Automobiles

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid First Drive Review: Saving Fuel Never Looked So Good

Kia's funky new Sportage comes with an efficient and powerful hybrid powertrain, and it's a great value, too.

The design is polarizing, but I love it.
Kia

The redesigned 2023 Kia Sportage is only now hitting dealers, and if you're looking for some extra efficiency to back up this crossover's sharp style, I've got good news. The new Sportage Hybrid has the same flashy looks as the standard SUV, but it comes with an efficient powertrain and lots of tech for a relatively affordable price.

Kia offers the Sportage Hybrid in LX, EX and SX Prestige trims. The LX is available with front-wheel drive, but the others are all-wheel-drive only. Regardless of drivetrain, all Sportage Hybrids use a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 engine paired with a 44-kilowatt electric motor. There's a tiny, 1.5-kWh battery on board, but this is a standard hybrid and not a plug-in hybrid, so don't expect any kind of usable all-electric range. (Kia will soon offer a Sportage PHEV with 32 miles of electric range if that's more your style.)

The turbocharged gas engine takes care of most driving duties, but when extra chutzpah is required the electric motor seamlessly kicks in. All put together, the Sportage Hybrid delivers a healthy 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It's powerful and efficient in its Eco mode, but switch the Sportage Hybrid to Sport and the experience gets noticeably more aggressive.

With front-wheel drive, the Sportage should return 43 mpg combined, but adding all-wheel drive drops that figure to 38 mpg.

Kia

Kia pairs this gasoline-electric powertrain with a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. It's a little slow to downshift in the standard Eco mode, but Sport livens up the shift timing quite a bit; there are even paddle shifters if you want to run through the gears yourself. All told, the Sportage Hybrid has no problem making quick work of a winding hill climb outside of Palm Springs, California. Sure, there's an appropriate amount of body roll, but the Sportage feels confident and composed at speed.

With front-wheel drive, the Sportage Hybrid is expected to return 42 mpg city, 44 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. However, opting for all-wheel drive reduces those figures to 38 mpg across the board. That's a shame, as all-wheel-drive versions of the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4 hybrids manage 40 mpg combined.

Before I go on, I'd be remiss not to mention the new Sportage X-Pro which, unfortunately, can't be paired with the hybrid powertrain. Instead, you get Kia's 2.5-liter naturally aspirated I4 with 187 horsepower. This rugged Sportage has 8.3 inches of ground clearance, and rides on moderately aggressive 29-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain tires. The X-Pro's drive modes and all-wheel-drive system are tweaked slightly to account for the different tires. The X-Pro's approach, departure and breakover angles aren't much to write home about (at 18.9, 26.6 and 19.3 degrees, respectively), but this Sportage can still put a wheel in the air and keep moving forward.

Dual 12.3-inch screens are the highlight of top-end Sportage trims.

Kia

Regardless of model, the Sportage has a nicely appointed interior, with comfy seats that can either be covered in cloth or SynTex artificial leather. There are a few hard plastic bits here and there, but at least they're textured to give the cabin a premium overall aesthetic. And since the new Sportage is 7 inches longer than predecessor, that translates to more legroom for both rows, as well as increased cargo space: 39.5 cubic feet behind the back seats.

There are some nice little touches inside the Sportage, too, like a hook on the back of each headrest to hang a bag, and USB ports built into the seat backs. My top-end Sportage Hybrid SX Prestige has all the bells and whistles, including a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster with Kia's cool, built-in blindspot camera.

Like other new Kia vehicles, an 8-inch touchscreen is standard on the Sportage, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but opting for the larger 12.3-inch touchscreen requires a wired smartphone connection. Kia says this is a problem it's actively working on, but the automaker still doesn't have a timeline for when wireless connectivity will be compatible with the larger display. If you choose not to use smartphone mirroring, the Kia Connect system is robust and easy to use, with quick reaction times and bright, crisp graphics.

The Sportage is seriously stylish.

Kia

Base Sportages come standard with driving aids like lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning and forward-collision warning. Step up to the highest trim and you get all that and more, including Kia's Highway Drive Assist, which is a real stress-buster, combining adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Remote parking assist will even let you pull the Sportage in and out of tight spaces without needing to be inside the vehicle.

The 2023 Kia Sportage starts at $27,245 including $1,255 for destination, but the cheapest Sportage Hybrid comes in at $28,545. That undercuts similar hybrid offerings from Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, but of course, adding options will quickly raise the MSRP. A top-of-the-line SX Prestige will set you back $37,445, but that's still less than the average price of a new car these days, and considering everything you get for the price, seems like a more than reasonable sum.