Kia Sportage 1.6T GDi ISG JBL Black Edition 5dr
First we should probably recap on those powertrain options. At the entry point there’s a 1.6-litre turbo petrol and the same size diesel, both connected to six-speed manual gearboxes.
The step after that adds 48-volt mild-hybrid tech to both the petrol and diesel engines, bringing emissions and 0-62mph times down slightly. The MHEV petrol gets 148bhp, while the diesel makes do with 134bhp. Both are paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox, and can be had with either two- or four-wheel drive.
Also available in two- or four-wheel drive form is the full hybrid powertrain. That pairs the same 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine with a six-speed auto gearbox, a small battery and an electric motor. The result is a handy 226bhp and 258lb ft of torque, and a claimed 48.7mpg for the front-wheel drive version.
The top spec plug-in hybrid carries a 13.8kWh lithium-ion battery connected to the – you guessed it – 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine. Kia reckons you’ll get 261bhp when both motor and engine are working together, and around 43 miles of emissions-free running when you’re on electric power alone.
So far we’ve driven mild-, full- and plug-in hybrid Sportages, so let’s kick off with the MHEV petrol. The 48-volt architecture essentially acts as a more capable stop-start system, and you’ll occasionally move away from a standstill on electric power, but there’s no meaningful all-electric range.
It’s also far from a quick car, with an alarming moment of hesitation when you put your foot down as the different systems work out how best to manage forward propulsion. On the move it’s reasonably quiet and refined, though, with smooth gearchanges and decent feel to the brakes.
You can have optional four-wheel drive with a locking diff, different terrain modes and hill descent control too, although quite how many 48-volt Sportage drivers need the extra complication (and the 4mpg hit) remains to be seen.
Based on our experience, this is where our money would go if we were buying a Sportage. The full hybrid offers smoother transitions between electric and petrol power, and, with a 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds when only two wheels are driven, it feels far more responsive than the MHEV.
Kia has nailed its efficiency when it comes to electric motors. Just look at the fully electric e-Niro: 282 miles of range from a 64kWh battery is a highly respectable miles-per-juice ratio, and the Sportage PHEV is just as competitive, capable of 43 miles from a 13.8kWh battery on paper. Not bad given that it had to lug around an entire engine when it achieved that figure in test conditions.
Anyway, TG tested the Sportage plug-in hybrid on a 55-mile route in the UK, and our experience suggests you'll get 35-40 miles from a single charge on a warm day (good for battery performance) on a mix of town and A roads. Sure, it's a little sluggish in EV mode - how could it not be when the motor alone only manages 90bhp? - but if you really must floor it then the engine will spring into action briefly (and noisily) to get you up to speed. Despite the extra power, the PHEV is actually two tenths slower to 60mph than the full hybrid.
This is a family SUV, so the lack of steering feel won’t worry many potential buyers. More importantly, the Sportage rides well and smooths out rough roads even on optional 19-inch wheels. It’s not as soft as a Citroen C5 Aircross and not as sporting as a Seat Ateca, but the balance works.
It’s worth remembering that this generation of Sportage is the first to get a bespoke Euro-spec car with a shorter wheelbase than the one sold in the rest of the world (although Kia is at pains to point out that headroom, legroom and luggage space all increase over the previous iteration).
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