CHATHAM, Mass. – Now in its fourth decade, the Sportage remains a stalwart of the ever-expanding line of Kia sport-utility (SUV) and crossover-utility (CUV) vehicles.
Once one of the smallest of the compact SUVs, the fifth-generation Sportage upon its introduction in 2021 became one of the largest in this segment at 183.5-inches long/73.4 wide/66.1 high with a generous 108.5-inch wheelbase.
Combined with larger windows and — like the fully equipped 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige I recently had for a week– panoramic moonroof, the larger overall dimensions translates into a much roomier (and roomier-feeling) cabin for five plus their stuff.
A boost, a jolt helps the Sportage hybrid go
A year after the latest iteration of the Sportage was introduced Kia added two types of hybrid versions to its compact-SUV line. The Sportage X-Line Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) can travel up to 32 miles as an all-electric and is rated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency at 84MPGe.
For those who want the fuel-efficiency benefits of a hybrid without the complexity and costs of a plug-in hybrid, Kia also introduced the three-level lineup of Sportage Hybrids (HEV) for 2023 with the SX-Prestige topping the range.
The 1.6-liter turbocharged gasoline direct injection (GDI) four-cylinder engine produces 177 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque. Kia married a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor with 59.3 hp, thus creating a total powertrain with 227 hp and 258 lbs.-ft. of torque.
The powertrain also includes an automatic six-speed transmission and all-wheel drive (AWD) system with driver-controlled drive-mode select system. This system allows the Sportage driver to tailor throttle, transmission and braking to maximize performance in Eco, Smart, Sport and Snow modes.
Recharging the battery of the Sportage hybrid is done by the SUV’s generator while in motion and through regenerative braking which occurs whenever the driver lets up on the accelerator pedal.
More powerful and more economical than the gasoline-fueled AWD Sportage (187 hp and 25 miles per gallon respectively), the hybrid AWD version (227 hp and 38 mpg) can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 7.4 seconds (about a half second quicker than the gasoline-fueled one).
The federal Environmental Protection Agency rates the Sportage Hybrid AWD at 38 mpg in all types of driving (urban, highway and overall); my week of pushing the SUV and a couple of hundred miles of highway travel at 60-75 mph returned a 37.5 mpg figure.
Higher-speed highway travel is the bane of hybrids and all-electric vehicles which are designed to maximize economy in average everyday-type driving. After filling the gas tank following the highway trip, the next 100 miles with much less highway time resulted in 39 mpg.
A solid platform
The basic platform of the recently introduced Kia Sorento mid-size SUV provides the underpinnings of the Sportage Hybrid. This gives the compact SUV a solid basis for any on-road and limited off-pavement activities.
The suspension components include MacPherson-type struts up front, a multi-link independent setup in the rear, both ends supported by gas-pressurized shock absorbers.
Power-assisted, anti-lock (ABS) supported four-wheel disc brakes operating inside 18×7.5 in alloy wheels with 235/60R18 all-season tires.
All the pieces come together for a very satisfying driving and riding experience. The Sportage Hybrid is a quiet place in which to travel, with comfortable seats and the roomy (aforementioned) sense of being within a larger vehicle.
The driving characteristics are reassuring even on the twisty roads down from the ocean cliffs of Wellfleet, Mass., to the sea-level Cape Cod Bay beaches. And the 8.3 in. ground clearance of the Sportage Hybrid AWD meant I could maneuver over the rutted, dirt paths off this road without any problems (and when winter hits, most regional snowfalls).
Long list of advanced driver-assistance systems
Furthering my confidence in piloting the Sportage regardless of the surroundings was a comprehensive list of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).
Kia equipped the Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige with: Blind Spot-Collision Avoidance Assist-Rear; Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist; Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go; Driver Attention Warning; Forward Collision Avoidance Assist car/pedestrian/cyclist detection; Forward Collision Avoidance Assist car/pedestrian/cyclist detection and junction turning; High-Beam Assist; Highway Driving Assist; Lane Following Assist; Lane Keeping Assist; Lane Departure Warning; Navigation based Smart Cruise Control Curve; Parking Distance Warning – Reverse; Parking Distance Warning – Forward; Parking Collision Avoidance – Reverse; Remote Smart Parking Assist; Surround View Monitor (SVM) with 3D View, and Blind View Monitor.
Interior filled with high-end features
Kia does not call the Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige a premium or luxury vehicle, but it certainly comes with interior amenities, conveniences and touches which were once the province of much more costly vehicles.
The front seats are power adjustable (the driver’s with memory and lumbar support) heated and ventilated; the leather-wrapped steering wheel is heated; the automatic climate-control system has two zones, and the steering wheel has controls for the infotainment system.
The Prestige trim’s infotainment system features a 12.3-in. TFT screen which also projects the maps of the standard navigation system. Satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming smartphone connectivity, HD radio as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are also part of the infotainment package which projects its sounds through the seven-speaker (including subwoofer) Harman Kardon Premium Audio system.
Additionally, the Sportage has two 12-Volt outlets, three USB-C outlets for charging mobile devices and wireless mobile-charging pad in the generous, covered bin in front of the transmission selector in the center console.
Value remains a key Sportage advantage
The compact SUV/CUV segment is filled with a diverse population; there are numerous excellent vehicle choices for someone in the need of a reasonably sized, relatively fuel-efficient, attractive conveyance.
The Kia Sportage has been a part of this segment since the 1990s, with each subsequent generation getting better. Kia has given today’s buyers a wide variety of compact SUVs which share one major characteristic – excellent value.
The Sportage Hybrid lineup ranges from the $27,490 LX to the $31,190 EX to the $36,390 SX-Prestige, extremely competitive, especially considering the hybrid powertrain.
The 2023 Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige I tested is a perfect example of Kia’s value orientation. This SUV has everything, everything discussed in this article is standard equipment.
The lone options available, aside from special paint (the tester had a gorgeous shadow matte gray for $595), the other one listed on Kia’s consumer website are really accessories (like the $155 carpeted floor mats in the one I had).
So, the as-tested price for the test vehicle was $38,155 (inland freight and handling adding $1,215). I have tested a number of compact SUVs similar in pricing, but none offered hybrid technology or as long a list of standard equipment and features.