Kia Sportage Instrument Panel and CarPlay Screens

Choosing an Environmentally Sound Vehicle — a Discussion with Steve Ewell

Steve Ewell will be joining me on the NosillaCast in a discussion of how he went about the process of choosing an environmentally sound vehicle and how he ended up with the Kia Sportage X-Line Prestige Plugin Hybrid. Enjoy his written writeup along with a link to download his crazy huge spreadsheet that helped him narrow down the playing field to make his decision.

Kia Sportage in a Field Matte Grey
Kia Sportage X-Line Prestige Plugin Hybrid in Matte Grey

I have been enjoying the continued coverage of electric vehicles (EV’s) and other vehicles on the NosillaCast. Also, thanks to the show I was introduced to the Kilowatt Podcast. I am thrilled to be a Patreon supporter of both shows for all the great content. Both of these shows were particularly helpful as my 2012 Camry Hybrid was approaching 200,000 miles, and while it ran well, I was ready to explore something new.

After hearing about other people’s experiences, I felt ready to explore the world of electric vehicles, or at least plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). I began the process by listening to podcasts and doing some research, and initially considered the Ford F150 Lightning, Tesla Y, Genesis GV60, Hyundai IONIQ 5, or Audi Q4 plug-in. In the end, I chose the Kia Sportage PHEV X-Line Prestige, and although it’s only been two months, I’m very satisfied with my decision.

To give some context to my search, I tend to keep my cars for a long time. In fact, my shortest car ownership period was four years. Unfortunately, it ended when another driver attempted to merge into traffic through my trunk. I don’t have a strong loyalty to any particular car brand, having previously owned Volvos, Nissans, Volkswagens, and Toyotas. Before upgrading, I typically conduct a thorough search. While I’m the black sheep of my family that got a degree in political science, I come from a family of engineers, so you know I did a lot of research and a spreadsheet.

You can download a compressed ZIP of my spreadsheet, but remember it’s dangerous to download other people’s spreadsheets so be as cautious as you feel appropriate.

Screenshot of Steve Ewell Car Shopping Spreadsheet
Click Here to Download My Car Tradeoff Spreadsheet

When searching for a car, I had several requirements in mind. Firstly, it needed to be efficient enough to handle my daily commute of 33 miles in Northern Virginia traffic, either through good miles per gallon or a decent electric range. My wife and I also own a farm and cidery, so I needed a vehicle with ample storage space to haul things to and from the farm.

It was also important that the car was capable of handling longer trips up and down the East Coast to visit family. We enjoy visiting Virginia wineries, which are often located in areas of the state without charger infrastructure. Ideally, I wanted a car that would fit in my garage, which is just big enough for my Camry. Reliability was also a factor, as I wanted to avoid spending too much time at the repair shop. Apple CarPlay or a similar feature would be a plus, though it seems almost every car has this now. Finally, I hoped to keep the cost under $60,000, ideally less.

I test-drove several but often found the supply of EVs and PHEVs limited. For instance, the Volvo dealership let me look at the non-plug-in version because they didn’t have a plug-in on site. Lexus told me they didn’t have any on-site, but I could put down a deposit, and they would contact me in 12-18 months when they had something! I also had one dealer who told me no one should be buying electric vehicles and actively discouraged me from looking at theirs. Perhaps his sales weren’t going well, as later he was one of the more aggressive people following up, asking me to come back in and look.

I originally stopped into Kia to look at the EV6. While I was there, I decided to take a look at their PHEVs too. The vehicle’s added space, design, and feel had me moving my focus from the EV6 to the Sportage quickly. My final two cars to decide between were the Sportage and the Tesla Y. I could have easily gone either direction, and I don’t want to risk alienating the Tesla faithful, but I ultimately found the Sportage was a better fit for me.

Buying the car was an adventure. The original dealership I met with had a market adjustment fee of nearly $10K and didn’t seem willing to budge much. They would offer more for my trade-in, but still, it was a significant increase on the car. Luckily, the Kia website has a good inventory search tool, and I pulled up every Sportage from New Jersey to North Carolina.

There was another one not too far from me and only had a $3,500 adjustment fee. I should have pulled the trigger, but I decided to return on the weekend. I got a text the morning I was coming back that it sold. That led me to find the one I ultimately bought in Pennsylvania. No adjustment fee there. The search process showed the variability of vehicles in different markets. The dealer admitted he couldn’t move electric cars where he was, resulting in a good deal on the vehicle, even if it was a two-hour drive to get it.

After two months and about 2,400 miles, here is what I have found:

Most importantly, I just filled up the gas tank for a third time. Two of those fill-ups were because we took a weekend vacation down to Richmond, so I topped off the tank before leaving and on the way home. Besides that, I use very little gas. I have set up reminders to refill my tank every three months in order to keep the fuel fresh. While the dealer suggested a six-month interval, I’ll at least start with quarterly.

I am impressed by the vehicle’s design and appearance, both inside and out. The dashboard provides easy access to important information, and commonly used features are conveniently located. The vehicle also offers a plethora of customization options. You can adjust settings such as lighting and sound, and change the look and feel of many displays. Additionally, there are custom buttons you can set up for specific functions. Unfortunately, these buttons are not completely customizable, and instead, you must choose from a pre-selected set of options for each control.

It has a good amount of storage. It cannot haul what I could do had I gone with a pickup, and even as an SUV, it is not the biggest. But I’m coming from shoving stuff into a Camry, so it feels massive!

Kia Sportage Showing Cargo Area
Kia Sportage Cargo Area

Ventilated (cooled) seats are amazing. It gets hot and humid in Virginia, and these things are great!

I am a fan of CarPlay due to the Kia’s wide screen, which provides ample space for apps compared to when I used it in rental cars. Back then, everything felt cramped on the screen. I wish I had more control over customizing the CarPlay layout, but unfortunately, that is a limitation of CarPlay.

Kia Sportage Instrument Panel and CarPlay Screens
Kia Sportage Instrument Panel and CarPlay Screens

I like the 360 surround cameras. Despite having parked for years without them, now that I have them I find them very helpful in parking lots. It also helps to see when traffic or pedestrians are coming in a parking lot.

The panoramic sunroof and powered shade are nice, although very sensitive. It has taken some time to get used to not wanting to open everything by just pushing for the shade to open.

There are USB chargers all over, so there are plenty to charge lots of gadgets.

I have configured the dashboard to change its appearance according to the current time and weather conditions. For instance, it displays a sunrise animation during early morning hours or shows little raindrops when it is raining. Is this useful? Absolutely not, but I get a little joy out of it.

I haven’t had a chance to use all of the features in my car yet, but it seems to have most safety alert and control options available. The lane follow assist and highway drive assist stand out to me as particularly useful. I’ve only used each of them a little, but I’ve been impressed with how well the lane assist keeps the car in its lane even on winding roads. The Highway Driving Assist is even better, as it adds adaptive cruise control to keep a safe distance from the car ahead.

While I like the idea of these features, I haven’t had much opportunity to use them since I’m usually stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Although they’re not self-driving, they’re definitely a step in that direction. My car also has automatic high beams, which theoretically sound great, but I’m not entirely convinced that I trust them yet. I don’t want to accidentally blind other drivers on the road.

The car has the ability to store multiple driver profiles, including seat position and preferred settings for the radio and other features. Although my wife and I don’t often switch cars, it’s a valuable feature to have in case we ever need it.

There is also the ability to pull the car forward and back using the key fob. I have experimented with this in my driveway but haven’t tried it in a real-world setting. It could be good in really tight parking lots.

It has a wireless phone charging pad, which is nice, but it also has the wired CarPlay version. So ultimately, I am plugging my phone in and don’t need the wireless charge. But it’s a nice feature for any passenger phones.

The car has a built-in “sounds of nature” mode. It will play raindrops falling, ocean waves, etc. I am sure there is some demand for this, maybe to combat road rage and hopefully not lull the driver to sleep. But I don’t see myself using that option.

There are a few things about my car that I’m not particularly fond of. When I went to look at it, I discovered that mine has a matte finish. While it appears nice, the added maintenance it requires is something I would have opted out of if given the choice. They make you sign additional paperwork saying you understand how to care for it, use special matte cleaner and not go to car washes. It almost made me reconsider my decision to purchase it, but the deal we received was good enough to make the extra care worth it.

The car comes with a tire mobility kit instead of a spare. This seems to be common in EV and PHEV vehicles. But given my choice, I would still go with a spare.

Because it is electric, it has a backup beeper. From an accessibility viewpoint, I am fully on board, but at 6 am, when I’m backing out of my garage, I always wonder what my neighbors think (so far, no complaints).

The car doesn’t charge quickly. On level 1, it needs to charge all night. Level 2 is about 2 hours. That works for me since I can charge at home and then level 2 charge at my office, but it still isn’t the quicker EV charging of other cars. It does not support high-speed DC charging, but with a small battery that would seem overkill.

It also has a small gas tank, 11.1 gallons. I will need to get gas on longer trips, although it is still fairly gas efficient.

Compared to a typical EV, it doesn’t have the same pick-up of going 0-60. Partially because I keep it in Eco drive mode instead of Sport mode, but even in Sport mode, it is not the same as a Tesla or other EVs.

Also, one complaint related to Apple CarPlay. I can’t use another paired phone for a call if I have a phone connected to CarPlay. So I can pair both my personal and work phones via Bluetooth. But when my personal phone is connected to CarPlay, I can play music off my work phone but not make a call. I have a feeling this is an Apple restriction, but still, it can be annoying if I get a work call while driving.

However, these are minor issues for me. Overall, I am extremely satisfied with the car and would recommend it to any of your listeners who are looking for new vehicle options.

1 thought on “Choosing an Environmentally Sound Vehicle — a Discussion with Steve Ewell

  1. PDX_Kurt - October 18, 2023

    Listening to the podcast, I thought he might go for the surprise ending: stick with the hybrid by purchasing a Ford Maverick, the compact hybrid truck! They’re cheap (~$25k, if you can find one), they get ~45 mpg, it’s a real truck. But his Kia choice is also good… for him.

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