Kia’s rival to the top-selling Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is still not a confirmed starter for the Australian market, despite the local arm’s best efforts.

    The Kia Sportage Hybrid (HEV) is one of two hybridised options available globally, alongside the Sportage Plug-in Hybrid. Kia also sells 48V mild-hybrid versions of the short-wheelbase Sportage in Europe and the UK as well.

    But why can’t we have it? Yes, Australians are slow to jump on the EV bandwagon but Toyota has been selling hybrids in meaningful amounts for years. We quizzed the brand’s local boss for product planning, Roland Rivero, at the recent launch of the updated Kia Seltos crossover.

    “It’s fundamentally just R&D and allowing it to be produced in right-hand drive out of the Gwangju factory [in South Korea],” Mr Rivero told CarExpert.

    “So, left-hand drive is ticked and all happening. Obviously, if we wanted a short-wheelbase model out of Slovakia there’s a potential right-hand drive source there, but we don’t want to go short wheelbase and we don’t want to have to go to Slovakia where there’s no free trade agreement as well.”

    “We’re working on the Korean-produced version, and hopefully we have an update on that in the near feature.”

    Further to Mr Rivero’s comments, hybrid (HEV) and PHEV versions of the Sportage for North America are also produced in Gwangju, despite petrol versions being assembled locally.

    So, while the US’s move to produce Sportages locally helped free up production spots for other long-wheelbase markets like South Korea and Australia, clearly there’s enough demand for the hybrids that Kia’s global parent isn’t willing to tool the facility to make right-hand drive Sportage Hybrids as yet.

    The Kia Sportage Hybrid is powered by the same 1.6-litre turbocharged hybrid system as the larger Sorento, as well as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson. System outputs are quoted at 169kW and 350Nm, with both front- and all-wheel drive options available.

    Meanwhile, Australia makes do with an entry-level 115kW/192Nm 2.0-litre MPi naturally-aspirated petrol with FWD, a 132kW/265Nm 1.6-litre T-GDi turbocharged petrol with AWD, as well as a 137kW/416Nm 2.0-litre CRDi turbo-diesel with AWD. All local powertrains wear Kia’s latest efficiency-focused Smartstream branding.

    CarExpert understands that Australia’s current lack of fuel efficiency and emissions standards puts less pressure on Kia’s global head office to prioritise more efficient and electrified powertrains for our market.

    For reference, South Korean models run Euro 6 powertrains with cleaner exhaust systems and tech like idle stop/start – Australian models retain older, less advanced EU5 emissions control systems.

    The latest Kia Sportage is proving mighty popular with Australian new car buyers.

    In its first full calendar year on sale, the Sportage has seen 15,497 registrations in 2022 as of 31 October, marking growth of 141.1 per cent compared to 1 Jan-31 Oct 2021.

    Further, the Sportage reset its all-time Australian monthly sales record in June 2022 with 2044 units, the first time the nameplate has achieved over 2000 sales in a single month. October 2022’s monthly result of 1877 registrations was a huge 404.6 per cent improvement on the same month the previous year.

    The Sportage is currently fourth in the medium SUV yearly sales race, behind the Toyota RAV4 (30,370 units), Mazda CX-5 (23,476 units), and narrowly tailing the Mitsubishi Outlander (15,619 units).

    Given the Toyota and Mitsubishi offer hybrid and plug-in hybrid options respectively, there’s no doubt a Sportage Hybrid could add solid volumes to put Kia in the segment’s Top 3.

    MORE: Everything Kia Sportage

    James Wong

    James Wong is the Production Editor at CarExpert based in Melbourne, Australia. With experience on both media and manufacturer sides of the industry, James has a specialty for product knowledge which stems from a life-long obsession with cars. James is a Monash University journalism graduate, an avid tennis player, and the proud charity ambassador for Drive Against Depression – an organisation that supports mental wellness through the freedom of driving and the love of cars. He's also the proud father of Freddy, a 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI .

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