A white 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid is shown driving in a city after visiting a Kia dealer.

Kia’s Hybrid SUV Lineup

Gone are the days when driving an SUV meant sacrificing fuel efficiency in favor of cargo space, extra rows of passenger seating, or go-anywhere capability. Modern hybrid drivetrains make it possible for a vehicle to offer all the space, seating, and power that you could want while still achieving decent mileage.

If you visit your local Kia dealer, you’ll see that Kia’s approach to hybrid vehicles has been, “go big or go home.” They have hybridized much of their SUV lineup, and while the full-size Telluride doesn’t have a hybrid version yet, for 2024, Kia offers three of its other SUVs in hybrid models—the Sportage, the Sorento, and the Niro.

Each vehicle plays a specific role in Kia’s highly diversified model range. For instance, the Niro has been a dedicated hybrid vehicle since the introduction of its first generation seven years ago. It served as sort of a flag planted by Kia to announce its intention to conquer the world of hybrid and electric vehicles over the coming years, and right from the start, it’s been designed to look more or less like a regular vehicle with none of the look-at-me styling quirks that certain other hybrids have exhibited. (We’re looking at you, Toyota Prius.) It was a step along the road toward normalizing cars with powertrains driven at least in part by batteries.

By comparison, the Sportage and Sorento were existing models when they were updated with optional hybrid drivetrains. Yet all three SUVs share things in common despite their different origins. For instance, all three are available as both regular gas-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids. (The Niro is also available as a fully electric model, but for this comparison, we’ll stick to its hybrid versions.)

2024 Kia Sportage Hybrid

The Sportage has a long history. In fact, it was one of the first two Kia models imported to America more than 30 years ago. (The other was a compact car called the Sephia, if you’re hoping to win an automotive trivia contest.) The Sportage has grown tremendously in sophistication and capability since then, although it remains a compact SUV. It has obviously enjoyed popularity, as proven by its staying power, but it only received its first hybrid drivetrain quite recently—last year, in fact. This completed its evolution from a tiny, Spartan SUV that first arrived on American shores when Cheers was still on the air to a fully modern hybrid today.

The Sportage’s hybrid drivetrain boosted more than just its fuel efficiency. As Car and Driver magazine notes about the Sportage Hybrid, “Hybrid models are quicker than the non-hybrid, [with a] well-balanced ride, roomy interior, and cargo bay.” They found fault with the Sportage Hybrid’s “bland” road manners, but its gutsy drivetrain was enough for C&D to rank it #5 among all compact SUVs, not just hybrids. In fact, the hybrid Sportage model sits one spot ahead of the non-hybrid Sportage in their rankings!

Let’s look at the numbers. While Kia’s website doesn’t have specs for the 2024 Sportage Hybrid as of press time, Car and Driver has had an advanced look at the 2024 model and informs us that there are no significant changes from the 2023 model. The 2023 Sportage Hybrid featured a 1.6L turbocharged hybrid powertrain that generated 227 hp and a pretty solid 258 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive came standard, with AWD as an option. Car and Driver achieved a 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds with the 2024 version of this model. Kia’s website states that it achieves 38 MPG combined city/highway, using its gas engine. The 2023 model had an EPA combined rating of 35 MPG.

Stepping up to the plug-in hybrid model increases its horsepower to 261, although torque remains the same. The plug-in Sportage comes only with Kia’s Active All-Wheel Drive system, along with larger wheels, more standard technology features, and luxury equipment. Car and Driver recorded a 6.9-second 0-60 time with this drivetrain and its extra horses. According to Kia, the plug-in capability boosts fuel efficiency to a rather fantastic 84 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).

A blue 2023 Kia Niro PHEV is shown parked near the ocean.

2024 Kia Niro Hybrid

Kia doesn’t really need to append the word “Hybrid” to the Niro; it’s a given that every Niro is hybrid (except for the fully electric Niro EV, of course). As we mentioned earlier, the Niro was born to have batteries. We’ll consider it next in our comparison since, like the Sportage, the Niro is a compact crossover SUV.

For the most part, the Niro looks like a handsome, respectable compact SUV in the same vein as many of its competitors from Honda, Toyota, and Mazda. (By comparison, the Sportage’s sharp angles and muscular flanks recall its origins as a rugged off-roader.) The only hint that the Niro is a bit different from the crowd appears on some trim levels: a contrasting color rear quarter panel that matches with the bodywork just above the door sills to give the Niro a two-tone appearance.

Motor Trend’s review of the 2024 Niro notes, “The Niro has a lot of appeal as a cost-conscious, fuel-saving runabout.” They also express the opinion that the Niro is more of a hatchback than an SUV. They gave it a very respectable score of 8.3 out of 10, with a 9 for Technology and Innovation and a 10 for Value. This is in keeping with Niro’s mission of using fully integrated technology in its design from the ground up to create a fantastically fuel-efficient vehicle.

And fuel efficiency really is the name of the game with the Niro. Its 1.6L hybrid drivetrain produces a modest 139 hp, although its torque is more respectable at 195 lb-ft. In this configuration, it achieves a combined city/highway fuel efficiency of 53 MPG, 18 more than the Sportage Hybrid.

Stepping up to the Niro Plug-in Hybrid boosts its horsepower to 180 and gets you an estimated 33 miles of all-electric range. Thanks to the extra juice, the Niro gets an eye-popping 108 MPGe. Very efficient, indeed! To get these numbers, the Niro Plug-in Hybrid sacrifices some elements of style as well as performance; for instance, it comes with 16-inch alloy wheels versus the Sportage Plug-in Hybrid’s 19-inch wheels. The Niro is very mission-focused, and that mission is to save fuel.

2024 Kia Sorento Hybrid

The Sorento Hybrid is harder to compare directly to either the Sportage Hybrid or Niro Hybrid because the Sorento is a substantially larger vehicle. It’s a midsize crossover with standard three-row seating for seven. Its tall front end and subtly sculpted sides reveal its role as a near-luxury SUV, and it’s really quite attractive compared to many of its competitors. This is an SUV for people who want a spacious vehicle but also prefer not to wince every time they stop at the pump.

Motor Trend calls the Sorento Hybrid “likable and efficient” and ranks it #2 among three-row hybrid SUVs. Admittedly, that’s a relatively small category, but it does include popular models from Toyota and Ford, so the Sorento is holding its own quite nicely. Motor Trend also describes it as being “equipped with a strong suite of standard features.”

The Sorento Hybrid carries much the same powertrain as the smaller Sportage Hybrid and produces the same 227 hp. In the larger Sorento, this system results in a Motor Trend-observed 0-60 run of 8.4 seconds. So the Sorento is definitely not what you’d consider a high-performance SUV, preferring to focus on its mission of ferrying passengers efficiently. And for a relatively large SUV, it is very efficient, with a city fuel economy rating of up to 39 MPG. Step up to the Sorento Plug-in Hybrid, and that number jumps to 79 MPGe despite a bump up to 261 hp.

A grey 2024 Kia Sorento Hybrid is shown parked off-road in a forest.

Which One to Buy?

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you lean toward performance-oriented vehicles. If so, and if you don’t need to carry lots of passengers, you’d probably find yourself enjoying a Sportage Hybrid or especially a Sportage Plug-in Hybrid. But if you want sheer fuel efficiency, go with the Niro or Niro Plug-in Hybrid. If you frequently have several passengers or lots of cargo, the Sorento Hybrid is your ride. But no matter which one you choose, you’ll get the best of both worlds: SUV practicality and economy-car frugality.