The 2018 Kia Sorento plug-in hybrid felt huge when I first got behind the wheel. It was easily the largest car I’ve ever driven, and I was somewhat intimidated to drive it through the congested streets of New York City. It was taller than I preferred, the driving position was significantly higher than I’m used to, and the entire vehicle seemed significantly longer than anything I had previously driven. All of that meant that, at first, I was prepared to complain that it was much too large for any average person’s everyday needs.
However, the Sorento won me over after four days of driving it around Minewaska State Park in New York. I also believe that I may be changing my mind about huge cars once I became familiar with the hybrid system’s peculiarities, experimented with all the functions, and put it through its paces on mountain roads and city streets.
Full disclosure: For a drive to the highlands, Kia lent me a sparkling white Sorento PHEV with a full tank of gas and plenty of power in the battery pack.
Owen is from England, which accounts for his endearing belief that the firmly midsize Sorento is nonetheless “big.” I’ll put him in an Escalade after that. -Bob
The Kia Sorento PHEV is similar yet distinct.
The phenomenally successful Sorento SUV from Kia is available as a plug-in hybrid vehicle under the name Kia Sorento PHEV. Except for a charging connector on the back passenger side and a little badge on the liftgate indicating that it is a hybrid, it seems to be a conventional car from the outside.
Given how attractive this SUV is, it’s a good thing that the plug-in is comparable to the standard vehicle. Although it is large and massive, the softly curved roof and angular back end are attractive.
The back end of the Sorento is nicely angular.
However, Kia’s designers have done their best work up front, particularly in this dazzling white pearl shade that my review model is sporting. The daytime running lights and dark, glossy grille truly stand out against this hue, giving the front end a sharp appearance.
The big talking point, though, is Kia’s most recent hybrid engine. This engine is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine coupled with an electric motor in the Sorento. Together, they provide 261 HP, which is enough power to move this 4,500-pound SUV.
And that seems like plenty for what this automobile is intended to do. When I required an extra boost of momentum, the throttle would react quickly. It could also easily haul itself up hills and through mountain passes, even when fully loaded with camping gear. But there were several oddities with the system.
the Kia Sorento PHEV’s throbbing heart.
What Is So Quirkiness About the Hybrid System?
First of all, I thought it odd that the automobile was so eager to leave its all-electric state. The Sorento can be configured to run solely on batteries, or you can choose between Auto, Sport, or Snow mode. Only if you’re devoted to steady-state cruising will it run on pure battery power when it’s set to Auto. The gasoline engine fires up whenever you want even the slightest amount of acceleration.
This had the effect of alternating between the electric range estimate on the dash being level over several miles of driving and the charge dropping as the car preferred electricity to prehistoric gasoline. This frequently occurred while I was moving through traffic or running at a slower pace. There, the battery pack does its job quite well, and you can happily observe as your trip’s average MPG increases as you travel along without consuming any fuel. However, when you increase your pace, the engine begins to operate and the battery loses priority.
Of course it plugs in.
Recharging the battery takes some time after the charge level falls. The Sorento PHEV is unable to keep up with Tesla or Kia’s own EV6’s lightning-fast charging periods. It can only be used for Level 2 charging, which tops off your battery significantly more slowly.
As a result, I had a full battery and plenty of time to go outside and enjoy the hills after a four-hour pit stop in a national park with a slower charger. According to Kia, a fully charged battery will allow for 32 miles of all-electric driving.
The hybrid system does an amazing job of increasing your gas mileage after it is completely charged. Driving this SUV around town, I was able to achieve about 44 mpg and high 30s on the highway. It was so wonderful to not have to worry about filling the tank too frequently, even though I’d like to have a bit more flexibility over when to favor battery power over gasoline.
However, this increased fuel efficiency comes at a price. A few choices raised the sticker price of the SX-Prestige model I tested from its base price of $47,800 to $49,720 as tested. A non-hybrid SX-Prestige model starts at $41,120 as a point of comparison.
How is it propelled?
I’ll put it this way: really quite nicely.
The Sorento PHEV is quick off the line because of that battery power, albeit there is a tiny jolt when the engine kicks in. It doesn’t shake like a poorly timed shift does. Instead, it’s more of a buzz that alerts you to the fact that you are now out of gas. Although the gear changes in the Sorento’s six-speed automatic aren’t completely seamless, they are still fairly smooth. The paddles on either side of the steering wheel allow you to change gears as well, which was useful on the winding mountain roads I experienced. When climbing a slope, it occasionally felt like the engine needed a little encouragement; a quick downshift quickly fixed this.
While we’re at it, I wasn’t a fan of the shift dial, which can be used to go between Drive, Neutral, and Reverse with a separate button for Park. Sometimes I thought I’d turned it just enough to shift gears, but it never worked. Here, some tactile feedback would be welcome.
Truthfully, I don’t enjoy this portion.
The only small drawbacks to the automobile were these tiny transmission niggles. The steering was light enough and responsive to even the smallest changes. The brakes were strong and secure without being unduly harsh, despite the weight of the car and the roof-top pop-up tent we carried about for our weekend.
The Sorento’s suspension handled the additional weight on the roof with ease, providing a blissfully smooth ride on the highway. There was a little more movement inside the cabin than my rather queasy friend would have like when negotiating switchbacks and mountain passes. The journey to camp was said to as “bilious” by several people.
All four of my friends can fit here.
How Big Is the Sorento PHEV Inside?
Starting with the truly amazing feature, ventilated seats. This is a common option in modern vehicles, but I really enjoyed having it in the Kia. I was well-cushioned in the leather, heavily padded driver’s seat as we traveled. And those lovely vents rapidly allayed any fears about overheating in the summer sun. With a swift switch flick, BAM! The harmony was recovered.
Good switches on the Kia Sorento PHEV.
We were once driving along with the air conditioning blasting to keep our fronts cool, the ventilated seats on to make our backs comfortable, and the heated steering wheel warming my cold fingers. I’ve experienced real opulence, and I want in.
The cabin, though, was equally great elsewhere.
The Sorento is a true three-row vehicle, and the captain’s seats in the second row in our review vehicle were spacious enough to accommodate practically everybody. A third row could be folded flat to create a trunk that had a huge chasm behind it. Back there, it was simple to save enough food and camping gear for four days.
Everything in the loaner was covered in blue and cream leather, and the doors and dashboard had warm aluminum accents. These metallic embellishments were coated in a hatching pattern, which was quite stylish. Everything was expertly put together and felt incredibly high quality.
Additionally, interacting with the car is a wonderful experience. There are appropriate tactile buttons available for the features and tasks you’re most likely to utilize when driving, and the steering wheel has a fantastic feel to it.
It was pleasant to be here.
This is also true of the center console, which features a few less satisfying switches for controls like the AC and temperature settings and satisfying switches for others.
Other than this, the majority of the car’s features are controlled by the 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
Overall, this was incredibly easy to use and immediately synced with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It did have some navigational shortcomings, as we struggled to find a couple Walmart stores when we looked and it failed to recognize where our campsite was. Fortunately, though, a simple scroll of the map allowed us to find the location and begin giving the directions.
A quick mention should also be made of the Sorento’s connectivity. Three USB ports and a Qi wireless charging pad were located at the front. Additionally, there were two USB ports in the back row and two more in the middle row. Although it would be good if one of these was USB-C, the Sorento PHEV currently has more USB ports than I do charging devices.
It’s grilling time.
How Did the Sorento PHEV Make Me Think Differently About Big Cars?
I really enjoyed my time with the Sorento PHEV, despite the fact that the GPS could be improved and any issues with the transmission programming could be easily fixed with the flip of a paddle. And that surprised me because I had fully anticipated worrying about the Sorento’s enormous size for four days when I initially got behind the wheel.
But the Sorento gradually started to make perfect sense as I drove it through metropolitan streets and across mountain passes. Even if it occasionally lumbers through tight turns, it keeps you relaxed and makes you feel secure while you drive in any situation. The Sorento really shines when you’re ready to return to civilization after having a great day off the main road.
For years, I’ve believed that vehicles of this size are overly large and superfluous. But I started to understand it while I was delayed in a two-hour traffic jam returning from Long Island to Manhattan.
All of my dreams and hopes have room.
The creature comforts you can cram into a car this size are nice when you’re commuting like this. Wonderful, there’s more padding on the driver’s seat. The pleasant wind coming from the seatback. the extra space for your legs in a vehicle of size? a pleasant relief.
And I finally comprehend the added security and confidence that an elevated driving stance provides. I’m starting to understand why Americans appreciate huge automobiles like this one when you add a striking design like the Kia’s to all of that.
And why would you possibly pick a car of this size that isn’t a hybrid when 44 MPG is feasible and less than $75 worth of petrol will keep you adventuring upstate for a full weekend? If you have the common sense to make that decision, the Sorento PHEV will be the perfect vehicle for you.
Good car: the Kia Sorento PHEV.
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