Kia Sportage PHEV — A remarkable makeover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(February 12, 2023) Kia arrived in the United States in 1992 with the Sportage compact SUV, well ahead of the current crossover popularity. The other initial entry was an inexpensive compact sedan called the Sephia. The Sportage, which quickly gained fans in the soon-to-be small SUV segment, was a collaboration of Kia, Ford and Mazda — Ford having a stake in the company and Mazda providing the powertrain.

Many years later Kia is now part of the South Korean Hyundai Group, and has grown into one of the most respected brands in the industry. Its highly regarded manufacturing status is due in great measure to the current three-row crossover Telluride, which is not only a huge sales success, but has won more awards in three years than virtually any other vehicle sold in the country.

First-generation 1996 Kia Sportage

Kia is continually adding new vehicles and upgrading others — prime example the compact Seltos, which has been a big hit since it entered the market in 2020 as a 2021 offering, and the three-row Sorento, which was completely made over in 2021. And, oh yeah, there's also the electric EV6, one of the best vehicles in the electric ranks.

So what about the company's long-running and consistent best-selling Sportage? In 2018, the model reached the 5 million production milestone, and is now positioned between the Seltos and the Sorento in Kia's SUV global lineup. It seems that Kia has overlooked the Sportage in its rapidly evolving new lineup, but that was before the introduction of the fifth generation for 2023.

The Sportage is now a different kind of animal, bigger and better in virtually every way. Looking at it, most people won't think "Sportage" because it doesn't look much like the previous model — and its interior is a vast improvement over the outgoing vehicle. It now has more passenger and cargo room than the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.

To quickly sum up — the newest Sportage is a very compelling compact crossover at a competitive price, and it's now large enough to handle four adult passengers in comfort. It should be considered on everyone's short list who are looking for a new compact SUV.

The focal point of the new look is two boomerang LED daytime running lights wrapping around diamond-shaped headlights with both elements integrated into Kia's trademark Tiger Nose grille. Angular taillights are featured at the rear creating a fetching design.

From every angle the Sportage looks larger than the outgoing model, 7-inches longer with a wheelbase stretched by 3.4-inches. Width and height are about a half inch larger. The new size transforms the Sportage from one of the smallest vehicles in the compact utility class to one of the segment's largest.

There are three distinct powertrain choices, and we think your choice will make a big difference in how you perceive Kia's newest product.

• The standard Sportage brings a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission making 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque.

• The hybrid Sportage is powered by a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. It puts out 227 combined horsepower mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

• The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) — just now reaching dealers — is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder paired with a hybrid powertrain making 261 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.
Although we haven't driven the standard-engine model, every test we've seen from Consumer Reports to Car & Driver, has found the standard engine — while adequate — does not offer the modern performance people have come to expect. Example — a 0-to-60 run takes nearly 10 seconds, and that means is you must observe caution when passing a poky driver on a two-lane road to insure you will have enough room to get back in the left lane.

We think the sweet spot is the standard hybrid that brings decent 7.5-second performance in the 0-to-60 run and outstanding gas mileage measured at 42 mpg city, 44 highway and 43 combined in two-wheel drive and 38,38,38 in all-wheel drive. That's compared to the gas-only Sportage that's rated at 25/32/28 in FWD.

And the hybrid is priced only about a grand higher than the standard Sportage.

We drove the plug-in hybrid for a week and we admit it's a slick machine. Performance from its 261 horses will rival virtually all competitors in the class. At the same time — with its bigger battery pack and plug-in feature — it's possible to gain 34 miles of gas-free driving after each charge. If your week-day chores take you mostly around town you may never have to use gas. At least until your weekend excursion.

The downside to the plug-inm
odel is price — especially when you look at the 40 mpg available in the standard hybrid. Our top-line X-Line Prestige with AWD carried a bottom line of $44,195 including destination charge. With a $595 charge for special Matte Grey paint the bottom line was $44,880. By comparison a X-Line Prestige AWD hybrid carries a MSRP of $37,715.

The 2023 Kia Sportage's biggest wow factor isn't the aggressive exterior styling, but its interior layout. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is standard equipment across the lineup. The digital instrument cluster gives the interior a modern vibe, one that's complimented by a 12.3-inch touchscreen on the higher trim levels. Both screens together create a stunning 24-inch display atop the dashboard. Very cool.

One feature we could not completely get used to in a week's driving was the center touch panel that replaces the traditional radio and climate control settings that swaps between the two functions at the press of a digital button. Several times we thought we were using the volume knob only to find we had the wrong screen and were in fact turning down the temperature. It works well while sitting in one place, but can become an aggravation while driving — another built-in driver distraction.

There's substance beyond the big screens, too. Flexible cupholders and USB outlets halfway up the backs of the front seats make charging much easier for rear-seat passengers or a copilot with too many gadgets. USB ports for front-seaters are housed in a small lidded bin in front of the shifter.

Rear seat passengers get some of the best legroom in the compact class, along with reclining seatbacks. Behind the second-row seats are 34.5 cubic feet of storage. And the seatbacks fold down flat creating a 65.5 cubic feet of cargo space.

And one last thing — don't forget all Kia products come with a 5-year/60,000-mile comprehensive warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mike drivetrain warranty.

2023 Kia Sportage PHEV


Base price: $40,015; as driven, $44,880
Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, electric motor
Horsepower: 261 combined
Torque: 258 foot-pounds
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Wheelbase: 108.5 inches
Length: 183.5 inches
Curb weight: 4,211 pounds
Turning circle: 38.6 feet
Luggage capacity: 34.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 65.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 11.1 gallons
EPA rating: electric only, 84 MPGe; gas hybrid, 35 mpg
0-60: 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota RAV4 Prime, Ford Escape Plug-in hybrid

The Good
• Premium interior materials
• Cutting-edge styling inside and out
• Large cargo capacity

The Bad
• Less range, fuel efficiency than some competitors.

The Ugly
• Driver-distracteion radio/climate controls