First Drive: The Kia Sportage PHEV is a bold-looking and efficient SUV

Kia’s striking new Sportage is now available as a plug-in hybrid. Ted Welford sees what it’s like

First Drive: The Kia Sportage PHEV is a bold-looking and efficient SUV

What is it?

(Kia)

Kia’s Sportage is a model that has continued to grow in popularity over the years. From cheap-and-cheerful winter 4×4 to near-perfect family transport, this SUV has never stopped improving.

Today, it’s not only Kia’s best-selling model, but also the fifth best-selling car overall in the UK, with the fifth-generation Sportage – launched earlier in 2022 – helping to boost this growth. While the South Korean firm already offers it as a mild-hybrid and hybrid versions, Kia is now introducing a plug-in model, but is it worth choosing?

What’s new?

(Kia)

One-in-three Kias sold last year were electrified in some way, so Kia has got plenty of expertise here, which is why this plug-in hybrid powertrain – while new for the Sportage – is already offered in several other Kia and Hyundai models.

We’ll explore more of it later, but there’s plenty of other noteworthy aspects to the Sportage, not least its striking new design and cutting-edge interior, which looks to move Kia’s image further upmarket.

What’s under the bonnet?

(Kia)

For this Sportage Plug-in, Kia pairs a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine (which is found in other versions of this SUV) with an electric motor and 13.8kWh battery. The combined output is 261bhp and 350Nm of torque, with this allowing for a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds and a top speed of 119mph.

Its relatively big battery also allows for a claimed 43-mile electric range, though we saw closer to 30 during our – admittedly – more rural testing. Charge regularly (it takes just under two hours with a 7kW charger), and there’s scope for very low running costs – Kia claiming 252mpg (though almost all your miles will have to be electric to achieve this) and 25g/km CO2 emissions. That latter figure is particularly important for fleets, a big target for the Sportage, as it attracts a benefit-in-kind percentage of just eight per cent.

What’s it like to drive?

(Kia)

Like most plug-in hybrids, this Sportage is at its best when running on electric, when it’s smooth, relatively brisk and impressively refined. When the engine kicks in it’s relatively unobtrusive, though never feels as quick as the 261bhp power figure suggests.

It handles nicely for a heavy hybrid SUV too, while large windows all-round offer great visibility. While comfortable at higher speeds, around town or on rougher roads, the ride can be a bit unsettled. Its six-speed automatic gearbox isn’t also the best, and can feel jerky when changing up. One positive with the Plug-in, though, is that it comes as standard with all-wheel-drive, which could prove useful in the winter months.

How does it look?

Kia has been trying to make its cars look bolder in recent years, and the Sportage is possibly one of its most distinctive yet. It’s the front end that’s the main talking point, with a distinctive grille and striking boomerang-shaped LED running lights. While eye-catching, we personally find it a touch challenging, particularly its grille, which just seems outlandish for outlandish sake.

It’s more positive elsewhere though, with the Sportage having a very neat profile if viewed side-on, while the angled rear end with distinctive LED rear lights is smart too. Our test car’s ‘Experience Green’ paintwork also suited it well, and is a welcome change to the monotone shades often found on family SUVs like this.

What’s it like inside?

(Kia)

Arguably the biggest step up on this Sportage is its interior. On higher-spec cars, such as our ‘3’ car tested, you get two 12.3-inch screens that merge into one main curved panel. It gives this Kia a very upmarket feel, with a look close to that found in some BMW and Mercedes models, and the technology works very well. The overall quality is excellent throughout as well, while we’re big fans of the strip of buttons that have dual uses – a press of a button changing them from radio/nav settings to climate control.

Larger dimensions than the previous Sportage enable plenty of interior space too, with adults able to get comfortable in the rear while there are useful USB sockets in the back of the front seats. At 540 litres, the PHEV’s boot is slightly smaller than the 591 you get with the regular Sportage, but there’s still loads of room, along with dedicated space beneath the floor to keep the cables out of the way.

What’s the spec like?

(Kia)

All Sportage PHEVs come with plenty of equipment, including 19-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, three-zone climate control and a 12.3-inch touchscreen to name just a few highlights.

Upgrade to the ‘3’ and it adds heated front and rear seats, a larger 12.3-inch digital dial display and electric front seats, and it would be our pick of the range. If you venture further up to ‘4’ and GT-Line S versions, you’ll get features like ventilated seats and a 360-degree camera system, but at quite a jump in price.

As for what the Sportage PHEV costs, it starts from £38,395 in GT-Line trim, rising to £43,795 for the GT-Line S. There’s no escaping it’s a lot of money, especially when you consider a regular hybrid version in the equivalent spec is available for nearly £5,000 less.

Verdict

There’s no underestimating just what a step up this Sportage is compared to its predecessor. In the mainstream segment, it arguably has the best interior of the lot, while offering loads of interior space and generous equipment levels too.

Unless you’re a company car driver, though, and can make use of the low tax rates, this Plug-in perhaps doesn’t show this SUV up at its finest, with a choppy ride and high price being two slight weaknesses. While still a very good car, we reckon better value can be had by opting for the regular hybrid.

  • Model: Kia Sportage PHEV
  • Price: £38,395
  • Model as tested: Kia Sportage 1.6 T-GDI 3 PHEV AWD
  • Price as tested: £40,240
  • Engine: 1.6-litre petrol-electric plug-in hybrid
  • Power: 261bhp
  • Torque: 350Nm
  • Max speed: 119mph
  • 0-60mph: 7.9 seconds
  • MPG: 252mpg
  • Emissions: 25g/km
  • Electric-only range: 43 miles

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