The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid emphasizes the human in the interface between driver and machine
Table of Contents
5 Cool Things
Powertrains and Fuel Economy
Kia Sportage Hybrid Performance
Ride and Handling
Back Seats and Cargo
Why Buy the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid?
The Kia Sportage could have been put out of its misery after its 1995 debut in the U.S. This little SUV was the second model in the Kia lineup after the born-to-be-a-beater Sephia small sedan.
From my first test drive of the inaugural five-door Sportage, I remember the paint drips, the spongy seats, and the flimsy construction. But it was cheap to buy, its utility was family-friendly, and it had a can-do driving personality. It even had a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, which at the time went beyond the coverage of most other brands.
The mid-1990s was the frontier for new small SUVs. The Kia Sportage was up against the already popular Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Yet, the Korean upstart endured and has taught some tricks to its competitors.
Today, more than 30 subcompact and compact SUVs are for sale in the U.S. And the 2023 Kia Sportage is now in its fifth generation, completely redesigned and re-engineered.
Since launching the first Sportage, Kia now sports five SUVs ranging from subcompact to large and battery electric (EV6). There are 12 models in the Kia lineup, of which seven are electrified or battery electric.
Among the competitors of the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid are the Honda CR-V Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
The Sportage has gone from one of the smallest SUVs in its class to one of the largest, Kia says. Its overall length is 7.1 inches longer than the previous generation, with a 3.4-inch longer wheelbase.
The new Sportage is a half-inch taller and wider. Kia says the Sportage has class-leading rear legroom of 41.3 inches and best-in-class rear cargo capacity of 39.5 cubic feet when factoring in the dual-level cargo floor.
Kia moved the new Sportage chassis to the latest third generation “N3” platform of the Sorento midsize SUV. Building this compact SUV on a midsize foundation creates a rigid base and better driving dynamics, Kia says.
Using more “hot-stamped parts” and ultra-high-strength steel increased tensile strength and torsional stiffness. The result minimizes road, wind, and engine noise. And for a more traffic-calmed cabin, more sound-absorbing and insulating materials were added.
The larger Sportage is a market separator from Kia’s smaller SUVs, the Seltos and Niro.
America loves a choice for just about any product and the 2023 Kia Sportage choices. It is available in seven trim levels with gasoline, hybrid, and (soon) plug-in hybrid powertrains. New for 2023 are two new “adventure-ready” X-Pro trim levels.
With standard all-wheel drive, the Sportage X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige have a 1.5-inch boost in ground clearance. X-Line models also have unique body and interior trims and options for new 19-inch all-terrain tires and the multi-terrain mode AWD system.
Sportage starting prices range from $27,285 for the LX front-wheel-drive model to $38,085 for the AWD X-Pro Prestige model.
The Sportage Hybrid has three trim levels of LX, EX, and SX-Prestige. Base pricing ranges from $28,585 for the LX FWD to $37,485 for the SX-Prestige AWD.
Today’s 2023 Sportage EX AWD tester came to $33,940 with options for the EX Premium package ($1,500) and carpet floor mats ($500).
The EX Premium package adds:
- Panoramic sunroof with power sunshade.
- Smart power tailgate;
- LED interior lighting;
- Dual illuminated sun visor vanity mirrors
Vehicle MSRPs include the $1,295 freight charge. Gasoline models are built at West Point, Ga.; electrified models are built in Gwangju, Korea.
Find current Kia Sportage pricing and incentives here.
Driving range of more than 500 miles for the Sportage Hybrid.
Coat hanger re-imagined. A molded coat hanger behind the front headrests has a quasi-valet function. The plastic molded hangers give good collar support, but Kia also added a hook for a shopping bag or for organizing charging cables just below on the seatback. The robust coat hanger is a natural grip for back-seat occupants to use for a bit of leverage on exit.
8 standard Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Included are the newly available 360-degree Surround View Monitor with 3D View and live feed Blind-Spot View Monitor in the instrument cluster.
Leading Vehicle Departure Alert. For those too busy answering texts at the stoplight, the Sportage gives a chime to notify that the vehicle ahead is pulling away.
Dual level cargo floor. It adds 5 cubic feet in the low position and drops the floor about 3 1/2 inches. Floor-to-headliner height grows from 29 inches to 32 ½.
Kia’s “Opposites United” exterior design “philosophy” applies smooth, soft surfaces offset by rugged, sheer forms. The treatment combines off-road confidence with cutting-edge modern cues, Kia says.
Design identifiers include Kia’s Tiger nose grille that spans the entire width of the front fascia. “Boomerang” daytime running lights push the uniquely shaped headlights to the outer corners. And angular fenders imply a sharp and strong presence, Kia says. The futuristic “notch-shaped” taillights connect by a thin black graphic across the tailgate.
The base, nonturbocharged, direct-injection 187-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine replaces the outgoing 181-hp, 2.4-liter engine with direct injection. A new eight-speed automatic transmission replaces a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy ratings on the recommended 87 octane are 25/32/28 mpg city/highway/combined for front-wheel drive and 23/28/25 mpg AWD. (The 2.4-liter had fuel economy ratings of 23/30/26 mpg FWD and 21/25/23/ AWD.)
The 2023 Sportage Hybrid has a combined 227-hp from the turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder and front and rear permanent magnet synchronous hybrid motors. The lithium pouch-style battery pack has 270 volts and 1.49kWh of energy.
The six-speed automatic transmission helps provide AWD fuel-economy ratings of 38/38/38 mpg on the recommended 87 octane. Front-drive hybrid Hybrid models have mileage ratings of 42/44/43 mpg city/highway/combined.
Around-town driving in my test week, returned mileage in the mid-20s to the mid-40s. My highway mileage ratings were 36 to 41 mpg on average. The 13.7 gallon fuel tank will provide a generous cruising range of 500 to 520 miles.
The soon-to-be-released 2023 Sportage PHEV builds on the hybrid model’s powertrain. Its 177-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is supplemented by a 66.9kW electric motor and 13.8 kWh lithium-polymer battery. It has a targeted battery-electric driving range of 32 miles. Sales are expected to begin in July 2022 with pricing expected to start at around $35,000.
The roll-on of hybrid power is linear and forceful. There are driver-selectable drive modes of Eco, Sport, Smart, and Snow (AWD only). The system defaults to Eco mode on start up, but I got the best fuel economy in Smart mode, which monitors driving style for the most efficient performance.
While paddle shifters are standard on the Sportage Hybrid, I did not feel the need to use them. There is an element of deceleration braking, which is useful to reduce on-and-off throttle use. The engineering of throttle uptake, braking engagement, and steering response is balanced and reassuring to the driver.
The Sportage suspension is tuned for comfort, not sportiness — and that is an asset for this glorified family wagon. The independent suspension uses front MacPherson struts and a rear multilink setup with gas-pressurized shock absorbers front and rear. The ride can feel bouncy over city street transitions and lumpy sections of road, but it is never sloppy.
The ride quality is cushioned by the robust sidewall of the 235/60 18-inch Goodyear Assurance Finesse tires. These are all-season low-rolling-resistance tires to aid fuel economy, and they are not hard-rolling or squirmy in emergency maneuvers. (17-inch tires and wheels are standard on front-drive models.)
The active on-demand all-wheel-drive system, with terrain modes, is fully automatic with no driver engagement. The system routes power between the front and rear wheels depending on road and driving conditions.
Braking force is absolute from the 12.6-inch front rotors and 11.9-inch rear rotors. And the regenerative action of the braking is not noticeable.
Driver Assist Technologies
All models of the 2023 Sportage have a suite of driver-assist technologies. Among them:
- Forward Collision Avoidance-Assist with Car, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection;
- Blind Spot Detection;
- Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist;
- Lane Keeping and Following;
- Driver Attention Warning with Leading Vehicle Departure Alert;
- Rear Parking Sensors;
- High Beam Assist.
For more semi-autonomous driving (two hands on the steering wheel), the EX model includes Blind Spot Collision Avoidance-Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance-Assist.
The Sportage interior reflects the design of high-end outdoor products, furniture, and modern architecture, Kia says. The treatment is intended to transform the cabin into a pleasant living space, complete with near-luxury, thoughtful features.
And it is a pleasant space, very well soundproofed, and with many details to emphasize the human in the machine interface. The most noticeable noise is the HVAC fan.
But it also is a highly digital space. Some functions of the infotainment screen require a two-finger tap that can take eyes away from the road.
The upper trim levels of the Sportage have a panoramic curved display that connects two 12.3-inch screens. One is the driver’s digital instrument cluster; the other is for infotainment and cabin controls, top center in the instrument panel.
Front headroom is reasonably tall at 37.8 inches with the panoramic sunroof (in the EX Premium package) or 39.6 inches without the sunroof.
Asymmetrical Shift Console
The shift console has tool-box function to smartly arrange all the little things American drivers use every day:
- Engine start button
- Self-parking camera
- Wireless charging
- 2 USB charging ports (including one C-type
- Seat heaters
A pair of deep cup holders can be segmented by a nifty spring-activated grip for smaller cups or cans or leave the space open to secure a tablet.
The gear selector is a low and broad dial, but it will take some initial focus to rotate the dial. The lower trim levels have a traditional shift lever.
The EX cabin is well dressed in quality trim materials. SynTex leatherette (“animal-free”) upholstery is relaxed to the touch but feels durable. Perforated centers take the sweat from summer, but the Sportage EX does not have ventilated front seats.
The driver seat is 10-way power adjustable with lumbar support. But the front passenger has only a four-way manually adjusted seat.
From my testing of other higher trim level Kia models, I missed having a front power passenger seat, a front parking sensor, and the blind-spot view monitor. The blind-spot views activate in the gauge array, either left or right when the turn signals are used. And for the tester’s almost $34,000 price, it would not have been excessive to expect a cargo area roller cover, which is “available” for $150.
To get a front (eight-way) power passenger seat and front AND rear parking sensors requires moving up a trim level to the SX Prestige. It starts at $37,485, but floor mats and a roller cargo cover are still optional.
The back seat legroom in the Sportage is some of the longest in a passenger vehicle at 41.3 inches. Even with tall occupants in the front seats, there is adult leg space and footroom.
But three across on the 60/40 folding rear bench makes the space feel more subcompact than compact. And like nearly every rear bench seat, the center position is best as a short-run position or for the neighbor kid on a summer evening ice cream run. A low hump to the transmission-exhaust tunnel helps center seat footroom, but it is still a narrow, no-elbow-room position. The window seats are the best, separated by the cushy fold-down armrest with can holders.
There is an easy-fold function to the seatbacks. The seat-base handle, rather than a release tab at the top of the seatback, is for handier for an occupant to ease back the seat a few inches, or fold the seatback completely for cargo.
Cargo space is broad and tall, with an assist from the dual-level floor. The opening is 45 inches wide by 29 inches tall for 34.5 cubic feet behind the back seat. And the dual-level floor adds about 3 ½ inches more height in the low position. Fold the 60/40 seatback for 6 feet in length.
The 2023 Kia Sportage has evolved to the top tier of family-life small SUVs. Its fuel economy will be a top attention-getter for motorists in the market. And the EX tester is a defining statement of “premium” materials, durable construction, and smart engineering. There are less expensive small SUVs, but few that compare to the Sportage Hybrid’s interior appearance and easy drivability.
Sportage owners considering the 2023 model will immediately appreciate the languid stretch of cabin space. It is a more horizontal environment rather than the vertical cabin orientation before. The tailgate glass is taller for better views, and the ride quality is far smoother, too.
The design is a study in providing special small features and details that make this small SUV a keeper. But there were a couple of missing details on the Sportage EX tester that prevented it from being a keeper for me (and her).
The girlfriend-wife did not like the “sitting in a bucket” front passenger seat. And a front parking sensor would take the creep out of edging closer to our garage door — and an inadvertent “Oops, too far.”
There is a $3,000 price difference between EX versions of the gas and hybrid models. But the value difference between the two powertrains is the enjoyable performance of the Sportage Hybrid with its much better fuel economy.
It might be worth considering the Sportage SX Prestige for those who plan to keep their new Sportage for the life of the powertrain and hybrid battery warranties: 10-years/100,000-miles.
Body style: compact, 5-seat, 5-door SUV
Engine: 177-hp, turbocharged and direct-injected 1.6-liter 4-cylinder; 195 lb.-ft. torque from 1,500-4,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Fuel economy: 38/38/38 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane or higher
Motor: 44kW permanent magnet synchronous; 59.3 hp from 1,600-2,000 rpm, 195 lb.-ft. torque from 0-2,100 rpm
Battery: 1.49kWh lithium-ion (pouch type); 5.5Ah, 270-volt;
Total system power: 227-hp, 258 lb.-ft. torque
BY THE NUMBERS
Fuel tank: 13.7 gallons
Cargo space: 34.5-65.4 cubic feet; cargo floor in low position, 39.5-73.7
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds with trailer brakes; 1,653 w/unbraked trailer
Front head/leg room: 37.8*/41.4 inches *39.6 inches without sunroof
Rear head/leg room: 37.8*/41.3 inches *39.1 inches without sunroof
Length/wheelbase: 183.5/108.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,896 pounds
Turning circle: 38.6 feet
Standard equipment includes: Smart key locking with push-button ignition and remote start, 12.2-inch driver instrument display, 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment display with navigation and Kia Connect, wireless phone charger, power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, SynTex seat upholstery, heated front seats, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, front and rear USB-C charging ports, electronic parking brake with auto-hold, 18-inch alloy wheels and temporary spare, heated side mirrors with turn-signal indicators, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights and taillights
Safety features include: 6 air bags, electronic stability and traction controls, downhill brake control, and hill-start assist
Sportage EX base price: $32,285, including $1,295 freight charge; price as tested $33,940
Options on test vehicle: EX premium package $1,500; carpeted floor mats $155
Where assembled: Gwangju, Korea
Warranties: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper basic coverage with roadside assistance; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain; 10-years/100,000-miles hybrid batteryRead more