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Column: How the 2023 Kia Sportage taught a hybrid noob to feel like a kid again

by Jason Hopkins | January 29, 2023 at 5:03 p.m.
The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid is shown at Bringle Lake in Texarkana, Texas. (Photo by JD for the Texarkana Gazette)

Being a father isn't always easy and being the protector of the house, as some call it, comes with a wide variety of challenges.

Most unexpected.

It is especially hard to trust someone – or something – to take the lead in protecting the family, especially when that thing is technology.

This past week, however, I learned a lot about how I'm not always right and how it is OK for my ideals of being a perfect father to take a back seat to advanced technology.

Driving my fiancé, Vanessa, and my 2-year-old daughter, Eris, around in a 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid opened my eyes to a lot of things to which I would normally turn a blind eye. I never thought safety features and comfortability would require me to go out of my comfort zone.

I was wrong.

This year's all-new Sportage is larger than previous generations and now has the best-in-class rear seat room. That allowed my backseat passengers to have extended leg room, and for my daughter to freely kick around without constantly kicking me in the back. Probably the most important for us parents, getting Eris in and out of her car seat was a breeze with wide-opening doors

Vanessa and I quickly became spoiled.

After getting Eris settled in and watching her face light up with glee, we all hit the road. But not before admiring the Sportage's high-tech cabin.

At first, it all seemed a little overwhelming with a large touchscreen interface and what felt like hundreds of buttons for everything – even buttons that annoyingly interchanged and controlled both the volume and heater blower, depending on what setting you were on. But, after sitting and learning the controls, it quickly becomes muscle memory and the task you're trying to achieve is just an arm's length away.

One of the first things I noticed after figuring out the button scheme and driving the Sportage was how quiet the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine was due to its greater application of sound-absorbing and insulating materials, even after pushing the pedal down to get a feel for the 227-horsepower turbo hybrid powertrain.

The engine is a 44-kilowatt permanent magnet electric motor with a high-output 1.49 kWh lithium-ion battery. It is attached to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a rotary-style shifter on the console. With the setup, it achieves 43 mpg and has more than 500 miles of driving range.

The motor was very responsive and cleared all the concerns I had about driving a hybrid -- I always assumed it couldn't provide the same feel and get-up-and-go of a gasoline engine.

Then I was quickly in awe once the car started taking over. It's not something I was used to. Everything I've ever driven, I was in control of.

While cruising around with the family, I quickly learned we were all in good hands with the advanced driver assistance systems that come standard. Not only do you get a live camera feed to your dash when you turn your blinkers on to show if another car is approaching while trying to switch lanes, but it also comes with many mechanisms and warnings to avoid collisions, including from blind spots, while getting out of the car and rear and front avoidances when driving and parking.

The smart cruise control with stop and go is a nice touch as well as it helped maintain distance from vehicles ahead and maintained the speed, even in stop-and-go driving conditions. On the highway and most major roads, the Sportage makes sure you keep the vehicle centered in your lane to avoid going into oncoming traffic to help keep travelers safe.

With all the safety features and wide variety of entertainment and performance perks the Sportage offers, I would be lying if I said this vehicle did not play a major role -- if not a larger role -- in helping me keep my family protected on the road.

Looking back and knowing we were in good hands with the technology Kia has installed on the Sportage, even I felt like a kid again.



• Models and Pricing: The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid is offered in LX, EX, and SX-Prestige. Base pricing begins at $27,290 for LX FWD and tops out at $36,190 for the SX-Prestige AWD. The LX comes with standard front-wheel drive or optional AWD, while EX and SX-Prestige trims have standard AWD. The non-hybrid version uses a 187-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with an eight-speed automatic.

• All-Wheel Drive Feature: The available AWD system uses electro-hydraulic coupling with a center-locking differential to actively distribute power between the front and rear wheels, depending on the road and driving conditions.




Why we almost canceled our Ford order for this Kia

“Sweetheart, you gotta drive this thing.”

Knowing my visit with Kia’s all-new Kia Sportage, I just had to take it for a moonlit spin across the country side.

The smooth power of the electric-gas combo through – in the age of droning CVTs – an honest-to-goodness six-speed proved a compelling foundation for a cabin that felt like flying a jet. The Sportage did so many things better – though none a lot better – than the 2023 Ford Escape that Blonde Bride and I have on order.

Digging further, we found that not only did the Sportage cost a smidgen less, it also came both HEV and PHEV form. The former simply uses a battery and motor to double fuel economy. Hybrid cars are faster and far more reliable, according to multiple studies. A PHEV can, and should, attain more than 100 mpg.

A PHEV requires the owner to plug the car into a 110-watt outlet. That charges a smaller battery, which provides 30-50 miles of electric-only power. For Blue-eyed-Beauty and me, that would be enough range on about 340 days a year.

There are some things we prefer about the Escape: hybrid technology identical to Toyota’s, a proven engine developed by Mazda. Kias, on the other hand, offer 100,000-mile powertrain warranties, but have a history of catastrophic engine failures.

The knockout blow, however, was the country of manufacture. The Escape is built in North America and so is eligible for about $7,000 in federal income tax credits. Though most Sportages sold in North America are built in the United States, electrified versions are not.

Ah, well. Some things are meant to be. The Escape’s vapor-blue matches her eyes.

—Bill Owney


Print Headline: 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid: This car taught a hybrid noob how to feel like a kid again


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