By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
We drove a Kia Sportage in the mid-1990s when it first came to the United States. The small Korean-built sport utility was unlike most of the “trucklike” SUVs of the time. It had a comfortable interior, smooth ride and a little four-cylinder engine. It wasn’t the best SUV on the market, but it was one of the best values with a starting price of about $16,000.
Four generations later the fifth iteration of the Sportage is much larger, more refined and it’s a class leader with a variety of trim levels and power choices. And it’s still one of the best values on the market.
The latest model is about two feet longer than the original and it’s one of the largest in its small SUV class. The 2023 model has an attractive design, impressive interior, and a large offering of tech goodies.
Sportage 3 Ways
The 2023 Sportage is available with three propulsion systems: gas, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Combined, it comes in eight trim levels which means you can buy a traditional gasoline powered Sportage for as little as $26,290 plus destination charge and options. Or you can spend as much as $44,285 for the sophisticated two-row Sportage PHEV X-Line Prestige AWD like the one we drove.
The Kia Sportage plug-in electric hybrid is a new model for 2023 and it comes in two very well-equipped trim levels with the X-Line Prestige being the fully loaded model. The only decision is what color?
Based on the Sportage hybrid, the PHEV has a larger 13.8-kWh battery which adds an all-electric range of 34 miles operating just like an electric vehicle. This means for many commuters and those running errands in the neighborhood the gasoline engine may never start. The benefit for the plug-in hybrid is that when the battery power diminishes the gasoline engine automatically starts and powers the Sportage extending the range to about 430 miles on a full tank of gas. It’s kind of like having the best of both electric and gas. Obviously, it’s the best system for road trips.
Turbocharged Gas & Plug-In
The four-cylinder gasoline engine in the Sportage PHEV is a 1.6-liter turbocharged 177-hp four-cylinder engine, supplemented by a 66.9-kWh electric motor and 13.8 kWh lithium polymer battery. Combined, the electric motor and gasoline engine produce a potent 261 horsepower and a zero to 60 mph time of 6.9 seconds according to buff magazine tests. While that doesn’t compare with some of the dizzying acceleration numbers being recorded by many of the electric vehicles, it is enough to provide good passing power and freeway entrance acceleration while still logging very good fuel economy numbers. The EPA rates the PHEV at 84 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) using electricity and gasoline and 35 mpg on gasoline only.
Unlike most hybrids which have continuously variable transmissions (CVT), the Kia Sportage PHEV has a 6-speed automatic transmission with selectable drive modes. We think that’s a big advantage over the belt driven CVT which tends to feel and sound like it’s running on rubber bands.
Charging the Sportage
Charging the Sportage PHEV is best done with a Level-2 charger in your own garage. A complete charge takes about two hours. Level-2 chargers are also available at most public charge stations and at many workplaces. The PHEV cannot use the high-speed chargers that the Kia electric vehicles can use.
7 Color Choices
Exterior color choices include three standard colors and four optional ($395) colors, while inside the very nice, quilted leather-like SynTex interior comes only in black or green sage. The front seats are heated and ventilated, the steering wheel is heated, and there is a panoramic sunroof with power sunshade.
2 Panoramic Displays
The instrument panel is made up of dual 12.3-inch curved panoramic display panels which display navigation, Kia Connect, SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In addition to instrumentation, the panel displays a 360-degree Surround-View Monitor and Blind Spot Detection with cameras showing the side rear view when the turn signal is activated.
Tons of Tech Features
Other convenience features include a Smart Power Tailgate, auto rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charger, rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Keeping and Following Assist, high beam assist and several other driver’s aids. In addition to being very well appointed, the interior is well-designed and user-friendly. Our only complaint was the seats were not as supportive as in some other models.
Best for Typical Drivers
The Sportage PHEV isn’t going to win any prizes from driving enthusiasts, but it does provide a comfortable ride quality and good level of performance for typical drivers. It has active all-wheel drive with central locking differential, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and a 2,000-pound towing capacity.
The 2023 Kia Sportage plug-in hybrid is an impressive link for new car buyers, as we make the mandated transition from gasoline to electric vehicles over the next dozen years. It’s also one of the best values for vehicles in this category. And as a bonus, it has the best warranty in the business: 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain and battery and 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty.