It was a huge sensation when I first got behind the wheel of the new Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid. It was the largest vehicle I had ever driven, and I was nervous about navigating the congested streets of New York City in it. It was much longer than any car I’ve driven before, the driving position was much higher than usual, and the car overall was much taller than I’m used to. Due to these factors, I at first was prepared to lament that it was far too large for the average person’s requirements.
Four days of exploring New York’s Minewaska State Park in the Sorento won me over. After getting to know the hybrid system’s quirks, experimenting with all the features, and putting the car through its paces on mountain roads and city streets, I’m beginning to see the merits of the large car philosophy.
For the record, Kia provided me with a spotless white Sorento PHEV, complete with a full tank of gas and a fully charged battery pack, for a road trip through the mountains.
Note from the editors: Owen is English, so his endearing assumption that the solidly midsize Sorento is huge is understandable. The next step is to transport him to his destination in a luxurious Escalade. -Bob
Same, but different: that’s the Kia Sorento PHEV.
I’m Confused. What Is It?
As the name implies, the Kia Sorento PHEV is a plug-in hybrid variation of Kia’s best-selling Sorento SUV. Aside from a charging port on the rear passenger side and a small badge on the liftgate, this hybrid vehicle is indistinguishable from the standard model.
Having the plug-in version look like the regular car is a plus because this SUV is attractive. It’s big and cumbersome, but the roof’s gentle curve and the back end’s sharp angles give it a nice aesthetic balance.
There is an attractive sharpness to the Sorento’s rear end.
Kia’s designers really shined in the front, though, especially in the snow white pearl paint job of the review vehicle. The daytime running lights and dark, glossy grille really stand out against the bright paint.
The latest Kia hybrid drivetrain is the real show stopper, though. The Sorento’s engine is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder mated to an electric motor. The combined 261 horsepower is more than enough to move this heavy SUV.
And that seems like more than enough power for the tasks for which this vehicle was designed. As soon as I pressed the throttle, it sped up, and it easily dragged itself up hills and mountain passes, even when laden with my camping gear. But there were some kinks in the system that needed ironing out.
The Kia Sorento PHEV’s engine is its beating heart.
What Is It About a Hybrid System That Is So Oddball?
At first, I thought it was odd that the vehicle was so eager to switch out of electric mode. The Sorento’s drive mode settings let you choose between purely electric operation, Auto, Sport, and Snow. In the Auto mode, the vehicle will only use battery power if you intend to maintain a constant speed. The gasoline engine will start up at the slightest hint of acceleration.
This meant that the dashboard’s estimated electric range sometimes remained constant despite covering long distances on electricity alone, while other times it dropped precipitously as the vehicle prioritized electricity over fossil fuel. Whenever I was running slowly or in heavy traffic, this would occur. In such a scenario, the battery pack will do its job admirably, and you will be able to delight in seeing your trip’s average MPG steadily increase as you drive along without expending a single drop of fuel. However, once you start moving quickly, the engine will take over and the battery will no longer be necessary.
You can just plug it in.
It takes time to recharge the battery once the charge level has dropped. There is no way to charge the Sorento PHEV as quickly as a Tesla or even Kia’s own EV6. Level 2 charging, which replenishes your battery at a much slower rate, is all that’s available instead.
To fully charge my phone and have time to explore the hills, I stopped for four hours at a national park with a slower charger. Kia claims that 32 miles of all-electric driving range can be achieved with a fully charged battery.
Once the hybrid system has been fully charged, it significantly increases gas mileage. Driving this SUV around town, I averaged about 44 mpg, and on the highway, I averaged the high 30s. It was nice not to have to worry about constantly having to fill up the gas tank, but I wish I had a little more say over when to use the battery instead.
However, there is a price to pay for this improved gas mileage. The SX-Prestige I drove had a starting price of $47,800 (with the options I chose, it cost $49,720). As a point of reference, the base price of a non-hybrid SX-Prestige model is $41,120.
Sharp.\sGallery: Examine the 2023 Honda Civic Type R from Every Perspective (Jalopnik)
To what extent does it function as a vehicle?
To put it briefly, it fits the bill rather nicely.
The Sorento PHEV’s quick acceleration is a result of its battery power, though there is a noticeable jolt when the engine kicks in. When compared to the trembling of a poorly timed shift, it is very different. It’s more of a buzz that indicates you’ve hit the gas than anything else. The Sorenti has a six-speed automatic transmission, and while the gearshifts aren’t perfectly smooth, they’re still acceptable. I found the paddles on either side of the steering wheel to be a useful addition when navigating the winding mountain roads. Downshifting fixed the feeling that the engine needed a little help when going uphill.
While we’re discussing it, I didn’t think much of the shift dial that went from Park to Reverse to Neutral to Drive. At times I felt like I had twisted it far enough to shift gears, but to no avail. It would be nice if there were some sort of tactile feedback here.
I’m not particularly fond of this section.
There were only minor issues with the gearbox, but they ruined my overall experience with the car. The steering was just the right amount of light and sensitive. And the brakes were strong and sure without being overly sharp despite the car’s heft and the extra weight of the roof-top pop-up tent we lugged around for the weekend.
The Sorento’s suspension was able to easily absorb the additional load from the roof, resulting in a pleasant and smooth ride on the highway. My slightly carsick companion didn’t appreciate the increased motion in the cabin while traversing switchbacks and mountain passes. The trip to camp was described as “bilious” by some.
Room for me and my three companions.
How Does the Sorento PHEV Stack Up?
First, let’s discuss the most impressive part: air vents in the seats. There are many vehicles that offer this feature now, but the Kia What a fantastic read! I felt very supported by the luxurious leather driver’s seat. Moreover, the air conditioning vents put an end to any concerns about overheating in the hot summer weather. With the flip of a switch, everything changes. The equilibrium has been reestablished.
The buttons on my Kia Sorento PHEV work fine.
During one point in time, we were driving around with the air conditioning on full blast to keep our faces and upper bodies cool, the vents in the seats open to keep our lower bodies comfortable, and the heated steering wheel soothing my numb, cold fingers. I’ve had a taste of real opulence, and I want more.
In any case, the rest of the cabin was as nice as the rest.
Our test vehicle, a three-row Sorento, featured second-row captain’s chairs with plenty of space for adults. Another tier could be collapsed behind this one to reveal a cavernous storage space in the trunk. Camp gear and food for four days fit comfortably in the back.
Navy and cream leather lined the seats, doors, and dashboard of the loaner vehicle we received. These metallic accents were concealed by a hatched pattern that actually improved their aesthetics. The overall quality was excellent, and everything felt very well-made.
It’s a wonderful experience all the way around, including when you finally get to use the car. The controls for the features and functions you’ll use most often while driving are conveniently located on the steering wheel and have a satisfyingly tactile feel.
Indeed, I found myself in a beautiful setting.
The same holds true for the climate control and air conditioning settings on the center console’s fewer satisfying controls.
Aside from this, the 12.3-inch touchscreen in the center of the dashboard controls the entirety of the vehicle’s entertainment and information systems.
Overall, it worked great, was easy to set up, and was compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There was some navigational inaccuracy; it had trouble finding a couple Walmarts and didn’t pick up on the fact that we were camped in a particular area. Luckily, we were able to find the location and launch the directions after only a brief scroll on the map.
The Sorento’s connectivity also deserves a quick mention. There were three USB ports and a Qi wireless charging pad in the front. Two more USB ports could be found in the middle row, and another pair could be found in the rear. Although a USB-C port would be ideal, I am pleasantly surprised to find more USB ports in the Sorento PHEV than I do devices requiring charging.
Time to fire up the grill!
As to Why I Now Prefer Compact Cars, the Sorento PHEV Is Mostly Responsible
Despite my minor complaints about the Sorento PHEV’s navigation and its gearbox programming, I thoroughly enjoyed my time behind the wheel of the hybrid. That caught me off guard because I had anticipated spending the first four days of my trip fretting over the Sorento’s enormous dimensions.
The Sorento didn’t make much sense at first, but as I drove it through twisty mountain roads and busy city streets, I started to see its appeal. It may be clumsy on some turns, but it makes you feel secure and at ease no matter the road conditions. When it’s time to head back to civilization after a pleasant time away from it all, the Sorento shines.
For a long time, I’ve felt that automobiles of this size were excessive. However, it wasn’t until I was stuck in a two-hour traffic jam coming back into Manhattan from Long Island that I finally understood.
A place to put all my aspirations.
When traveling this way, it’s nice to have all the comforts of home in a car. Great idea to add some cushioning to the driver’s seat. Enjoy the refreshing breeze as you lean back in your seat. You know how much more comfortable you can be with your legs stretched out in a car of this size? The relief is much appreciated.
In addition, I can now fully appreciate the feeling of elevated confidence and safety that a higher driving position provides. Add to that the Kia’s striking appearance, and I’m starting to understand the appeal of large automobiles in the United States.
And when you can get 44 MPG and spend less than $75 on gas to go exploring in the Catskills for the weekend, why would you even think about a car this size that isn’t a hybrid? If you’re astute enough to make such a determination, the Sorento PHEV is a perfect fit for you.
To sum up the Kia Sorento PHEV in a nutshell: Nice automobile.
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