What is it?
Plus ça change in the car industry. We're going through huge upheaval, with widespread electrification, yet some things aren't so different after all. Whereas a new-car buyer in 1985 might have had to make the agonising choice between a 2.0-litre, a 2.3-litre or a 2.8-litre V6, today's buyer somehow needs to navigate whether they need a mild, full or plug-in hybrid and why more might not always be better.
Perhaps battery sizes aren't as tangible as cylinder displacements, but they arguably make an even bigger difference to the driving experience and how you use the car. We've previously driven the pure petrol and full hybrid versions of the new Kia Sportage; now it’s the turn of the plug-in hybrid.
The drivetrain shared by Hyundai and Kia is a fairly familiar recipe by now: it also features in the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Tucson and Hyundai Santa Fe. A 1.6-litre petrol engine and an electric motor drive all four wheels through a six-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox. Power for the electric motor is provided by a 13.8kWh battery pack – fairly sizeable and good for a very strong electric-only range of 43 miles, rendered even more impressive as the already rangey Tucson with the same drivetrain manages only 38 miles.
And there lies the Sportage PHEV's big selling point. Its £38,395 starting price might sound hefty (it’s £5000 more than the Sportage Hybrid), but its EV range means it breaks into the 8% BIK tax band, compared with the Tucson’s 12% and the Sportage Hybrid’s 32%.
In real terms, for someone on 40% income tax, a PHEV Sportage will cost a whopping £3000 per year less in company car tax than a hybrid one (and £300 less than a Tucson). Over three years, that’s a particularly healthy saving.
Add in the potentially better fuel economy and, for company car drivers at least, the plug-in is a no-brainer.