2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige: An ALMOST Perfect Kia
I have mentioned long before that my first introduction to the Korean automaker Kia was my dad’s 1997 Kia Sephia. It was a beige-on-beige base model Econo-box with a rhyming name that makes you smile every time you say it: Kia Sophia… The brand has come a LONG way since then when its only other model in the American market was the Sportage small crossover.
Now in 2023, the Sephia is long gone and the Sportage remains as the longest-running nameplate for the brand and the make’s best-seller at 18% of Kias sold through June of 2023. Sportage competes in the hottest segment in the business, compact crossovers, against the big-hitters of Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, along with the likes of Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, and Subaru Forester to name a few. At $38,530 as this SX-Prestige version is spec’d, is it the perfect representation for the brand?
No. But it is close…VERY close.
It gets a lot of things right. From its affordable price, efficient powertrain, luxurious and high-tech options, and overall packaging, buyers shopping for the Sportage get a lot for their money. The ride of our Hybrid model was exceptional through our city driving, better than our 10-year-old compact crossover (which isn’t saying too much). The packaging of the Sportage means it feels more spacious than our 10-year-old crossover as well, almost like it competes in the next largest size class.
Comfort is great in the Sportage as well. A 2-person memory driver’s seat means a couple of drivers can find their optimal driving position without inconveniencing the other. Heated and ventilated front seats along with dual-zone climate controls work well and help ensure the proper temperature inside no matter the conditions outside. Rear seat space feels more generous than the minivan we drove prior to this tester.
Fuel economy ratings from the government on the window sticker are impressive at 38 mpg in all situations, though in our week of real-world testing, we came up about 9 mpg short. That is not a deal breaker but should be noted that it is one of the larger discrepancies we have seen since we have begun testing vehicles.
Stopping here, you would think we are headed to our local Kia dealership to replace our decade-old vehicle right now however, there is ONE glaring issue I must address: over-engineered HVAC/Media controls. WHY did Kia think it a good idea to pull double duty on the two most accessed features in the vehicle? The same knobs that control the temperature also control the volume and tuning of the media system. Depending on what you have selected, you could accidentally burst your eardrums trying to warm the cabin or freeze yourself when trying to turn the volume down to see better (you know you do it too).
I feel that the added visual benefit of the reduced controls is overshadowed by the frustration owners will feel over having to ensure they are in the right mode before turning a dial. It just does not make sense to me why this risk would be taken on the brand’s best-seller.
I don’t hate many features of vehicles, but after living with this system for three separate weeks in three separate Kia models (the EV6 also employs these controls), I can confidently say this is a miss that needs to be corrected and would potentially lead me to the competition if I were ready to buy right now.
We all have our sticking points when it comes to vehicle design, this is a big one for me.
Outside of the frustrating user interface, the Sportage feels like a solid home run for a vehicle quickly stealing the spotlight from longtime stalwarts of the industry. At just over 71,000 units sold through the first half of 2023, it has a long way to go to catch up to the Toyota RAV4 at 187,000 units or the Honda CR-V at 163,000 units, but definitely makes a case for itself in the pursuit.
If the UI does not bother you, this may be a crossover worth a test drive.
2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige AWD Specs:
1.6L Turbocharged Hybrid 4-cylinder Engine
258 lb-ft of Torque
6-speed Automatic Transmission
All-Wheel Drive with Center Locking Differential
Regenerative Braking System
Seating for 5
Heated and Ventilated Front Seats with 2-person Driver Memory
Second Row Reclining and Fold-flat Bench Seat
Syn Tex Seating Surfaces
18-inch Alloy Wheels
235/60R18 Goodyear Assurance Tires
12.3-inch Infotainment Screen with Wired Apple CarPlay® & Android Auto™
12.3-inch Digital Instrument Cluster
Harman Kardon® Sound System
Dual-zone Automatic Climate Control
Smart Hands-free Power Liftgate
39.6 Cubic Feet of Storage Behind the Rear Seats
74.1 Cubic Feet of Storage with the Second Row Folded Flat
Remote Parking SystemSurround View Monitor
Highway Drive Assist
Proximity Key with Push Button Start
EPA Fuel Economy 38/38/38 (city/hwy/cmb)
Starting MSRP $36,190 (Hybrid SX-Prestige)
Price as tested: $38,530