Plug-in hybrid vehicles, more so than EVs, at least in my experience, generate the most comments following a review. And frankly, it’s amusing. With an exception or two, every PHEV I’ve driven and reviewed have fallen way short of expectations and claims made by their respective manufacturers. And the 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV is no different.
For every review I share, PHEV owners chime in to state that I don’t understand how to work the vehicle, and that I’m completely out to lunch with my findings. Much like EV owners, criticism about PHEVs does not go over well with owners and drivers, and personal experiences are used to support the fact that I’m wrong. And maybe I am. No matter what and in a nutshell, PHEVs are an expensive stop-gap alternative to EVs, to deal with range anxiety, and for attempting to ween ourselves from our dependence on oil.
The list of factors as to why PHEVs fail to deliver on range and fuel efficiency varies from ambient temperatures, plugging-in rituals, driving conditions, and the time and distance travelled. All of these elements have a direct impact on performance and are nearly impossible to replicate. Therefore, your findings as someone who lives in the Niagara region or Texas can and will be very different from mine, based out of Montreal.
About the all-new 2023 Sportage: it’s an impressive if odd-looking compact SUV. If we subtracted the front catfish-like fascia, the Sportage provides more variety and options than almost any other member of the segment. Pricing is reasonable, initial quality and presentation are admirable, and it’s not a bad driver with the base engine. Here’s a review:
The question then is should you spend about $9,000 more (before incentives) for the PHEV version of the Sportage over the hybrid version?
Why should you buy a 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV:
Handsome inside and out
Well, almost. Except for its face, the Sportage, no matter the version, is attractive. Standard from the Hybrid is a 12.3-inch touchscreen multimedia interface with integrated navigation which, in the tested PHEV SX, is joined by a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
The cabin is spacious for the average Canadian family and initial impressions of quality and craftsmanship are through the roof. As well, the PHEV’s trunk volume is unaffected by the larger 13.8 kWh battery.
Drive modes to maximize efficiency
The trick is to use Kia’s built-in technology to get the most out of the powertrain. ECO functions nicely as do the HEV and EV options. With a full charge, and in ideal conditions, using the EV mode should enable the driver to cover the majority of the estimated 55 km of EV range.
Pleasant to drive
Thanks to the larger battery and more powerful electric motor, the Sportage PHEV offers up 261 hp over the Hybrid’s 227, however with the same 258 lb.-ft. of torque. The extra power serves mostly to offset the PHEV’s battery weight. Nevertheless, the turbocharged 1.6L engine and 6-speed automatic transmission make things entertaining enough.
As far as the chassis is concerned, the Sportage rides quite well, mostly unaffected by less-than-perfect road conditions.
Why you shouldn’t buy a 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV:
It hates the cold
Internal combustion engines and EVs also hate the cold. Range drops or fuel consumption rises. As the Sportage PHV has both an ICE and a battery, it suffers from both symptoms. In fact, temperatures dropped well below -10 degrees Celsius for most of the week which all but completely locked out the Sportage’s ability to run in electric mode only for any worthwhile length of time.
Furthermore, given the vehicle’s power requirements in these conditions, the petrol engine would regularly run as a generator to keep the battery’s charge up despite being at an 80% indicated state of charge.
Real-world EV range is not worth the weight
Kia rates the 2023 Sportage PHEV’s electric range at an estimated 55km. Throughout the week and despite plugging it in at every occasion, the indicated range never exceeded 35 km or a 35+% range loss.
The weight of the battery
As always, a larger battery, to enable range, adds more pounds to a vehicle’s curb weight. In the Sportage PHEV’s case, we’re talking about 500 lbs of battery over the hybrid’s curb weight. As we all know, weight is the enemy as it has a direct and negative impact on efficiency.
The weight of the battery part II
Once the estimated 55 km EV range is up, the Sportage PHEV’s (still acting as a hybrid though) will consume, according to Kia, an average of 6.7L/100km, or 0.5L/100km more than the hybrid.
It’s clear to me that the Sportage Hybrid is a wiser purchase than the PHEV. The exception at the moment is when federal and Quebec or BC provincial incentives are combined. The QC government has wisely differentiated the amounts between EVs and PHEVs where the former are eligible for up to $7,000 and the latter, for $2,500 (still too much in my opinion). The rebate is $2,000 in BC. The federal government bases its $5,000 rebate on an electric range that is 50km or more, no matter if it’s an EV or a PHEV. If you really want a PHEV, do it now as it will wake up (I pray) and revised these amounts by half or more in time.
Now, if we must compare PHEVs, the 2023 Kia Sportage PHEV is a better deal than the Outlander PHEV. At $48,995, the top Sportage PHEV SX trim retails for $8,000 less than the GT Premium, offers the same level of equipment, is eligible for all the same incentives, and should deliver about 55 km of all-electric range compared to the Mitsubishi’s proclaimed 61 km.
The bottom line is that PHEVs will be forgotten before the end of the decade when incentives will be cut completely. EVs will thrive and ultra-efficient hybrids will serve as alternatives. For today, however, if you live outside of Quebec, skip the PHEV and get a Sportage hybrid and actually save.