2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid Review:Driving Impressions

Beverly Braga, Independent Expert | May 09, 2022

Introduction

The Kia Sportage has been around since the mid-1990s, which makes it the oldest model in the South Korean automaker's lineup. With the steadfast popularity of crossovers, the Kia Sportage has at the same time increased in popularity with buyers. In fact, despite the arrival of newer models like the Sorento and Telluride, the Sportage was Kia's best-selling crossover utility vehicle (CUV) in 2021. And it was two years removed from a refreshed design.

But the compact crossover segment is also the auto industry's largest. Consumers have more choices than ever. So, for 2023, the Kia Sportage is not only completely redesigned but also welcomes all-new hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants.

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid Price and Release Date

The first-ever Kia Sportage Hybrid arrived in U.S. dealerships this spring. The automaker builds the Sportage Hybrid and PHEV in Gwangju, South Korea, unlike its internal combustion engine-equipped sibling, which Kia now produces at its West Point, Georgia, manufacturing plant. The Sportage PHEV will go on sale later in 2022.

The Sportage Hybrid comes in just three trim levels: LX, EX, and SX-Prestige. The base LX is front-wheel drive (FWD) with available all-wheel drive (AWD). EX and SX-Prestige trims are AWD only. The Sportage Hybrid's powertrain consists of a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine coupled with a 44-kW electric motor and a high-output 1.49-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The combined output is 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The standard transmission is a 6-speed automatic.

The Sportage Hybrid price starts at $28,545 (including the $1,255 destination fee) for the base LX FWD. All-wheel-drive configurations will cost another $1,800. The mid-level EX trim starts at $32,245, while the top-of-the-line SX-Prestige jumps to $37,445.

For this review, I tested a Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige. Additional options included Shadow Matte Gray premium paint ($595) and carpeted floor mats ($155). The all-inclusive MSRP totaled $38,155.

Independent Expert Opinion: Design, Comfort, and Utility

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige Shadow Matte Gray Front Quarter View

Photo: Beverly Braga

The new Kia Sportage is noticeably more aggressive and bolder in its design, both inside and out. Previously one of the smallest models in the compact CUV segment, the fifth-generation Sportage has grown in length, width, and height and is now one of the largest small SUVs available. The Sportage's size increase includes an additional 7.1 inches in overall length (now 183.5 inches), yet the crossover presents a lean and sporty appearance.

Like the gasoline version, the Sportage Hybrid has a block-like profile with muscular (but not bulky) fenders. Character lines are sharp and precise, as are the new front and rear fascias. Kia's signature tiger-nose grille is also more prominent than the version on the outgoing model. This puts the 2023 Kia Sportage in line with the exterior design characters of its bigger brothers, the Sorento and Telluride. Kia redid the Sportage Hybrid's headlight and taillight housings with boomerang-shaped LED daytime running lights, which is now the standard look for all Sportage models, regardless of powertrain.

Only minute details such as satin chrome finishes, wheel designs, and badging distinguish between the hybrid and non-hybrid versions of the 2023 Sportage. And, similar to the gas-powered variant, Kia equips the Sportage Hybrid LX with 17-inch alloy wheels, while hybrid EX and SX-Prestige trims receive an 18-inch wheel-and-tire set. Also, like the gas version, ground clearance on the Sportage Hybrid is 7.1 inches for FWD models and 8.3 inches for those equipped with AWD.

Similarly, with the interior, gas-versus-hybrid details are subtle. The layout in the Sportage Hybrid is almost precisely the same as what you'd see in the standard Sportage model. Having driven both, the only noticeable difference is the shifter. The 8-speed automatic transmission in the gasoline-engine Sportage resembles an aircraft gear lever but is still a shifter, no less. In the hybrid, its gear selector is a rotary-style knob. Why? I have no idea. Nothing else changes with the lower center console area—cupholders, charging points, and seat temperature controls remain the same across the Sportage lineup.

Otherwise, the Sportage Hybrid cabin is appealing and premium in look and feel. Unfortunately, the same uncomfortable seat-bottom cushion that plagues the Sportage X-Pro Prestige makes its way into the Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige as well. But, for the most part, the SynTex synthetic leather is soft, and the bolstering is supportive. The vegan-friendly upholstery is standard on EX and SX-Prestige trims; the Sportage Hybrid LX features cloth seat covers.

Spaciousness in the Sportage Hybrid is best-in-class, the SUV providing 41.4 inches of legroom in the front and 41.3 inches in the rear. For the latter, that's a year-over-year increase of 3.1 inches, which results in what Kia claims is best-in-class rear legroom. Headroom increases a bit as well. Front-seat occupants get another 0.2 inches, while rear-seat passengers receive another 0.1 inches for 39.1 and 39.4 inches of headroom, respectively.

The Sportage Hybrid also has a standard dual-level cargo floor and 39.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats. This means the Hybrid has 0.1 cubic feet less cargo capacity than the conventional Sportage, whose 39.6 cubic feet is segment-leading. Nevertheless, it's still cavernously impressive, considering the previous-generation Sportage only had 30.7 cubic feet of storage capacity and that there's now a massive battery pack underneath. With the rear seats folded, the cargo capacity measures 73.7 cubic feet. The standard Sportage offers up to 74.1 cubic feet, but both are considerable increases versus the prior model's 60.1 cubic feet.

Independent Expert Opinion: Infotainment, Technology, and Safety

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige Interior Dashboard

Photo: Beverly Braga

As mentioned earlier, in-car technology in the Sportage Hybrid is essentially the same as in the standard Sportage—and that's a good thing! Opting for gas or hybrid propulsion shouldn't be a demerit for either side since powertrain selection and vehicle capability are as much a lifestyle choice as it is a life stage one.

Kia equips the base Sportage Hybrid LX with a 12.2-inch LCD supervision cluster with an integrated 4.2-inch driver information display. The standard 8-inch infotainment touchscreen offers Bluetooth, HD Radio, and voice recognition, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The EX trim ups the ante to a 12.3-inch touchscreen that adds navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and SiriusXM satellite radio to the features list. Move up to the SX-Prestige and the instrument panel upgrades to another 12.3-inch display. Combined, these two create a seamless, panoramic curved display—a Sportage first. It's quite an upscale feature in what's essentially a non-luxury vehicle in an entry-SUV class.

The screens are clean, intuitive, customizable, and easy to read. The response is quick, which can lead to annoying error taps while driving. Also, a touchpad screen that features multi-function knobs on either end replaces traditional knobs and buttons for climate and audio controls. Icons next to the driver's-side knob will alternate the touchscreen between climate and main menu controls. When in climate mode, both knobs adjust the cabin temperature (i.e., the left for the driver, the right for the front passenger). When viewing the main menu, you'll get a familiar Kia placement of "buttons" for the map, navigation, audio, settings, etc. It's smart and functional but does take some getting used to while driving, especially without any haptic feedback.

Other techy bits include a new Kia Connect operating system, which replaces the previous UVO setup. The new system offers over-the-air updates, upgraded Kia Access app features, cloud-based mapping, and virtual-assistant compatibility with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Also available is a Harman Kardon premium sound system, wireless device charging, and USB-C charging ports in the center console, rear stack, and within the seatbacks.

With regards to safety, the new Sportage Hybrid has a comprehensive list of standard and available features and advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). For example, not letting that nearly 25-inch panoramic display go to waste, newly offered in the Sportage is a 360-degree, 3-dimensional vehicle monitor. And because the touchscreen is so responsive, moving the vehicle view around or selecting alternate angles is a breeze.

There is a high level of safety technology throughout the Sportage Hybrid lineup, many of which are first-time applications for the Sportage. Starting with the LX trim, standard ADAS features include:

The Sportage Hybrid EX adds:

  • Blind-spot collision avoidance assist (BCA) (works to avoid collisions when changing lanes)
  • Safe Exit Assist

The upper-echelon Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige receives the following safety exclusives:

As of this review's publication, the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid has not been rated for crashworthiness by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Independent Expert Opinion: Driving the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige Shadow Matte Gray Rear Quarter View

Photo: Beverly Braga

The Sportage Hybrid offers surprisingly good power delivery and driving dynamics. Compared to the Sportage X-Pro Prestige—the only gasoline variant available at a Kia test drive event—the Sportage Hybrid felt lower to the ground (even though Sportage AWD models have the same 8.3-inch ground clearance). It also offered a quieter ride, thanks to all-season tires versus the X-Pro's all-terrain tires. The hybrid also produced less body roll, likely due to the added battery weight.

Kia equips the non-hybrid Sportage with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 187 hp and 178 pound-feet of torque. Although not necessarily underpowered, acceleration is painfully slow. Also, its 8-speed automatic goes through gear changes like a continuously variable transmission. Meaning it's elastic without the snap. But then you have a Sportage with a hybrid powertrain that offers 227 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque working with a 6-speed automatic.

More horsepower always sounds like it'd be more fun, but only if delivered smoothly and efficiently. Thankfully, in the Sportage Hybrid, it is. Driving the X-Pro Prestige and Hybrid SX-Prestige was like being in two different vehicles. The ride quality of the Sportage Hybrid was more comfortable and, more importantly, inspired more confidence. The off-road-ready Sportage X-Pro shines on the dirt but fails to manage asphalt with aplomb. And that's where the Sportage Hybrid does well, feeling balanced on sweeping mountain roads and offering less body roll during cornering.

The maximum curb weight of a Sportage Hybrid AWD is 3,896 pounds. The heaviest gas-powered Sportage AWD weighs 3,834 pounds. I doubt those extra 62 pounds alone made the dynamic difference. But if also considering the placement of the batteries, the smaller wheels, and the all-season tires, it's a formula for a controlled driving experience.

What the Sportage and Sportage Hybrid do share is lackadaisical steering. It's unapologetically dull. Even though the hybrid feels better on the road, its steering is just as numb as the gasoline Sportage. In terms of drive modes, the Sportage Hybrid has Eco, Smart, and Sport with Snow added to AWD models. Also, Kia equips all hybrid models with paddle shifters, which are not available on the standard Sportage. They function as intended, but the Sportage is no sports car, and so the paddle shifters are only worth engaging for brief stints, if at all.

Sportage Hybrid fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 42 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, and 43 mpg combined for FWD models and 38 mpg (city/highway/combined) for AWD. During my 70-mile road test through the Palm Springs, CA, area in 80-degree desert heat, the Hybrid SX-Prestige returned 41.7 mpg. This included elevation changes, full-throttle starts, and hard braking. Under less exuberant driving conditions, the hybrid will likely exceed the EPA estimates even further.

Independent Expert Opinion of the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid

In its nearly 30 years of existence, the Kia Sportage has been competitive in one way or another. Either by being the most affordable, having the longest warranty, or earning top safety ratings. But the all-new 2023 Sportage is all of that and then some. More power, more space, more technology, more swagger. With the addition of electrified models, the Sportage is unlikely to be the last consideration on the ever-growing list of compact crossover options.

The Kia Sportage Hybrid has so many high-end features that it not only outclasses its direct competitors but also takes a swing at entry CUVs from premium and luxury brands. And, of course, at a not-so-high-end price point. Yes, the redesigned Sportage is also more expensive than ever, but you get more Sportage than ever. And as a first-time entrant into the electrified space, the Sportage Hybrid sets a high bar for all other automakers. The only thing I can add is that I'm looking forward to the upcoming Sportage plug-in hybrid, as it's probably the best Sportage yet.

Beverly Braga is a freelance writer and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a storyteller and communications professional. In addition to JDPower.com, her work has appeared in numerous print and digital outlets covering the automotive, entertainment, lifestyle, and food & beverage industries.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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