User selectable driving modes (Normal, Eco and Sport) allow for extensive customization of the Sportage Hybrid’s response. Meanwhile, standard paddle shifters give more precise control over transmission behavior, but I never need them due to the comfortable suspension of a hybrid SUV, which favors a more relaxed driving style.
The hybrid is the most powerful of the Sportage (for now), much more powerful than the 187-hp 2.5-liter engine in the non-hybrid. I am impressed with the smooth acceleration and powerful scrolling power. Not only does the 1.6-liter engine provide the most pleasant audible experience when the throttle is opened wide, but it’s much less drone-like than most CVT-equipped hybrids, and during light trips and city driving, the Sportage Hybrid is satisfyingly quiet.
It is also fuel efficient. The front-wheel-drive Sportage Hybrid has a combined top speed of 42 mpg city, 48 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined according to EPA estimates. Adding all-wheel drive removes the numbers for my ideal to 38 mpg arranged across the board. Over the 149 miles of performance testing and comfortable cruising, it averaged 35.5 mpg—not far off the mark.
Of course, if you’re as impressed with the performance of the Sportage Hybrid as I am, it might be worth waiting for the next plug-in hybrid model It is expected to be launched later this year. The PHEV is swapped into a larger 7.2 kWh battery pack that can be recharged at a port or charging station for up to 32 miles of electric range before returning to gasoline-hybrid operation, boosting overall efficiency. It should also be a touch more powerful thanks to its 67 kW electric motor.
However, there are potential trade-offs to consider: Making room for more batteries would cost the PHEV 1.8 inches of rear legroom and 2.1 cubic feet of cargo space—though, you’d end up ahead of the RAV4 by both measures. There is also the expected higher price and more limited availability to consider. However, if it is anywhere close to the quality of a file Hyundai Tucson PHEV – which will almost certainly be with the same powertrain and technology – the Sportage PHEV is well worth the wait.
Dual Screen Cabin Technology
The Sportage’s cockpit is home to Kia’s now-familiar infotainment system that connects two screens to a single curved glass panel that extends halfway across the dashboard. This is basically the same infotainment setup that we saw earlier in Let’s EV6but switching menus for electric vehicles for hybrid screens.
The left screen is home to the standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and information display. On the right, you’ll find Kia’s latest generation UVO touchscreen infotainment system. The base LX model features an 8-inch touchscreen, while the EX and SX Prestige upgrade to a 12.3-inch screen with navigation. I’m a fan of this system’s logical and familiar menu system, the user-customizable ‘star’ shortcut buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard and its unique and quirky features like the ability to record voice memos or listen to nature sounds on the go.
Apple CarPlay And the Android Auto Standard on all models with wireless connectivity on the base LX spec’s 8-inch system, but not the big screen EX or SX Prestige models. This is an odd omission that makes the wireless phone charger added in these trim levels somewhat less useful, but it’s not entirely a bargaining chip.
Drivewise Standard Driving Aids
Regardless of styling, all 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrids come standard with the automaker’s Drivewise driver assistance kit. This rolls out in lane-keep assist, forward collision avoidance with braking assistance, blind-spot monitoring, automatic rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking distance sensors. Other optional online safety features that come with the SX Prestige include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, Kia’s blind-sight cameras and surround-view parking cameras, as well as 360-degree parking distance sensors with collision-avoidance brake assist.
The SX Prestige also adds Kia’s Remote Intelligent Parking, a feature that allows the driver to move the Sportage straight forward or backward while parked on the curb. For safety, the system uses distance sensors to prevent collisions with obstacles or pedestrians and only works when the driver is close to the vehicle. It’s nowhere near as complex as, say, Tesla’s Summon promises, but it’s also very easy to operate. Simply put the car into a tight parking spot, jump and hold the button on the switch to steer the Sportage home. As someone who lives with a garage that is often not used because most cars don’t fit in with still being able to open their doors, I might use this feature every day if I had the chance.
The one to get
Pricing for the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid starts at $28,585 (including $1,295 for destination) for the base Hybrid LX, and a premium of $1,300 on the same spec non-hybrid. Add $1800 if you want all-wheel drive, but only if you think you’ll really need it for your climate; The base Sportage Hybrid would probably be more expensive and fuel-efficient without it. The EX and SX Prestige models push all-wheel drive to their respective price tags of $32,285 and $37,485, which simplifies packing somewhat and reduces the hybrid tax to up to $900 for a top-spec SX—choosing a hybrid is almost inconsequential in this rank. .
Including paint and carpeted floor mats, my example comes in at $38,235 as tested—more than $4,000 less than the RAV4 Hybrid Limited when similarly equipped. Therefore, the Kia Sportage Hybrid 2023 is not only one of the best-in-class picks with excellent performance and premium styling inside and out, it’s one of the best values too.