(The Car Connection) — Times have changed since we started awarding the best economy cars for sale in the U.S. In just the past year, new car prices have surged, setting old standards of affordability aside.

We recognize, though, that many car shoppers still need the lowest-price vehicle with the best value—and for 2023, that vehicle is the Kia Sportage Hybrid.

The 2023 Sportage Hybrid does many things well—and does them better than the gas-only Sportage that’s cheaper but less satisfying. It wears a crisp-looking set of body panels, seats five passengers, and wraps those people and their belongings in an interior worthy of a more expensive SUV, thanks to available leather upholstery, wide-screen infotainment, and a sense of style that puts it a tier above its chief rivals: the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4.

All of those rivals can be configured as hybrids, and the Escape and RAV4 also come in plug-in configuration—but the $28,585 Sportage Hybrid outpoints them on price and makes par with performance. That comes via a 227-hp hybrid system that couples a 1.6-liter turbo-4 to a 6-speed automatic and a small battery pack; the combination accelerates more smoothly than the base Sportage, and generates EPA ratings of up to 43 mpg combined. All-wheel drive factors in for another $1,800—and Kia offers a plug-in with 34 miles of electric range, if you want to spend more. You’ll find better handling in the Toyota, perhaps, but the Sportage Hybrid fares OK with its independent suspension, though it’s more notable for a smooth ride that leans through corners.

With space for five people and a flexible cargo hold, the Sportage Hybrid also brings good passenger comforts to the fore. Even the base version has an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; a 12.3-inch touchscreen comes with more expensive versions, but it lacks the wireless connectivity that the smaller screen offers.

Kia fits the Sportage Hybrid with lots of standard safety technology, too: automatic emergency braking, parking sensors, and active lane control can be upgraded with a surround-view camera system. Other options range from Harman Kardon sound to wireless smartphone charging.

The Sportage Hybrid’s simply the best value of all the vehicles we tested this year, though the Honda CR-V Hybrid came close—and the new Toyota Prius showed up too late to place in the competition. Of course, it’s similar to the Hyundai Tucson, too, though we prefer the Sportage’s interior and exterior style. If scored separately, the Sportage Hybrid would merit a TCC Rating of 7.5 out of 10, the plug-in even higher. With scores like that, and a sticker below $30,000, the price isn’t the only thing that’s right.

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Read about the segment winners of The Car Connection’s Best Car To Buy 2023 awards, and find out which vehicles took home top honors from our sister sites, Motor Authority and Green Car Reports.