Somewhere along the road from Prius to Tesla, most Americans have lost the plot regarding hybrids. Everyone knows what a Prius is: it’s that duck-like creature with the Coexist sticker that rolls slowly down the road. That’s the Prius life. Where was. The original Prius dates back to 1997 and for centuries was the poster child for what only some of us wanted to embrace: burning less fossil fuel in a car that had an Al Gore-approved design aesthetic.
Then one day the practical and boring hybrid got lost in the rise of Tesla – a greener, sexier and faster car. Few people leaned into hybrid living even as they continued to innovate – becoming more efficient, sleeker and, yes, even faster. It’s time to look again at hybrids. Case and point: The Toyota RAV4 Prime and the Kia Sportage Hybrid SX Prestige. These are outstanding examples of why a hybrid is a great way to beat the current and future gasoline crisis.
The advantage of plug-ins
When the Prius came out in 1997, Toyota showed us that a really big battery and brakes that charge that battery were a gas-guzzling combo. This technology has been improving for 10 years, but gradually. Then, in 2008, the plug-in hybrid was announced – by Chinese automaker BYD and soon after Chevrolet and Toyota. These cars, including the SE RAV4 Prime and Kia Sportage Hybrid, can charge their batteries from a wall outlet and run on electricity only. This technology has great advantages.
For one, you’ll save gas dollars. Because a plug-in hybrid is usually able to run on electric power alone, and because electricity in most of the country costs about half or less per mile than the equivalent cost of gasoline, over time , using a plug-in hybrid will pay you back.
Second, today a plug-in hybrid will open most people to tax refunds. This can be federal (see below) or one of 43 states that offer additional tax credits or direct rebates, such as lower sales taxes on the purchase of a PHEV.
In this case, some calculations are necessary. The SE RAV4 Prime’s $40,300 sticker is more expensive than the Kia Sportage Hybrid’s $36,940, but if you qualify (meaning you owe federal taxes), you could recoup up to at $7,500 on the Toyota. The standard Kia Sportage hybrid doesn’t qualify for any federal tax incentives, but the 2023 plug-in version (which will be available in August and which we estimate will cost around $1,500 more than the standard hybrid model) should qualify for up to $4,500 in tax relief from the federal government.
Finally, the rechargeable hybrid has one thing that electric vehicles do not have: the ability to skip the charging station. As electric vehicles flood the roads – and the flooding is going to be a tidal wave if the Cut Inflation Act is passed – manufacturers are struggling to keep up with charging stations. This means a lot of waiting and a new wave of range anxiety. This is not the case with plug-in hybrids. Don’t have time to recharge? Lean on the gas. Do you have time and a free charging station? Save a lot of money. Right now, it really is the best of both worlds.
The Showdown: Test Drive in the Catskills
In the Catskills, on paved roads and on some two-lane soft dirt, we took both cars for a proper test of handling and their AWD capabilities. Although we didn’t quite drive them through bogs, we gave them a good jolt on and off the road. They weigh close – both around 4,200 pounds – and have nearly the same length and footprint, but the Toyota is just a more engaging vehicle to drive, with a more precise steering feel. None of these family crossovers will light your hair with performance, but the Toyota’s combined 302 horsepower keeps it up and running, chasing 60 mph in under 6 seconds. The combined output of the Sportage’s 261 horsepower system also offers plenty of power, but the driving experience is more isolating. For a long road trip, the Sportage is probably the best vehicle because it has a bit of that grandfather’s Cadillac cruising quality, but the Toyota is more maneuverable and quicker on its toes around town.
As for what you’ll use every day, interior tech is a mixed bag for every car.
While Kia gives you a bigger touchscreen, at 12.3-inches versus 8-inches for the SE RAV4 Prime (you can get a bigger one but have to pay more), Kia’s controls for features are more complicated. Switching between radio stations and climate requires first pressing a separate mode button, which then changes the inputs from climate to audio and back again. On the Toyota you get dedicated buttons for audio and climate functions, and for that reason it’s better because you can keep your eyes on the road rather than constantly hunting and pecking. You’ll learn Kia’s system over time, but the fact is, why is it necessary?
Again, Kia includes both heating (Toyota has this) and cooling (Toyota doesn’t give it to you as standard) for front seat passengers.
Both have five ways to charge devices, with two USBs in the second row and wireless and dual USBs up front.
The Kia Sportage earns the IIHS’s second-highest rating, a Top Safety Pick. The RAV4 earns the Top Safety Pick+ rating, the agency’s highest rating.
However, the two vehicles differ in terms of active assist features. Toyota wants you to pay more for its $43,625 XSE version, which then adds Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. With this you get pedestrian detection, cruise control which adapts to the vehicle in front of you, slows your car down while driving, lane keeping which prevents you from steering towards the car in your blind spot and steering assist (aka lane keeping), plus high beams that automatically dim and brighten.
Kia includes all these goodies and more in its SX Prestige level (including on the next PHEV): it comes standard with adaptive cruise control; lane departure warning and prevention; collision avoidance in blind spots; a warning to prevent your child from getting out of the car in the path of an approaching vehicle or cyclist; and a system that will alert you if you don’t follow the car in front of you when changing lights. Say (just maybe), if that light went from red to green exactly when your grandma collapsed in her car seat and you didn’t quite notice it was time to resume driving, to drop parental duties for a heartbeat. You also get surround-view cameras that give you a bird’s-eye perspective of the car (like from above), making parking in tight spaces a whole lot easier.
View from the back seat
But what will the children think? The Kia steps forward for rear-seat knee room, where it’s just a little less cramped if you’re seated with teenage or adult passengers. Toyota’s 37.8 inches of rear legroom follows Kia’s 41.3 inches. And the Sportage gets props for a slot with a rubber grip on the back of the front seats, which is great for anchoring grocery bags. Kia also places the rear USB ports on the sides of the driver and passenger seats, where they are more easily accessible from the second row.
For freight, the Kia also outperforms the Toyota. Its 34.5 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats up and 65.5 cubic feet with them folded down slightly surpasses the Toyota’s 33.5/63.1 cubic feet.
When gasoline was cheaper, several studies have shown that PHEV buyers didn’t bother to plug in their plug-in hybrids. The reason: it takes some effort to do it. However, since their batteries are relatively small, the recharge time is very fast. If you plug into a standard wall outlet at night, your PHEV can travel entirely on electricity regardless of its range the next morning. And especially if you now have the flexibility to commute to work only once in a while, a range of 30 to 40 miles just for electric vehicles could save you a lot, because most people don’t even drive that far by day. Plus, you won’t need a special Level 2 home charger, saving you money on installation.
If you expect the “downside” of this entry downside is that you will continue to buy gasoline from time to time, which you can hopefully avoid altogether. Then again, for the average household, the combination of owning both an electric vehicle and a plug-in hybrid seems pretty perfect. The latter does not need to be recharged during a road trip, and the former never needs gas.
There are many more plug-in hybrids on the market than these two. And even if you choose to waive the take portion (because, yes, they cost more upfront, and also, you may not owe enough federal taxes to fully qualify for a tax credit) , you’ll likely save 50% or more on fuel costs by going hybrid. It’s a halfway step towards weaning your family off fossil fuels and requires very little adjustment in your lifestyle, but in the long run it’s much better for your wallet and for the future. of our planet.
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