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Radical styling, advanced technologies and available hybrid all-wheel-drive model add up to top choice.

COURTESY PHOTO: KIA - The all-new 2023 Sportage will be the largest subcompact crossover SUV on the market and available in multiple trim levels that offer all-wheel-drive and hybrid power.Perhaps no vehicle demonstrates Kia's remarkable growth in recent years as its Sportage. First introduced as a small compact SUV in America in 1995, it was little more than a cheaper alternative to the affordable but more sophisticated Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.

But 27 years later, the Sportage has blown past them with radical styling, an upscale feel, advanced technologies, and three engine choices, including a hybrid and plug-in hybrid. Although the RAV4 also offers both hybrid versions, its conventional styling pales in comparison to the 2023 Sportage, which also offers a competitive all-wheel-drive system with a locking center differential.

COURTESY PHOTO: KIA - The 2023 Kia Sportage makes a good impression coming and going.Surprisingly, the new Sportage doesn't seem interested in competing against the CR-V and RAV4 any more. Kia seems to have set its sights on more expensive compact European SUVs. Based on a week of test driving the hybrid version, that could be a winning strategy. It looked stunning, had a refined interior with a large curved display screen, drove remarkably well, and handled rainy Pacific Northwest days with grace — all for under $40,000.

The plug-in hybrid version starts at around $4,000 more, but provides the most power at 261 ponies and a respectable 34 miles of electric-only range on a full charge. Although the plug-in RAV4 offers more power and electric-only range, it lacks the Kia's looks and sophistication, although many buyers will undoubtedly prefer the traditionalism of the Toyota.

COURTESY PHOTO: KIA - The interior of the 2023 Kia Sportage features an available panoramic curved display screen that combines multiple screens into a seamless display space almost 25 inches wide. The new Sportage is larger and offers more interior room than preview models. It is 7.1 inches longer than the outgoing model, with a 3.4-inch longer wheelbase. The new model is also slightly taller and wider than the last generation. As a result, it offers best-in-class rear legroom, and a total of 39.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, which is also the best in the class.

Kia's signature "tiger nose" is turned into a floating design that spans the entire width of the front fascia. It also feature boomerang-shaped daytime running lights, angular fenders, and crisp sculpture lines down the sides. Inside, an 8.0-inch infotainment display is standard and all models come with a digital gauge display, too.

COURTESY PHOTO: KIA - The front bucket seats in the 2023 Kia Sportage are both comfortable and supportive.Upper trim levels include a curved 12.3 inch display screen that provides more connectivity and crisper graphics. They combine into a seamless display space almost 25 inches wide. An upgraded Harman/Kardon unit is available as well as a wireless phone charger and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot is also available. It supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay on all trims, and uses a touchpad controller with climate and audio functions under the infotainment screen. A bird's-eye 360-degree back camera system is also available.

The new Sportage comes in a staggering 12 trim levels at varying price points, starting with the base LX at under $30,000 and running up through EX, SX, SX-Prestige and X-Line, while the all-new Sportage X-Pro and X-Pro Prestige trims are equipped with such serious off-road options as B.F. Goodrich all-terrain tires on off-road wheels, LED lights and Multi-Terrain drive modes.

COURTESY PHOTO: KIA - The larger 2023 Kia Sportage offers more rear seat space than ever before.Our test SX-Prestige AWD Hybrid version attracted attention everywhere we went, thanks in large part to its matte-black paint. Some people wondered whether it was a wrap and others asked to touch it. As cool as that was, Kia warns against running that version though automatic car washes, saying they could damage the paint. Be prepared for a lot of hand washing if you choose that option.

In a week of test driving, we found our version of the Sportage to be entertaining, comfortable and practical. It had plenty of power even in the Eco mode and felt light and nimble on the road. It was incredibly quiet, even when the gas engine came on to provide heat or under hard acceleration. The seats were supportive without being confining, while the large optional display screen was easy to use and did not dominate the dash as much as some competitors. We also hauled a load of rocks in it (after covering the mats with cardboard) for a yard project with ease.

Hybrids are a smarter buy than ever these days. Gas prices are still high and the battery/electric motor costs have come down, making them not that much more expensive than gas-only versions. The all-new 2023 Kia Sportage is now a class-leading SUV and its hybrid version with all-wheel-drive is a great choice for the Pacific Northwest.

COURTESY PHOTO: KIA - The 2023 Kia Sportage offers a total of 39.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, which is the best in the subcompact SUV class.

2023 Kia Sportage

Base price: $27,285 (LX)

Price as tested: $38,155 (Hybrid)

Type: Compact crossover SUV

Engines: 2.5-liter inline 4 (187 hp); turbocharged 1.6-liter in line 4 hybrid (227 hp - as tested); turbocharged 1.6-liter in line 4 hybrid (261 hp ) plug-in hybrid.

Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch automatic; eight-speed automatic

EPA estimated mileage: 25/32 to 38/38 to 42/48 (as tested)

Drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport

Overall length: 183.5 inches

Curb weight: 3400-3900 pounds

Final assembly: West Point, Georgia


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