New hybrid is larger, more efficient, family-priced SUV …
Kia’s Sportage just keeps getting bigger and better, and now with a hybrid power system it’s more efficient and still can boast of family-friendly pricing.
That’s a lot!
But Kia and its twin cousin Hyundai have always been about value, generous feature content, top-notch warranties, and more recently about styling. The tested Sportage Hybrid EX AWD checks all of those boxes.
First, it was lengthened by 7.1 inches and its wheelbase stretched by 3.4 inches for this 2023 model. That translates into a better ride and oodles more passenger room in the rear seat and bonkers crazy large cargo space under the power hatch.
EX is the mid-level trim and probably the best deal for pricing and features. It’s loaded, including such goodies as heated outside mirrors, heated front seats and steering wheel, roof rails, a wireless charger and rear USB ports, a navigation system and twin 12.3-inch screen, plus all the safety equipment one now takes for granted, and a touch more.
Outside its profile is ubiquitous SUV, but its nose sets it apart with radical, yet stylish, arrow-shaped wild child headlight surrounds and a bold nose that some may consider a bit much, but when you see all the luxury makes packing garish monster grilles and logos the Kia seems to be whistling the same tune.
Yet it’s the solid performance and excellent fuel economy netted by the hybrid system that make Sportage a must-compare small to mid-size SUV. Worthy competitors are Hyundai’s Tucson, Honda’s CR-V, Mazda’s CX-5, Ford’s Escape, and Toyota’s RAV4.
Kia goes with a tiny 1.6-liter turbo I4 coupled with a hybrid system for power. That nets 227 horsepower that’s smoothly delivered via a 6-speed automatic transmission. No CVT here to slow up acceleration, instead the 6-speed gets right to it and gives the Sportage good low-end power for quick getaways.
Naturally there are several drive modes, including Snow, which locks the center differential and could come in handy in Wisconsin. Of course AWD is standard on this and the SX-Prestige trims of Sportage while the entry-level LX is front-drive, but offers AWD for about $1,800 more.
The hybrid system uses regenerative braking and coasting to repower the batteries to help give the car more oomph from a start and boost gas mileage. The AWD Sportage is rated 38 mpg city and highway because of that system and I got 32.2 mpg in about 60% highway and 40% city driving. Weather was cold and sloppy wet snow for a couple days.
Note a plug-in hybrid model also is available and delivers 34 miles of electric range on a charge. Power is also greater with 261 horsepower on tap.
Ride in this standard hybrid is pleasantly controlled and the lengthened wheelbase certainly plays a roll. Handling is easy too with moderate feedback from the steering, yet the Sportage is easy to control on the highway and I plowed through some blizzard conditions with this one and it never got squirrelly in the fresh snow. There’s slight body lean in tight turns at speed, like most utes.
My only concern kicked in between 45 and about 50 mph when there was a buzz or high-pitched hum that stirred in the cabin. Not sure of its origin, but did not seem to be road noise or wind-related.
Inside, the handsome dark metallic Vesta Blue Sportage looked more upscale than its price tag would insinuate. The dash and door panel tops were soft dark blue material with a cream colored lower section and the synthetic leather seats were also cream. Door armrests and the center armrest/storage box were that Navy blue to give this a sporty two-tone look.
A gray trim spread across the dash and doors too and Sportage’s center console was gloss black and included a wireless charger at its front. Satin chrome door releases and air vents perked up the interior, giving it a bit of a jeweled look.
The driver’s instrument panel is a 12.3-inch digital number that blends into the 12.3-inch touchscreen that includes navigation and most of the other info screens and radio. It’s all easy to use, but the climate and radio buttons that basically toggle back and forth below the screen are touch-sensitive and mostly wouldn’t engage when I was wearing gloves. Not sure if all carmakers now design their interiors in SoCal, but here in the upper Midwest we wear gloves for 3-4 months every winter. It would be nice to not to have to remove them to adjust the heat and radio.
This is surprising too because Kia and Hyundai usually are better at interior controls than this.
Note too that when the Sportage starts it does not default the info screen to a home page so you can select from the 10 or so screen choices. It goes to one saying which driver (1 or 2) is driving so you know whose settings are installed. Odd!
One more thing. On a snowy day with the wipers and defrosters needing to do their thing the windows kept fogging with the climate controls on automatic. We had three people aboard and I kept switching back to the A/C mode to take the moisture from the air. Odd that the automatic climate didn’t do that for me. First world problem, but still!
Happily the interior is comfy with powered seats up front along with heated seats and a heated steering wheel too. While some Kia seats have been harder than I like these were fine and well-shaped. One minor complaint, while the heated seats and wheel buttons wisely were located on the console, they default to off, so each time you start the car you must remember to re-engage them. Many vehicles now remember such settings and pick up where they left off once the car is restarted.
Certainly the lengthened Sportage is extremely roomy inside, so it’s comfy for four adults and a fifth could fit in back, especially if none are too wide, or are young kids. And cargo room is phenomenal for this size SUV at nearly 40 cubic feet behind the second row. Fold those split seats down and it grows to nearly 74 cu.ft. Wow!
Overhead is a panoramic sunroof, but that’s part of the $1,500 EX Premium package that also includes LED lights inside, the power hatch and twin illuminated vanity mirrors. That later item is mostly standard now throughout the car world.
Add in the $155 floor mats and this EX that started at $32,285 with delivery grew to just $33,860. That’s a bargain for family transport this comfy and efficient. A base front-drive LX starts at $28,505, but the $30,385 AWD model will likely be a better choice in Wisconsin.
Move to the SX-Prestige and you’re looking at $37,485 for a loaded model. Then there’s that 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and the same for its batteries. Remember too that the average new car price is now $45 grand, so these are value-oriented models to be sure.
Consider too that the Sportage EX comes with forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian recognition, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, a driver attention warning, auto high beams, lead vehicle in motion alert, and reverse parking sensors along with cross-traffic alert, blind-spot assist and safe exit warning.
One bell and whistle it could do without is the annoying “Check Rear Seat” chime that sounds to warn you may be leaving a child in the rear seat. Really!
I suppose we’ll have to live with the bells and chimes until the cars all drive themselves completely. Then there may be an alarm to warn us when it’s time to exit the vehicle and if it’s safe to do so. Futurama is here!
FAST STATS: 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid EX AWD
Hits: Interesting looks, good acceleration that seems less like a hybrid, good ride and handling plus AWD standard. Lengthened model offers good passenger and cargo room, includes heated front seats and steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, big info screen, four drive modes, wireless charger, power hatch, and solid safety equipment.
Misses: Climate/radio touch buttons below screen don’t work when wearing gloves, auto climate didn’t do well defrosting windows with three people in car, “Check Rear Seat” chime annoying, info screen doesn’t default to Home and heated seats and wheel default to off. Annoying buzz between 45-50 mph.
Made in: Gwangju, So. Korea
Engine: 1.6-liter turbo I4 hybrid, 227 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,896 lbs.
Wheelbase: 108.5 in.
Cargo: 39.5-73.7 cu.ft.
Tow: 2,000 lbs.
MPG (tested): 32.2
Base Price: $32,285 (includes delivery)
Carpeted floor mats, $155
EX Premium pkg. (panoramic sunroof, LED interior lights, hands-free hatch, dual illuminated vanity mirrors), $1,500
Test vehicle: $33,860
Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage