After a record year in 2022, Kia has lifted its sales, revenue and profit ambitions for 2023. SUVs are crucial to these goals, with one model especially so.
The company’s own data show just how strongly the Sportage performed in 2022, its 452,068 global sales easily surpassing the totals of the Seltos (310,418) and Sorento (222,570). Overall volume was 2.9 million vehicles, with 3.2 m the goal for this year.
Longer, and longer still
Just as the Toyota RAV4 has become far more sophisticated over multiple generations, so too today’s rival Sportage. Each has grown up and out of the original segment, becoming a wildly popular model in major markets.
While there are many parallels with the RAV4, Kia went one better when it came to redesigning the latest, NQ5 series model. Yes, there are ICE, HEV and PHEV powertrain choices but the Sportage also comes in two lengths. That’s proving to be a major differentiator in certain regions.
The world first saw NQ5 in June 2021 with production for the company’s home market starting soon after this at a plant in the city of Gwangju.
Europe, a major region for the fourth generation Sportage, came next. The Zilina plant in Slovakia manufactures the 4,515 mm long model, whereas a factory in the USA (West Point, Georgia) produces a 4,610 mm extended body alternative for North American markets. They’re easy to tell apart, with additional glazing between the C and D pillars. Also, the LWB body has only one window in each rear door.
Record UK sales
Kia ended 2022 with its best result yet, hitting six figures for the first time (100,191) and becoming the number six brand. There were even a few months where the Korean marque beat all others and took market leadership. Demand for the Sportage and in particular the petrol-electric variants has been a major factor in this.
The hybrid and plug-in hybrids helped enormously with lifting the model’s UK sales to 197,626 between 2016 and 2021 (generation four) compared to only 10,879 for the first Sportage. That original model landed here in 1995 and remained on sale into 2003.
NQ5 will probably be around until late 2026 so there’s plenty of time for a potential new sales record to be broken. Although with no EV option available, will that happen?
MHEV, HEV or PHEV?
It depends on the country but the latest model comes with petrol, diesel, hybrid or plug-in hybrid power. British buyers may select from three 1.6-litre powertrains: mild hybrid petrol, HEV or PHEV.
The plug-in hybrid is perhaps the most tempting option for a business user but the hybrid isn’t nearly as expensive as the premium-priced PHEV. Which makes the HEV the preferred choice for many buyers.
Tested in GBP39,950 GT-Line S form, the hybrid is front-wheel drive although an AWD variant also exists, priced from GBP41,550. Compare that to the cheapest PHEV, which is GBP39,900 in lesser GT-Line trim, rising to GBP45,100 for a GT-Line S. Incidentally, plug-in hybrids have all-wheel drive as standard.
The HEV Sportage uses the same 132 kW (180 PS) 1.6 T-GDI turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine as the PHEV. The permanent magnet traction electric motor adds 44.2 kW while the capacity of the lithium-ion polymer battery is 1.49 kWh. Combined power is 169 kW (230 PS).
As with the best petrol-electric systems, it’s sometimes not obvious when the engine is engaged. Kia has gone with a six-speed automatic transmission over an eCVT and that was a wise choice in terms of shift imperceptibility.
Almost 50 mpg
The gearbox seems ever-keen to drop into its two highest ratios, and with 350 Nm (258 lb ft) of torque to help things along, that makes for efficient running. Official economy is 48.7 mpg. My own average improved on that Combined number by slightly more than one mile per gallon.
Kia quotes 7.7 seconds to sixty miles per hour, a 120 mph top speed and 132 g/km of CO2 in front-wheel drive form. As for a reflection of how heavy cars keep becoming, this one’s 1,649 kg doesn’t seem too bad for a well-equipped C segment SUV.
As a family car, the Sportage HEV offers great space, including a 587-litre boot, expanding to 1,776 with the backrests dropped. The luggage capacity isn’t intruded upon by a battery either as Kia has positioned that under the rear seat.
The interiors of Kias in general keep becoming ever better, the Sportage being a great example. Plastics are softer than before, there are lots of nice touches such as pop-out cupholders which allow more storage space when not deployed, and the digital gauge cluster couldn’t be clearer. The shift-by-wire automatic transmission dial also serves as an example to rivals of how to make such a control work perfectly and look great.
Something which is less than ideal though, is the positioning of the tailgate’s external catch, which in versions without electric opening, means mucky fingers in winter. The same fault applied to the previous Sportage too: why not position it higher up?
No mistaking new model for old
Kia’s design department has made sure that the new model stands out. In particular, boomerang-shaped lights lend the vehicle a distinctive appearance at the front end.
To drive, the Sportage adopts the same safe-and-secure handling formula. And that’s what the market wants, even if giving the steering a little more weighting could surely also attract those who prefer a Kuga. There’s no faulting comfort though which has likely been helped by Hyundai Motor Group’s latest N3 platform and a longer wheelbase.
The old model managed to become a stand-out success in not only Europe but North America, South Korea and even China, and now this new Sportage offers an even more appealing package.
More electrified Kias coming
Soon, the world will see the next model in the brand’s EV-plus-number series, the EV9. This five metre long electric SUV is set to debut on 15 March, and promises a maximum range of 540 km. The platform is E-GMP and build will be at the Sohari 1 plant in Korea.
This year also sees mid-cycle changes for the Sorento, including its HEV and PHEV derivatives. A facelift, interior refresh and some adjustments to powertrains should be announced in the third quarter and will likely reach Europe towards year-end.
Another big seller for Kia in this region is the Ceed. And even though the current generation has only been around since 2019, it should be replaced next year. And whereas PHEV power is exclusive to the estate, next time around it will surely be offered in the hatchback body too. As with the Sportage, production will be at the Žilina plant in Slovakia.