New Kia Sportage PHEV prototype review

The new plug-in hybrid version of the Kia Sportage SUV shows plenty of promise


Verdict

We’ll need to try a full production Sportage PHEV on regular rubber before we can deliver a full verdict, but there’s plenty of promise here. Private buyers may struggle to recoup the extra investment required for the plug-in tech, but for any company-car users after a practical, refined and comfortable family SUV that still has long-distance flexibility, the Sportage could prove to be one of the best options out there.

The Sportage is arguably the vehicle that signalled Kia’s emergence as a fully credible alternative to everyone from Ford and Skoda to Vauxhall and VW. And you certainly can’t accuse the Korean manufacturer of dealing out half measures when it comes to the latest, fifth generation of its family SUV. Its line-up of powertrains mixes conventional petrols with mild-hybrid and full-hybrid variants. There’s also a plug-in hybrid Sportage that could appeal to company car choosers, though – and this is an early chance to see how it stacks up.

This is the first time the Sportage has offered a full PHEV, and the tech looks promising enough on paper. Kia’s familiar 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine is at the heart of the set-up, but here there’s also a single electric motor delivering 90bhp and 304Nm of its own, and a 13.8kWh battery. The total combined output is 261bhp and 350Nm – enough to take this 1.9-tonne SUV from 0-62mph in a claimed 8.2 seconds.

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Performance looks respectable for a car weighing just under two tonnes, with 0-62mph taking a claimed 8.2 seconds and a top speed of 119mph. More importantly, Kia is quoting a WLTP combined all-electric range of 70 kilometres (43 miles), and 48 miles if you’re driving around town – numbers that should be plenty for a week of school runs or commutes, in many cases. 

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They’re also officially enough to push the Sportage PHEV into the eight-per cent band on company-car Benefit-in-Kind tax for 2022/23, 23/24 and 24/25 – and this is surely where this car’s appeal is likely to lie. A 40-per cent taxpayer could save a whopping £8,600 over three years by choosing the plug-in Sportage over a hybrid version in the same trim level. 

Interestingly, that EV-only range also gives the Kia a slight edge over its sister model from Hyundai, the Tucson PHEV, which manages slightly fewer miles (38), and falls into a different tax band as a result. We’re still waiting for either of the two brands to come with a valid explanation for the difference, but the result as it stands is that the same company car chooser would save almost £2,000 with the Sportage over the three years. 

The plug-in hybrid slots into the range like all other Sportages, and it’s available in most of the same trim levels as the conventionally powered version, avoiding only the entry-level 2. It’s also being offered with a sole transmission option, incidentally – a six-speed automatic gearbox, and four-wheel-drive.

The PHEV line-up starts with GT-Line, priced from £38,395 and featuring 19-inch alloy wheels, a 12.3-inch infotainment system, front and rear parking sensors with a rear-view camera, keyless entry and operation, suede leather upholstery, heated and folding side mirrors, and automatic headlights and wipers.

Step up to a 3 model and you’ll get a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, heated front and outer rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and a smart cruise control system. The price rises to £39,595.

If you’re comfortable with breaking the 40-grand mark (£41,795) then a Sportage 4 includes a panoramic sunroof, a Harman Kardon sound system, LED adaptive headlights, wireless smartphone charging, remote parking assistance and a raft of additional safety kit. 

Finally, there’s GT-Line S, which costs £43,795 and brings the option of two-tone paintwork with a black roof, plus styling mods, ventilation on the front seats and a powered tailgate. 

On the road, the plug-in Sportage feels remarkably similar to the less complex versions. Our test car was fitted with adaptive suspension that won’t be offered in the UK, but it had decent low-speed compliance, mixed with a slightly firmer edge when running at higher speeds over potholes. The steering is pleasingly direct and body roll is well contained; given that our late pre-production prototype was running on 19-inch alloys and winter rubber, and with a caveat about the optional suspension, we came away with hope of a satisfying compromise in the final UK spec.

The most important element of this early test, really, was how well the Sportage can manage the transition between pure-electric and combustion-engined power – and the good news is that the implementation is very slick indeed. It’s barely perceptible at all, in fact; you’re far more likely to notice the jump of the needle on the digital rev counter than you are any actual judder or noise from under the bonnet.

Should you feel the need to work the Sportage harder, you’ll find that the engine does become more audible once it’s taken above 3,000rpm. But while we wouldn’t call the four-cylinder drone particularly characterful, it stops short of becoming properly thrashy. And in any case, the electric motor does a good job of filling in gaps in torque when you’re pulling away, so this never feels like a car you need to hustle.

It’s hard to give a certification on the claimed 70km of pure-electric range but over a two-hour journey, and with temperatures north of Oslo hovering around zero degrees, the Sportage still had two thirds of its battery capacity remaining and was returning more than 50mpg. It has the makings of an efficient everyday tool, in other words.

Inside, there’s precious little to reveal that you’re in the plug-in version of the car, beyond the switch on the centre console that allows you to cycle between the different hybrid modes. The twin screens are as crisp and easy to use as they are on more conventional Sportages, and the centre panel control in the dashboard (which can flick between either heating and ventilation, or infotainment) is a little fiddly – though still preferable, we suspect, to either control being buried in the infotainment menus.

We’ve few complaints on quality either, with only a couple of harder plastic surfaces present on what is a neat, well-finished cabin.

As is so often the case on plug-in hybrids, though, there is a price to pay on boot space. The Sportage PHEV’s load bay is 47 litres smaller than the Hybrid’s, at 540 litres – but that’s still a very decent capacity for a family SUV, and the boot itself is a practical shape. The total space can be increased to 1,715 litres by lowering the second row of seats.

Model:Kia Sportage 4 Plug-in Hybrid
Price: £41,795
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 1x e-motor
System power/torque: 261bhp/350Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph: 8.2 seconds
Top speed: 119mph
Economy: 256.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 25g/km
Pure-EV range: 70km (43 miles)
On sale: Now (deliveries from April)
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