As a brand, Kia is hitting it out of the park with just about all of their models right now. The Telluride and Sorento midsize sport utilities are as good as ever, the Carnival is one of the best minivans, and the Forte is a worthy choice for the budget-conscious compact car shopper. Today, we’re taking a look at a plug-in hybrid version of the 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV EX compact SUV. Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) feature larger battery packs than ordinary hybrids, and as the name implies, they can be plugged in to charge.
With the plug-in capability, PHEVs tend to have anywhere between thirty to seventy kilometres of driving range (19 to 43 miles) on pure electric power. On the other hand, regular hybrids (HEVs) rely on regenerative braking, which is when the electric motor essentially runs in reverse and turns into a generator – this also happens to slow the car down.
Compared to the HEV, the Sportage PHEV has a battery pack that’s about nine times larger. When the PHEV runs low on battery, it operates like a regular hybrid and uses what little regenerative braking it can to charge the battery in small amounts. While the plug-in does carry an extra 170 or so kilograms (375 pounds) of more mass, expect low-battery hybrid performance to be within ten percent of the HEV.
2023 Kia Sportage PHEV EX: Real-World Electric Performance
Kia states that the Sportage PHEV can do 51 kilometres on a single charge, and for the most part, that’s pretty accurate. Expect to lose ten to twenty percent of charge on the coldest and hottest days due to heating and air conditioner use – but consider that conventional gasoline cars lose a decent amount of mileage in these conditions, too.
Over nearly 500 kilometres of testing, the 2023 Sportage PHEV EX saw a good mix of driving, both in dense urban traffic and in open highway runs. Our seven days of testing showed that in cool weather, the 51 kilometres were pretty easy to hit. Charging took place overnight at home, plugged into a 120-volt outlet during the lowest time-of-use electricity rates. From full depletion to full charge (about 13.8 kilowatt-hours), expect that to cost about $1.40 based on December 2022 off-peak rates in Toronto.
Doing the math, that works out to 2.7 cents per kilometre, per charge. Taking the Natural Resources Canada nominal hybrid-only figures of 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres and assuming a gasoline price of $1.50 per litre (your mileage may vary), it’ll cost about 10 cents per kilometre in fuel if you don’t plug in. If drivers have access to free charging at home or work, then the savings will be greater; conversely, if drivers need to charge during peak rate hours, the savings will be lesser.
The good thing about the Sportage plug-in hybrid is that it drives pretty much like a typical crossover SUV would, although astute drivers will notice the battery pack’s extra mass when driving over rougher roads. Other than that, it steers, rides, accelerates, and brakes just like anything else on the road, and this isn’t a bad thing.
To others on the road, the 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV EX makes a pretty bold statement on its styling, and many other American and Japanese competitors don’t dare to take risks in how they look. While it is aggressive and draws some parallels to the Alien science fiction movie franchise, the Sportage’s shape doesn’t compromise too much on practicality other than a slightly faster sloping rear liftgate.
Inside the 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV EX
The interior of the Sportage PHEV is a general sea of monotone black and grey, punctuated by two large 12.3-inch screens – one each for the gauge cluster and infotainment, respectively. The shifter is a rotary knob that took a little getting used to, and there were plenty of hard buttons for the heated/ventilated seat and heated steering wheel controls. The automatic climate controls and the volume knob, on the other hand, were a pretty clunky interface.
By default, the capacitive touch buttons stay in climate control mode, which is fine and dandy until drivers reach to turn the radio down so that they can see better. In order to do this, they have to fumble with a capacitive touch button to flip the controls over to media and volume mode, which is an extra press that adds distraction and subtracts from ergonomics. Beyond this, the materials and fit and finish is very good, and the seats possessed average comfort levels during long runs of an hour or more.
For Dads and Families
As with most cars in this class today, the 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV EX comes standard with all the driver safety assist bells and whistles, including among other things, a forward collision warning system with automatic braking, lane keeping assist, lane following assist, a blind spot warning system with collision avoidance assist, a rear cross-traffic alert system, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Uplevel SX trims get Highway Driving Assist (a more advanced semi-autonomous cruise control), blind spot cameras, 360-degree camera views for low-speed parking, and Remote Smart Park Assist.
Child seats in the Sportage are a pretty straightforward proposition whether your child is forward-facing or rear-facing. As with just about anything else in its class, rear-facing seats eat into front seat legroom somewhat, but this is manageable for the first few years of your child’s life unless front seat occupants are well over six feet tall.
For car seat installation, LATCH anchors were a little more buried in the corner of the seat versus other cars but were otherwise easy to use. For parents who need to go three-wide, only outboard rear seating positions have LATCH anchors, and the anchor locations cannot be borrowed from an adjacent seat. Centre-rear child seats must be installed using the three-point seatbelt. Top tether anchors are available in all three rear seating positions.
With an as-tested price of $44,995 for the 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV EX, it’s the cheapest Sportage plug-in and comes in well below competitors such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime ($49,390 for the base SE), and the all-new but non-plugin 2023 Honda CR-V Touring Hybrid ($48,890; no other trims currently offer a hybrid or plug-in hybrid). It drives, well, is very well equipped, and even though RAV4 Prime can do nearly 70 kilometres on a charge, the cost differential and availability to purchase may prove to be two major factors that will swing consumers in Kia’s favour. Don’t get us wrong though, the Sportage stands strong on its own merit!