2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid First Drive: Style and Content

Given its current lineup, it’s hard to believe that Kia was once synonymous with cheapness. In fact, the only plate left from those bad old days is the Kia Sportage. Since its launch in 1993, the Sportage has evolved from a curiosity into a true mainstream crossover SUV. But she was still missing something.

The previous generation Sportage was a tough competitor, but with so many vehicles to choose from in this crowded market segment, Kia needed to do more to stand out. To that end, the redesigned Kia Sportage 2023 is adding its first-ever hybrid engine. Kia has been late to the hybrid crossover somewhat, with hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota RAV4 already out for some time, while Kia’s parent company Hyundai has launched the 2022 Tucson Hybrid.

Stephen Edelstein / Digital Trends

The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid is launched in LX, EX and SX-Prestige trim levels. Pricing starts at $28,545 for the base LX front-wheel-drive model—a premium of $1,300 for the non-hybrid model. The mid-level EX and SX-Prestige trim levels get standard all-wheel drive, and they start at $32,245 and $37,445, respectively. Our test car was an SX-Prestige with the more expensive Shadow Matte Gray paint and Carmine Red interior, bringing the tested price up to $38,155.

The Sportage Hybrid is built in Gwangju, South Korea, and will hit dealerships later this year. A plug-in hybrid version is on the way, too.

Headlight and daytime running lights on Kia Sportage Hybrid 2023.

Design and Interior

The Sportage 2023 is easy to spot thanks to a radical new front end with blade-like LED daytime running lights that encase the triangular headlights. The way the lights blend in with the grille gives the Sportage a somewhat exotic look. However, the rest of the exterior is fairly conventional, which means anyone approaching this car from the rear is in for a shock when they see that front end. Regardless, it’s good to see Kia taking some aesthetic risks, especially in a market segment that isn’t usually style-focused.

The Sportage 2023 is based on the same N3 platform as the Kia Sorento. The redesign has increased the volume in all dimensions, but especially the length. The new Sportage is about an inch longer and a half inch wider than the previous generation model, but it’s 7.1 inches longer. This includes a 3.4-inch longer wheelbase, which generally pays dividends in passenger space. The hybrid model has slightly less headroom and cargo space than the non-hybrid Sportage.

Anyone approaching this car from behind would be shocked.

The Sportage Hybrid is also closely related to the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, which means that its interior dimensions are nearly identical. The Korean two- and five-row model is also fairly close to the competition in headroom and legroom across both rows, showing how competitive this market segment is.

Unlike its sister Hyundai, the Sportage gets a dual-level cargo floor. At its lower height, it offers 39.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats locked in place. That’s more than the Hyundai – and all other similar-sized hybrid crossovers. Maximum payload space for the Sportage Hybrid is 73.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded slightly behind the Tucson Hybrid, but it’s still ahead of the hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Honda CRV, and Toyota RAV4.

Our SX-Prestige test car had SynTex synthetic leather, which Kia is now promoting as a sustainable design feature because it’s animal-free. However, it’s still the same faux leather that Kia and other automakers have been using for years to save costs, and it feels that way. You’ll never mistake this for real leather upholstery. Other interior materials were fairly good for a regular car.

Interior design of the Kia Sportage Hybrid 2023.

Technology, infotainment and driver assistance

All 2023 Sportage models benefit from a major infotainment update. Kia now offers a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 12.3-inch touch screen positioned side by side to create a long curved screen, something previously only seen in luxury cars from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. However, this setup is only available on the top-end SX-Prestige model. The LX and EX models get 8.0-inch and 12.3-inch touchscreens, respectively, with a self-contained instrument cluster. There is a touch control panel below the main touch screen, and it can switch between sound and climate controls depending on the desired function.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, but only with the smaller touch screen. As with other Kia models, upgrading to the larger screen means downgrading to wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot can support up to five devices, and four USB-C ports are standard. Higher trim levels add two rear USB-C ports, wireless phone charging and a Harman Kardon audio system.

Digital instrument cluster Kia Sportage Hybrid 2024.
Stephen Edelstein / Digital Trends

Our SX-Prestige test car had a top-notch curved screen, and it looked great looking. We also found the touchscreen to be very responsive, and we liked the graphics, including the clock-style numeral typeface for the speedometer. However, Android Auto won’t display across the entire touchscreen, and you’ll have to switch to Sport driving mode to get the tachometer reading in the instrument cluster. These are fairly minor quirks with a well-executed comprehensive infotainment system.

Standard driver assistance features include forward collision warning (with vehicle, pedestrian, and cyclist detection), lane keep assist, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and a driver attention monitor. The EX adds Blind Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist and Safe Exit Warning, while the SX-Prestige adds adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go function), Remote Intelligent Parking Assist, 360-degree camera system, and blind-spot-view camera and Highway Driving Assist, which add automatic lane focus to the adaptive cruise control system.

Driving Experience

The powertrain of the Sportage Hybrid consists of a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with a turbocharger and a six-speed automatic transmission assisted by a single electric motor. Total system output is 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The base LX model gets standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive, while the EX and SX-Prestige models have all-wheel drive only.

This is the same powertrain used in the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, but the Kia makes 1 extra horsepower. Both Korean models offer more horsepower than the 200-hp Ford Escape Hybrid, the 212-hp Honda CR-V Hybrid, and the 219-hp Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, but those manufacturers don’t quote the torque output for their hybrids.

Compared to its competitors, the Sportage Hybrid is more similar to a non-hybrid. The combination of gasoline and electric power was smooth, and the six-speed automatic transmission provided quick shifts. This resulted in a linear application of power unlike other hybrid systems. And while small, turbocharged engines can fail when their turbo isn’t up to speed, we haven’t had a problem with this one.

Compared to its competitors, the Sportage Hybrid is more like a non-hybrid.

This powertrain is not only good for a hybrid vehicle. We actually think the hybrid is better at driving than the non-hybrid Sportage. This version only gets 187 hp and a slow-shift transmission.

While it’s more powerful and responsive than competitors, the Sportage isn’t built for performance. Beyond the powertrain, its best attributes are a remarkably quiet interior and a comfortable ride. The suspension kept the car steady and the passengers in place during cornering, but it discouraged us from attacking every corner. The steering was unremarkable, and it had annoying synthetic heft in Sport mode.

Spirited driving is not what this car is about. It is just an ordinary crossover designed for everyday transportation. While some crossovers will try to humor driving enthusiasts, the Sportage doesn’t pretend it’s not something it isn’t.

Kia Sportage Hybrid 2023 infotainment touch screen.

Gas mileage and safety

The Sportage Hybrid is rated at 43 mpg combined (42 mpg city, 44 mpg highway), but that’s only with front-wheel drive. The four-wheel drive models are rated at 38 mpg in all three classes, wiping out Kia’s fuel economy advantage. The Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid all-wheel drive are rated at 40 mpg combined, while the Honda CR-V Hybrid matches the Kia at 38 mpg combined.

Crash test assessments from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were not available at the time of publication. That’s because the Sportage Hybrid is a new model that only went on sale recently.

Like other Kia and Hyundai models, the Sportage Hybrid gets a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a five-year, 60,000-mile limited warranty that beats other automakers’ coverage.

How does DT configure this car

If technology is the priority, the top-of-the-line SX-Prestige is the obvious choice. The SX-Prestige gets the most standard driver assistance technologies, including Highway Driving Assist and Intelligent Remote Parking Assistance. It also gets a curved screen that extends over the dashboard, which is the Sportage’s definitive tech feature, in our opinion. Having these features means paying a huge premium over the base Sportage Hybrid LX, but nearly every automaker requires customers to pay extra to get the most out of the technology.

Three-quarter rear view of the Kia Sportage Hybrid 2023.

we took

The Kia Sportage Hybrid 2023 has exactly what you need. It’s competitive with hybrid versions of the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4 in the more significant fuel economy class, but offers more horsepower and better drivability. While Kia’s Hyundai Tucson Hybrid cousin offers essentially the same powertrain, it doesn’t have the same curved screen.

The Sportage Hybrid is also a good SUV as a crossover, offering an interior space comparable to other vehicles in its class. Kia is no longer trying to underestimate competitors, the Sportage Hybrid’s pricing is close to other hybrid crossovers.

There is no perfect car for everyone. While Kia’s decisions were understandable, we wish the Sportage Hybrid was a lot more fun to drive. The design may not be for everyone either. But the Sportage Hybrid ticks all the really important boxes, showing off Kia’s often-overlooked power in hybrids.

Should you get one?

Yeah. Sportage may be new to the hybrid game, but it’s a strong contender out of the gate.

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