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SMOOTH MOVES: 2023 KIA SPORTAGE HYBRID

Feeling like we’re repeating 2008 all over again with surging fuel costs and a recession peaking its ugly head around the corner, saving money is on the tips of everyone’s budget. Like we saw in the 2008 era, nearly every automaker came out with some sort of hybrid vehicle – funny how history is repeating itself. The good news is, while we may be repeating the 2000’s all over again, hybrid technology has vastly come a long way from what the first-generation Chevrolet Tahoe and Nissan Rouge hybrid’s gave us; yeah, remember those?

Kia is not-so-new to the hybrid technology themselves with the Kia Niro in their pocket and the not-so-far-removed Optima Hybrid from the previous generation. Now that a hybrid system is making its way into the all-new Sportage however, we actually have a pretty good set up here, similar to the recent Kia Sorento Hybrid I tested not too long ago.

Being completely new from the ground up, the 2023 Kia Sportage is a bit of an odd man out compared to the rest of Kia’s offspring. With Kia focusing on a more contemporary, stern design approach as seen with the Sorento, Optima and even Telluride styling, the Sportage went in a completely different direction. As if someone couldn’t put the styling pencil down, there is a lot going on at the front. Looking as if the styling was trying to mimicked the Hyundai Sonata with its hood extending daytime running lights, the boomerang style lights here are funky and definitely different, also extending along the edge of hood like the Sonata – the difference between the two is Hyundai pulls it off a little more fluidly.  

Apart from the front end, there is a lot to like about the new Sportage. Our mid-grade EX trim was generously equipped with a well-executed interior that gives a much more premium vibe check. With its two large digital displays spanning nearly half the dash, Kia is upping its style game to be almost on par with Mercedes-Benz. The simplicity streamline design encompasses a unique odd feature that even had us slightly stumped – the climate control and media controls are managed by the same interface, a push of a button changes the use of what each control can be used for – one for climate control, the other for media & radio and navigation.  Definitely different, not sure how I personally feel about it, but it does take some time getting to know and use to.

Going with the hybrid powertrain does alter the interior cabin slighted with the use of a rotary knob style sifter instead of the traditional hand grab type. The rotary knob creates an openness that is less intrusive but can be finicky at times when trying to quickly change from reverse to drive and not having the brake pedal fully engaged – the annoying little dinging reminder to press the brake pedal firmly can make someone feel like an oof in a busy parking lot.  

The hybrid system in the Kia Sportage is the middle child to the available powertrain options. Since the more powerful plug-in hybrid version isn’t quite readily available yet, the standard hybrid is a breath of fresh air with 40-more horsepower over the standard 2.5-liter engine and its 187-horsepower putts. Similar to the one being used in the Kia Sorento Hybrid – it uses a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder meshed with an electric motor and battery pack that make up for a hardy dose of 227-combined horsepower. Unlike the hybrid systems from our far removed 20-year past, this is a hybrid system that boost performance as well as fuel economy making it the more powerful system available on the Sportage.

Being an untraditional hybrid system, the Sportage’s hybrid powertrain uses a 6-speed automatic transmission verses the general use of a CVT, also known as a Continuous Variable, single speed Transmission. Using a geared transmission makes the hybrid system feel more confident and smoother. Power is direct and continuous with decent responsive from the transmission – granted it’s not dual-clutch smooth or quick, but it gets the job done without any fuss.

An SUV’s general purpose isn’t made to be fun; they are the utilitarian goats that we put through the ringer of our lives – we put them through things we wouldn’t dare put a car through. And that’s the Kia Sportage – on the road it’s not what you would consider a “fun-to-drive” crossover, it rides and drives like any typical crossover would that maintains a level comfort that we all come to expect. Handling is traditional with a nice electrically assisted weight to its tightness that makes it confident to handle but not eager to push its limitations. It just does what it came to do.

Now, hybrid technology generally comes down to one thing, fuel economy. While we appreciate the boost in performance and maximizing that electric torque to our advantage, the end game comes down to the how often we stop for fuel. The Kia Sportage has a claim rating of 38-mpg’s across the board of city/highway and mixed driving. However, as I have always said, hybrids and our Arizona triple digit heat don’t mesh well and considering the consistency of our 33.6-mpg average at the end of my testing duration – its nearly 40-mpg hybrid capabilities didn’t quite live up to my expectations that the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid did.

Despite its 33.6-mpg result, the Sportage is an overall winner if you play the numbers game right. Our Sportage EX Hybrid AWD came in at $33,860 – a base Sportage LX FWD starts at $28,585 and can achieve higher fuel economy whereas going with a plug-in hybrid will be starting around $36,000. Either direction will result in a solidly refined crossover with all the right premium settings from a non-premium badge.  

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