Hybrid bridges gap from gas to electric

2023 Kia Sportage ready to take on rivals.

“I’m not ready to drive an electric vehicle yet.”

“What about a hybrid then?”

“Meh, I don’t know, I just worry about something going wrong with that technology.”

This was a conversation I had with someone about my tester this week – the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid. This is a brand-new offering from Kia as the Korean automaker seems more than willing to “bridge the gap” between gas engines and the inevitable electric vehicle migration. In the meantime, the hybridized offering on the popular Sportage is ready to take on rivals like the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CRV — both of which also have hybrid versions.

More and more of the competition within this segment are offering hybrid versions to try to win over consumers who may have misgivings about EVs and are fatigued with high gas prices. Seat time in the Sportage Hybrid may win over those doubters.

Don’t look now, but hybrids are chic. No, really, they are. And compounding its appeal further, my tester followed another hot trend with its gray matte exterior. Gray (not the passé silver) is a hot color this year and adding a matte finish makes it really stand out. And in a crowded field of SUVs, that’s important.

The honeycomb-like grille is flanked by boomerang-like headlights. It adds quite a bit of distinction to the front end, which is needed as the rest of the exterior styling is rather bland (except for the rear spoiler).

Where the styling impresses the most is inside this SUV. My tester had bold red seats with modernly styled headrests that weren’t just attractive, but supportive and comfortable. Rear seats are comfortable and offer enough room for three adults, although shoulder room might be a little cramped. Two adults would be ideally suited for the back seat, but the Sportage is considered a five-passenger vehicle.

A knock on hybrids in the past is that they ate up useful space and cargo room. The Sportage puts that myth to rest by offering an impressive 39.5 cubic feet of space behind the second-row seats. With the rear seats folded flat, that cargo room expands to 73.7 cubic feet. These are impressive numbers for the compact SUV segment and really impressive for a hybrid within that segment.

It is the interior volume that feels spacious and is the biggest plus of the Sportage Hybrid.

Kia’s infotainment system is intuitive. On the higher trim SX-Prestige that I drove, there’s a 12.3-inch touchscreen that is responsive but also offers enough knobs too. The overall look of this screen is integrated so seamlessly into the dashboard that it is not overwhelming, but just feels like part of the vehicle. That’s rare as often these touchscreens can just look so big and seem out of place. That’s not the case here with the Sportage Hybrid.

A 1.6-liter engine seems small for an SUV, but when mated with a turbocharger and hybrid technology, you realize that the Sportage has just enough power to not be sluggish. I read one review that referred to the Sportage Hybrid as sufficiently peppy and that is a great way to describe to the 227 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of output from this powerplant. Kudos to Kia for skipping one annoying trend with hybrids and foregoing the continuously variable transmission and opting for a more traditional six-speed automatic transmission. As such, it works well with this efficient engine and turbo with no noticeable lag in the shifting.

Front wheel drive is standard, but my tester came with optional all-wheel drive (AWD). With the AWD, the Sportage Hybrid has an estimated EPA rating of 38 mpg/city and 38 mpg/highway. You can’t really beat that kind of fuel economy for an SUV (that isn’t electric).

The base trim starts under $27,000, but my tester was the top trim SX-Prestige with a base price $36,190. With that sexy gray matte paint coat costing a little more plus shipping and handling, the final MSRP of my tester was $38,000.

The five-passenger SUV market is chock full of big names and big sellers. As those vehicles head toward an electrified future, many, like the Sportage Hybrid are helping that progression along by offering a tremendous powerplant. If there are misgivings about all of this emerging technology, a second chance should be given, and the Sportage Hybrid is a great way to have another look at hybrid technology.

Jimmy Dinsmore is a freelance automotive journalist. Email him at jimmydinsmore73@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @driversside

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige

Price/As tested price................................................ $36,190/$38,000

Mileage.......................................... 38 mpg/city; 38 mpg/hwy

Engine............................................. 1.6-liter turbocharged hybrid

Horsepower................................. 227 hp/258 lbs./ft.

Transmission................................. Six-speed automatic

Drive Wheels................ All-wheel drive

Final Assembly Point................ Gwangju, Korea

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