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.