GRR

First Drive: Kia Sportage PHEV 2022 Review

Kia's plug-in hybrid version of its popular Sportage is here...
21st April 2022
Seán Ward

Overview

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Just two months on from our first drive of the new Kia Sportage it’s time for another Korean escapade. Before it was the hybrid, today it’s the plug-in hybrid, which promises more power, better economy on paper and, thanks to a 13.8kWh lithium-ion battery instead of 1.49kWh unit, an electric-only range of 43 miles. But with a £5,000 premium like for like, is it worth the extra money?

We like

  • Switch from electric drive to hybrid drive is super smooth
  • Claimed electric range feels completely achievable
  • Good wheel control compared to some rivals

We don't like

  • Brake pedal leaves you guessing
  • Engine note is rough
  • Not as good looking as the previous generation

Design

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The guiding ethos for the Kia’s design team was ‘Opposites United’, a new approach introduced with the EV6. It worked for the EV6 but it hasn’t here. Where the old Sportage was handsome and relatively simple, this looks as though Kia’s designers couldn’t quite decide what should go where.

The front is dominated by grille, the main grille spanning the whole front end from left to right, boxed in by new arrow-shaped daytime-running lights at either side with diamond headlights next to those, while underneath there is another grille, broken up into three sections by some aggressive body-coloured flicks. In isolation, there are some delightful details, like those daytime lights and the little bonnet extension to hold the new Kia badge, but all things considered there’s just too much going on. Bold, absolutely, but pretty? No.

At the rear it’s slightly easier to see similarities between this and the EV6, most notably the smooth, concave boot and whopping Kia badge. But where the EV6’s rear lights, for example, are quite different to anything else in the Kia range, the Sportage’s are more conventional, and just as angular as those at the front. A great expanse of dark plastic at the bottom of the rear end masks its true size, an approach employed at the front end to a lesser extent.

The car’s profile is the best bit of the package. There are some clever design tricks to break up the car’s form, like a panel of black plastic running between the wheels and a strong crease running across the middle of the car’s flank, and the curved rear shoulder is delightful. Nice, too, is the chrome that runs forward from the subtle spoiler and then stops, before being picked up again several inches lower down along the bottom of the windows. Nineteen-inch alloys are standard, while the black roof, a first for the Sportage, is optional and available only on the top GT-Line S model.

Performance and Handling

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The Sportage PHEV employs the services of a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, the very same as the regular hybrid and the 48V mild-hybrid. Working alongside that engine, however, is a more powerful 66.9kW electric motor, up from 44.2kW, as well as a substantially larger battery located under the floor between the front and rear axles rather than under the rear seat. The result is the most potent Sportage of the whole range, with 265PS (195kW) and 350Nm (259lb ft) of torque. You have a choice of front- and all-wheel-drive in the hybrid, but it’s all wheel-drive only in the PHEV.

Performance is adequate: 0-60mph (not 62mph) takes 7.9 seconds and the top speed is 119mph, certainly rapid enough for a car of this type. Forty-three miles of electric range seems entirely achievable too, if you’re careful with the throttle. The integration of the electric motor and the engine is smooth, with no discernible lurch as the car hops from EV driving to hybrid power. And if the engine turns on, not to power the wheels but to give the battery a boost, it’ll bring itself to life quietly and without fuss. While the six-speed automatic gearbox isn’t the quickest moving between ratios, and using the paddles to change gears yourself is slow and entirely pointless, because of how the motor, engine and ‘box are configured, the electric motor’s power travels through the gearbox. Where we’re used to motors being connected to axles directly, and an electric whine that increases in pitch as the motor’s speed increases, to have electric drive with the feeling of gears and the rise and fall in rpm of the motor is quite entertaining. What isn’t so entertaining is the sound of the engine itself, with a very distinct intermittent rattle at from 3,500-5,500rpm – I don’t doubt the engine’s sturdiness, but it is not a pleasant or reassuring noise.

The steering is decent, and the chassis is solid too, with McPherson struts up front, four-link rear suspension and passive dampers. The trade-off to a slightly choppy ride is good wheel control relative to some of its competitors, plus there’s decent grip and surprisingly keen handling, helped by Kia’s ‘e-handling’ system. Turn in to a corner and the electric motor will slow itself down, sending the car’s weight to the nose and onto the front wheels. A simple idea and something you can feel from behind the wheel. Aside from the ear-slamming engine note it’s the brakes that lets the car’s dynamics down, with a difficult-to-judge brake pedal all of the time.

For those who are interested, there are two main drive modes, Eco and Sport, with a sharper throttle and steering response in the latter, and there’s also a ‘Terrain Mode’ with settings for mud, snow and sand.

Interior

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If the exterior isn’t particularly pretty, the interior certainly is. The curved 12.3-inch displays are clear and well-integrated, the seats comfortable, and the fit and finish of everything is generally very good. The little rotary dial to switch between Eco and Sport is simple to use (and by that, I mean Kia hasn’t buried the function in an on-screen menu), and then there’s the little touch screen at the bottom of the dash. At either end there are two rotary dials, sandwiching a space where you can flick between heater controls and ‘buttons’ for the map, nav, radio, media and system set-up. In the absence of buttons, it’s nice at least to have two real dials and a simple touch system that isn’t buried in the main screen.

If there’s one thing that irks on the inside it’s that even in the second-to-top level 4 trim there are blank buttons on the centre console and to the right of the steering wheel.

Technology and Features

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Thanks to the bigger battery and more powerful motor, the economy figures are significantly better than those of the regular hybrid, with Kia quoting 25g/km of CO2 and 252mpg. Little wonder the car’s press pack opens with a line on how this is the most “business-friendly Sportage ever” – the tax benefits of the PHEV are of very little relevance to us, of course, but driving around in silence for short journeys with a petrol engine to use for longer journeys does have its appeal.

In terms of spec, every Sportage PHEV gets automatic LED headlights, daytime running lights, rain sensing wipers, electrically folding and heated door mirrors. On the interior there’s three-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, parking sensors front and rear, USB and USB-C ports and, of course, the 12.3-inch central display. Kia’s naming structure is interesting, to put it politely, with the range starting at GT-Line before moving to 3, then 4, and then GT-Line S. All but the entry-level GT-Line get the two 12.3-inch screens, the GT-Line making do with a 4.2-inch digital instrument cluster.

Verdict

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The new Sportage PHEV does what every Sportage has always done: offer up a well thought out host of technologies for a respectable price. The trouble is, looks aside, I still can’t help but think this is a less appealing car than its predecessor. Moreover, while the tech is great and being able to complete a commute without using the petrol engine at all is brilliant, the lack of refinement when that engine does wake up and a difficult brake pedal makes me wonder whether, unless I was looking for a new company car, I wouldn’t just save some money and go for the regular petrol or diesel instead.

Specifications

Engine

1.6-litre inline-four hybrid

Power

265PS (195kW) @ TBC

Torque

350Nm (259lb ft) @ 1,500-4,500rpm

Transmission

Six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive

Kerb weight

Weight: TBC

0-62mph

8.0 seconds

Top speed

119mph

Fuel economy

TBC

CO2 emissions

TBC

Price £38,395 (£43,795 as tested)

Our score

4 / 5

This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.


  • Autocar
    4 out of 5
  • Top Gear
    3.5 out of 5
  • Car Magazine
    4 out of 5