The 2023 Kia Sportage represents a striking and unusual new design direction for Kia’s compact SUV, with the crossover looking as if it was created by aliens and telepathically implanted in the brains of Kia’s designers. Aside from its polarizing styling, the fifth-generation Sportage also marks a big shift, offering hybrid powertrains for the first time in crossover history. Hybrid with a capacity of 226 hp. effectively replaces the previous car optional four-cylinder turbo, while the all-new plug-in hybrid tops the lineup with a combined 261 horsepower, making it the most powerful Sportage yet. The plug-in hybrid powertrain gives the Sportage an extra peppy attitude, especially compared to the base engine without the guts we went earlier this year—and while the extra power doesn’t turn the crossover into an attractive driver’s car, it does make the Sportage a more pleasant passenger and saves gas in the process.
Our test car, the X-Line Prestige, is the more expensive of the two trims available, and carries a $4,500 premium over the base X-Line. For that extra dough, the Prestige offers additional driver aids in the form of adaptive cruise control, highway assist, remote intelligent park assist and blind spot monitoring. On the outside, the Prestige gets upgraded headlights and taillights, along with LED fog lights. The interior is decked out with multi-color ambient lighting, Harman Kardon sound system, power front passenger seat, power driver seat memory, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated windshield and 12.3-inch digital display. calibration cluster. The only option on our $44,680 test car was the gorgeous Dawning Red paint ($395).
The Sportage PHEV uses the same system as the plug-in Sorento versions and Hyundai Tucson. It produces 261 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque thanks to a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four mated to an electric motor. This electric motor is powered by a 13.8kWh battery, and the PHEV is all-wheel drive only. Electric assist gives the Sportage the flavor the base car desperately needs, pulling away from a stop and lurching forward when you need to be decisive in heavy traffic. We clocked a 6.9-second run to 60 mph. That’s 1.5 seconds behind the plugin Toyota RAV4 Primewhich has a 41 hp advantage, but at 30 mph the Kia is only 0.3 seconds behind.
Despite the Sportage PHEV’s speed, it doesn’t encourage spirited driving. The steering isn’t particularly communicative, while brake pedal feel is erratic and squishes during hard emergency stops. However, the Sportage far outperformed the RAV4 Prime in our panic braking test, stopping from 70 mph in 167 feet compared to the Toyota’s 195 feet. Body roll is quite a bit, but the ride is forgiving and the Sportage handles everyday driving well enough, even if it can get a little nervous and anxious on mid-corner bumps. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and the transmission is quiet thanks to the quiet engine and smooth switching between electric and gas power. The noise increases when you push the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine above 3,000 rpm, but the engine doesn’t sound harsh or unrefined, although wind noise can become intrusive at highway speeds.
The comfortable driving experience is enhanced by a well-appointed cabin with additional rear legroom and luggage space thanks to a 3.4-inch longer wheelbase compared to the previous generation. Material quality is impressive, but there’s a lot of piano-black plastic that’s likely to attract fingerprints and dust, especially around frequently used areas like the gear selector and window switches. Two 12.3-inch screens have crisp, clear displays, and Kia’s infotainment system is responsive and intuitive.
The controls below the center screen aren’t as easy to use, though, with knobs and tactile buttons alternating between climate and audio controls. While we appreciate the inclusion of physical knobs, it’s easy to forget what mode you last left the controls in, and trying to adjust the volume sometimes results in an unexpected blast of icy air. The Sportage lacks wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though the systems are available via a wired connection as standard.
Along with the extra power, the plug-in hybrid system improves the Sportage’s fuel efficiency. We observed 31 MPGe, but we struggled to keep the small battery charged, which may have helped close the gap on Kia’s claimed 84 MPGe. The battery is good for a claimed 34 miles of electric range, so even half an hour on the highway will almost deplete it. The Sportage PHEV doesn’t support DC fast charging, but its 7.2kW on-board charger can top up the battery at a Level 2 charging station in about two hours. Charging at home overnight would have been no problem, but the slow charging rate made it a lot less convenient to rely on public chargers to keep the battery full and the Sportage as efficient as possible. However, the plug-in is likely to be more fuel efficient than the other options and allows for short electric jaunts around town.
From the extra horsepower to the tech-filled interior, there’s a lot to like about the Sportage PHEV. But the plug-in starts about $11,000 more than the traditional Sportage Hybrid, which still offers decent power and improved fuel economy without the need for a plug-in. A PHEV makes more sense if you can charge at home and do a short daily commute, or if you appreciate an extra measure of pep under your right foot.
2023 Kia Sportage PHEV X-Line Prestige AWD
Vehicle type: front engine, front engine, four-wheel drive, 5-seater, 4-door station wagon
Base/As Tested: $44,285 / $44,680
Options: Dawning Red premium paint, $395
16L DOHC Inline Turbocharged Intercooled 1.6L 4 177 HP 195 lb-ft + 1 AC 90 HP 224 lb-ft (Total Power: 261 hp, 258 lb-ft; 13.8 kWh Li-ion battery; 7.2 kW on-board charger)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Suspension Front/Front: Strut/Multilink
Brakes, front/rear: 12.6-inch ventilated disc/11.9-inch disc
Tires: Michelin Primacy A/S
235/55R-19 101V M+S
Wheelbase: 108.5 inches
Length: 183.5 inches
Width: 73.4 inches
Height: 66.9 inches
Passenger volume: 100 feet3
Cargo volume: 35 feet3
Curb weight: 4250 lbs
C/D EXAMINATION RESULTS
60 mph: 6.9 sec
1/4 mile: 15.2 seconds at 93 mph
100 mph: 17.5 sec
130 mph: 38.3 sec
The results above are omitted 1 foot deployment 0.4 sec.
Start from 5–60 mph: 7.1 sec
Top Gear, 30–50mph: 3.3s
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 4.6 sec
Braking, 70–0 mph: 167 feet
Road grip, 300-foot pad: 0.84g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 31 MPGe
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 35/36/35 mpg
Combined gasoline + electric: 84 MPGe
EV range: 34 miles
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